The CitybornThe Cityborn by Edward Willett

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

“The Cityborn can save us, but there are so many things that could go wrong.”

The Cityborn is actually (dare I say it) somewhat unique for me in the science fiction meets dystopia book world. There is a city located in a huge floating structure. Within this structure’s walls, there are 13 levels. And, each level represents a thinly veiled caste system. The 1 level is were the least amount of resources and jobs are allocated. Its problems range from poverty to drug trade. The walls have long since been torn down due to overcrowding. There are no opportunities and reproductive rights are managed. Protests will leave you kidnapped and incarcerated before being tortured to death. As we go up in floors, the accomodations and opportunities get better. The exception is the 10th floor…that is where the prison is. The prison is actually a death sentence as no one ever comes back from the 10th floor. On the 12th floor live the officers, individuals in the upper crest of society that control and manage the whole kit and caboodle. The officers answer to one person– the First Officer– a corrupt and power hungry individual who has cloned himself into madness. There is no going “up.” The world outside of the city is worse. It is a wasteland housed in the dump site of the city’s trash. Gangs control this world and there is no rule of law accept what it takes to survive.

The cityborn could change all of this. The cityborn is a project and this project, by necessity, must span 20 years before coming to fruition. It is a project that will save a society. Or at least, it will save the hierarchy of that society’s positions. But whether the cityborn are meant to save the city or the city’s important denizens is irrelevant because the city is dying.

However, there are those who seek change. There are those who fight for freedom in this oppressive system. And they do not want the First Officer to succeed with the cityborn. A plot is hatched and the downtrodden execute it. Now they must dodge discovery for the next 2 decades until the cityborn are ready to be used. And in this time, motivations can be corrupted, the living project can develop a mind of its own, and enemies can ruin everything.

What this book HAS:
Character Development.
Unique World Building.
Full Bodied Plot.

What this book DOES NOT HAVE:
A Ton of Action.
A Fast (or even Moderate) Pace.
Background Plot/Information.
Lyrical Prose.

Reader Beware: this book is SLOW going for the 2/3rds or so. Like the cityborn project itself, the book spans 20 years and follows the two surviving cityborn from infancy to maturity.

The best part about this is that you get to see the mind and attitudes of these two kids grow and their character’s develop in real time.

The bad part about this is that the book is a study in anticipation: you have no idea what is going on and can only guess the real players behind the power struggle and what it could mean for this destroyed world.

Another point of disfavor is that the only characters that where really developed where our two main kids. The rest where pretty much background data that would come out to (admittedly) enrich the story and then fade away again. The problem with this is that the secondary characters where the driving force for the entire plot. The main characters where only there at all and in their situations because of all the other characters’ machinations.

Additionally, when we discover what the city actually IS at the end, the author stops there. He does not fill in the much needed intel about how the city came to be needed in the first place. Something happened. Something tragic (this is a dystopia after all.) We never get to learn the what, how, or why of that event. And given that this is meant to be a standalone novel, I had a real problem with not knowing.

On the upswing of things, the two main characters were well developed and I could not help but want to see where they ended up. The plot was intriguing and well rounded with enough tidbits and questions sprinkled throughout the chapters that I wanted to keep reading despite the languorous pace of the majority of the novel.

And, when the novel picked up the pace…it really picked up the pace. We go from watching to kids grow up to watching them fight for their lives. If the majority of the plot is a study in anticipation, it quickly turns into an action-a-minute-in-the-fight sort of tale. Definitely a slow build to a major explosion.

At this juncture of my review, you may be asking yourself why I rated it so highly? Entertainment, my friends. Whether or not this book had merit, I enjoyed the tale. It was unique. It was interesting. It was well developed. It had a few minor foibles, sure. And this is not a mesmeric tale by any means, but I certainly found the dichotomy of lives fascinating even when told in the plan language prose that Edward Willett uses.

Recommendation: Definitely a worthy read for the avid science (more science than fantasy here folks…by a large margin. In fact, do not expect fantasy at all) fiction enthusiast.


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