In the last great city of Khaim, four unrelated individuals survive in a rotting empire of tyrants and corruption. The Jolly Mayor and the last Archmage need magic to build their castle in the sky, but the over-use of magic has corrupted its use, causing a poisonous plant called the Bramble to grow relentlessly, overtaking what’s left of the city, and inducing coma for anyone who touches it. Together, they outlaw magic for everyone except themselves.

The four personal mini-tales provide an interesting and unique form to tell the story of the last blue city. The street-level view of each perspective provides the necessary intimacy of the normal person’s plight, especially in relation to the Mayor and the Archmage. Each individual story is quite enticing, and work well as standalone pieces.

  1. An alchemist invents a way to kill the Bramble, but when he shows it to the Mayor and the Archmage, they use his idea to enhance their own power instead of healing the city.
  2. The daughter of an executioner becomes a warrior when her children are stolen away.
  3. A young noble no longer wealthy fights to save his sister from the pleasure markets when she succumbs to the Bramble sleep.
  4. A young blacksmith attempts to outwit a duke who imprisoned her family in exchange for special armor. My favorite of the bunch!

Unfortunately, the individual stories do not comprise a cohesive world for me. The history of the corruption of magic and exactly how magic causes Bramble to grow is never revealed. The intricacies of the political order and any motivation for the horrible actions of the Mayor and the Archmage aren’t revealed. The unrelated character rebellions against their immediate oppressors don’t feel like “the people stage an uprising” in the book blurb. Instead, these are much smaller, personal stories about people who do what’s necessary for their families in terrible situations.

Recommended for fans of literary fiction who enjoy a little fantasy on the side!

Thanks to Netgalley and Saga Press for an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!

“It’s magic,” Pila whispered. “True magic.”

I laughed at that. “Better than magic. Alchemy!”