Review of The Fall of Sky City by S.M. Blooding
Steampunk. Fantasy. Sci-Fi. Adventure—yes, S.M. Blooding melded all four genres into a unique world where they all manage to coexist and provide the environment for this enjoyable new series. It was a fast read with plenty of action and interesting characters.
The pervading conflict revolves around the issue of freedom and government—especially, who sets the rules and how are they enforced. In the past, priests had the upper hand until they became so corrupted the Hands of Tarot rose up to oppose them, bringing them down and establishing the Hands as the neutral arbiters of justice. Only over the years, they have also become corrupted, and the Hands have decided that only by bringing all the independent Families into their version of civilization—centered on a secret city in the sky—will justice be achieved.
Sky City is dominated by Queen Nix of the Wands, who had been rejected by her Family and adopted by the Wands. Her idea of justice is taking revenge by destroying not just her former Family, but also all the other independent Families. The only people she deems fit to live are children too young to have come into their own mystical powers (if they have any). Those children are adopted into one of the Hands of Tarot: Wands, Swords, Coins, or Cups, depending on how their mystical powers manifest.
When Synn’s Air Family—the Families’ spheres of influence and their complimentary Powers are derived from Earth, Air, Fire, or Water—dares defy Queen Nix, he falls into her hands. Synn is seventeen, long overdue to manifest his Family’s Mark of Power, if he’s going to have one, and too old to be adopted by the Hands of Tarot. Both are reason enough for him to die as an example to others who think they can resist the power of the Hands. But instead of dying, his Mark manifests, spectacularly saving his life, and he is claimed by Queen Nix for her Wands.
Queen Nix is clearly a conflicted antagonist—she claims she only wants to be loved, and she’s determined to prove that she can make anyone, even the unwilling Synn, love her. But her approach to winning him over is with a “carrot-and-stick,” alternating torture with manipulating his teen hormones and being solicitous of his needs—give her what she wants, Synn’s total devotion, and she’ll give him what he wants—knowledge of the Hands’ technology. But he wants it not to satisfy his curiosity, as he pretends, but to take it with him when he finds a way to escape.
Escape isn’t straightforward—the Hands have superior technology and airborne military forces surrounding Sky City—and Queen Nix has a few tricks of her own that fuel her confidence that Synn will never truly escape from her. He uses that confidence to take advantage of an opportunity to not just escape, but take other captives with him, along with a ship-full of “liberated” technology created by those captives. With those weapons and other technological advances, Synn is sure he can turn the tide of the undeclared war against the Families.
But Queen Nix is equally sure that he cannot escape her—and despite all Synn’s efforts to prove otherwise, she may be right. At the end, I was left wondering, who is going to out-smart whom?