In Gilded Cage, Vic James created an alternate Britain ruled by a magical elite, who use the Unskilled as slaves, portraying a broken political system and class divides. Check out my interview with her if you haven’t started the series yet.

Tarnished City picks up from where the previous book left our characters; Luke framed for murder, Abi on the run, their little sister Daisy left in the clutches of the Jardine family.

That was the problem with Equals. They were cruel autocrats filled with unimaginable power. But they were also just human.

The Skilled characters are multi-faceted, yes some are just evil, but some have mixed loyalties. Gavar just wants to protect his baseborn child and is becoming increasingly disgruntled with his family. For some unknown reason Silyen seems to have a soft spot for Luke, and while he does send him into the hands of torturer Crovan, he also demands that he not be damaged beyond repair.

Doc Jackson and the Angel of the North’s true identities are now known, but Meilyr paid a huge price for standing up for Luke, with his Skill drained he is now a hollow shell of a man. The rebels still have a lot of work to do and Bodina takes over. Abi becomes much more involved in the cause, wanting justice for her brother, who everyone seems to know is innocent. But why would the Equals care about a commoner boy who serves perfectly well as a warning to others? The whole thing escalates into a horrifying climax and some characters will surprise you.

The city maintained the facade that Britain was a civilized modern nation, when really it was barely one step up from feudalism.

Luke ends up on Crovan’s estate, where those who committed the worst crimes against Equals go. A castle, on an island in a loch in the remote Highlands of Scotland. The loch’s water enfused with Skill to inflict pain on any who enter. Inside the castle, Crovan inflicts punishment on his prisoners, making them forget again and again what he does to them. He runs the castle-prison like some grotesque social experiment, with some prisoners living as guests and the rest as the servants.

I started to really like Silyen. He’s far from perfect but he clearly doesn’t have the same agenda as his family. He is interested in how Skill works but in less of a cruel way than Crovan.

It’s interesting reading this in the current political climate. It shows how the people in power bend the “facts” to their purpose and take advantage of media to amplify their own agenda. As well as the obvious class struggles and terrible government. We can all sympathise.

Abi dared imagine that the Equals’ version of history could be fought with the truth, but how could you do that when they were making it up as they went along, and shouting it over and over and over through the media? They had everything at their disposal: power, money, connections. They hardly needed Skill.

I actually picked up the finale, Bright Ruin, immediately after, so I am struggling to keep the two books separate in my mind. They definitely need to be read as a trilogy and the story does run from one to another. It’s a middle book, with a clear beginning and end, but overall I thoroughly recommend this trilogy as something a bit different.

Tarnished City is published by Pan Macmillan and is available in paperback and ebook editions. The final instalment, Bright Ruin is out 26th July 2018. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: Alternate History

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.