The Blighted City is ostensibly a fantasy novel and it certainly has all the requisite trappings. But there are also a number of other aspects to it. There are elements of a bio-hazard suspense novel, the dangers of narrow thinking & knee-jerk reactions, how different people perceive religion and a thoughtful meditation on what it might truly mean to be undying.
The contract serves to set the plot in motion and it soon follows three strands. The first, and principal, plotline concerns Dagra, Oriken and Jalis; the trio of ‘freeblades’ who undertake the journey towards the cursed city of Lachyla in the hopes of finding the desired jewel. Oriken is consumed with thoughts of the reward money whereas Dagra, the more religious of the group, has concerns about the storied history of the Blighted City and what the potential consequences of their intrusion might be. Jalis, the senior of the three, often acts as a mediator between the two men. While they do reach the City fairly early in the novel, what they discover is far beyond what they could have anticipated.
The inhabitants of Lachyla are for all intents and purposes immortal but in a severely limited form. Moving too far from the environs of the city gradually weakens them and they must either return or perish. And while death doesn’t touch them within the city, neither does time. Many are stuck at the same physical state, either immature or aged, for centuries. Bound to their city and physically unchanging, many have turned away from material pursuits and pleasures, focusing instead on more philosophical and theological investigations. In some ways, this abstraction makes them even more ‘other’ when compared to the freeblades but it also makes perfect sense in the context of their existence.
The second plotline follows the inhabitants of the only remaining village in the area close to Lachyla. Alarmed to discover outsiders nearing their home and that they intend to enter the City, the village elders resolve to hunt the freeblades down. While there is a degree of logic behind their decision, as they know the potential danger of removing anything from the City, it is born equally from a desire to preserve their isolation and deny anything that might change their world view. While some of the villagers do raise concerns about the morality of this action, they are definitely in the minority.
The final group mainly involves the guild of freeblades, specifically Maros, the elder who accepted the contract in the first place. While he did offer the contract to Jalis and the others, he gradually becomes overwhelmed with misgivings and sets off after them in an attempt to bring them home. While the other two plot lines routinely shift their perspectives between the participants, this third one stays with Maros for the majority of the time. It is also the one that takes up the least amount of page time which, while understandable since it has the least impact, was a little disappointing since I really wanted to learn more about Maros and the workings of the guild.
While the novel has a relatively slow build, sticking with it is recommended and rewarding. There are hints of theologies, geography and history, all of which potentially adding up to a well-developed world. Bits and pieces of this background are doled out rather sparingly, concentrating mainly on Lachyla and how the main characters respond to it. I find myself hoping that there will be more works set in this world since there is obviously a lot more to explore.