City of Kings (The Ties That Bind #4) by Rob Hayes Book Review

Write on: Mon, 25 Jun 2018 by  in Charles' Reviews Read 6251


What happens when you find out after traveling with a bunch of people you took to be lovable antiheroes that they were, in the end, just plain evil? This is an interesting question that doesn't often come up in grimdark despite the fact it is a series based around the principle of there being no good people and only various shades of black. One instance this happened with me was the FIRST LAW TRILOGY where Glokta, after being one of the most fascinating sympathetic characters for two books, eventually revealed himself to be irredeemable.

CITY OF KINGS is a story about the Blackthorn and his little cadre of antiheroes: Henry, Rose, Pern, and others. These are the antiheroes assembled in the original TIES THAT BIND trilogy that have since gone on to bigger and better things. In those stories, the Blackthorn is a famous bandit who has developed an oddball band of misfits that tended to fight people worse than themselves. Events propelled them from being a group of exiles and criminals into group capable of fighting the local nobility (called "The Blooded.").

The Blackthorn and Rose have established a vast army and taken themselves to a revolution that has one goal and one goal only: to eradicate all of the Blooded in the Wildlands. They have destroyed countless houses and armies with a final siege necessary to bring them total victory. However, each day they fight is another one where their army will fall apart. The story isn't whether the Blackthorn or Rose will win in the end. They've already effectively won the war even if the besieged have unearned self-confidence they'll win. No, the issue is what will winning do to them and their relationships.

Rose wants to exterminate the Blooded, kill them and their families regardless of age, sex, or creed. The Blackthorn doesn't care because he loves Rose and will do anything for her. Henry follows the Blackthorn regardless of what path it takes them. Anders is just as happy to be on the winning side despite being Blooded himself and Pern believes he's still a better person for fighting with them than against them.

For me, this book's heart is the question of what happens when antiheroes cross lines that can't be uncrossed and where someone who has been previously part of a band of lovable rogues will fall when that happens. Rob Stark lost half of his army when the Karstarks were punished for murdering Lannister children. Sandor Clegane remained sympathetic despite killing the Butcher's Boy. Yet, where will the audience fall when their protagonists do something monstrous? The biggest shock for some characters is that there was a line at all and they have permanently, irrevocably severed many friendships they once had.

Rob J. Hayes remains one of the best writers of grimdark fantasy around and should always be mentioned with Erikson, Lawrence, Abercrombie, and Morgan. He is a master of making compelling and memorable characters that always capture your attention. His protagonists cross real lines, however, and the reader will be left to judge for themselves whether any of it was justified or the protagonists were monsters needing to be put down. Its an argument even they have at the end.

The ending of this novel is powerful, disturbing, and very well written. The impact wouldn't be nearly as strong if not for the fact I'd read multiple books with these characters building their friendship and bonds before they were torn apart.

Last modified on Monday, 05 August 2019 21:06
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.