The Sable City is a fun and refreshing D&D epic fantasy romp set in the 14th century. There’s muskets and magic, and dwarves and samurai. Blood gets spilt along the way due to encounters with nefarious demon hordes and such, but a wry sense of humour is maintained throughout the book.
The book grabbed my attention from the first page and I found it hard to put down, which is a bit of a problem considering its epic word count of 183,000. Hence, be warned. It first starts as a quest for two, then a diverse cast of characters are introduced; their paths get tangled and it builds up to a fun dungeon-crawl and boss fight. I’d like to talk about some of the twists and surprises, but I won’t spoil the fun for you.
While the characters don’t deviate from the common fantasy types (kleptomaniac rogue, gruff dwarf, snarky mage, antisocial melee guy, female healer, … even the novel samurai isn’t characterized beyond stoic), they’re very likeable, lively, and sympathetic. I cared about them as real individuals and desired to see their stories through. There aren’t any faux action or TSTL heroines here as Tilda and the other women are skilled and resourceful. There’s plenty of moxie and quipping to go around.
McNally develops a rich and detailed world full of history. It pays greater attention to resource wars, changing boundaries, and taxes than other stories with this fantasy setting. It’s a world where an accursed city of doom opens up… and the first thing that happens is that hobgoblins levy taxes on any treasure carried out. It’s dungeons and business.
One of The Sable City’s greatest strengths is its energetic tone and sense of humour. The characters have their troubles and despair, so while it has its poignant moments, it never gets too serious for its own good. It plays with some fantasy tropes while keeping the reader immersed in the story, and it strikes this balance masterfully.
The book’s weakness lies in the “building” of world-building. The first fifth is difficult to read because of the massive infodumping about the world. It made me feel like I was reading a game world wiki than a novel, but once you’re past the infodumping, it’s smooth sailing and turns out to be a really fun read. I think it could still benefit from more editing to fix excessive exposition and some awkward early scenes–but the way it is now, it’s still a great 4 star book.
There are a few anachronistic phrases (like “teamster”) and moments where I felt like I was playing an RPG instead of reading a novel. Its preoccupation with equipment and armour can only be described as obsessive, a mage attempts to cast Know History, and the party has a penchant for climbing up towers full of mooks just because the towers are there. But the quirks work well with the tone and story, so I just find them charming.
Due to the beginning 20% of ridiculous infodumping, I advice readers approach to that section with some blinders on if you’re overwhelmed by the details. Once you’re past that, it greatly improves and reveals itself as a rewarding and fun dungeons & dragons romp. I highly recommend The Sable City if you’re looking for an entertaining epic fantasy adventure.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author.
(reviewed 25 days after purchase)