The City of Last Chances is Ilmar and it’s currently under Palleseen occupation, which the majority of the city’s inhabitants are unimpressed with. To assist with keeping the city in order the Palleseen use many organisations such as The School of Correct Speech and The School of Correct Conduct. Individuals and groups that have opposing attitudes or who act in a manner that doesn’t align with the guidance presented by the occupiers are dealt with promptly. Equally unnerving is the Anchorwood on the city’s outskirts, which contains magics, indwellers, monstrous beings, and portals to distant places.
We witness happenings that relate to the criminal underworld, academia, workers and demons, refugees and outsiders, forgotten gods, and magical artefacts from a wide range of perspectives. Ilmar is the novel’s main character though, and this includes distinct and atmospheric areas such as The Reproach, The Hammer Districts, and The Anchorage. I found The Reproach to be a haunting and intensely interesting part of the city and I adored my time reading about that area and its inhabitants most of all.
Approximately every 8-10 chapters, there is a Mosaic chapter, which I would describe as a city-eyed view of happenings: summarising what is taking place throughout many areas of the city at the given time. As City of Last Chances progresses, we’re updated regarding the potential revolution that is stirring underneath the surface: who will light the fuse, will the Palleseen military be prepared, what will the consequences be and what part will the supernatural elements of the city play?
The characters presented, their dialogues, interactions, and motives are close to perfection for a grimdark audience. Personally, my favourite characters here were Blackmane, a pawnbroker who deals in magical items, Lemya, a wide-eyed student, Ruslav, a thug who becomes surprisingly infatuated with a painting, Ivarn Ostravar, a senior lecturer, and Yasnic, a priest and the only believer of an old god. Although the above stood out to me, many great moments belonged to other, fine creations. Tchaikovsky presents some impressive and memorable set pieces that are peppered throughout the book. The finest involves a group hanging and when I witnessed it, my initial thoughts were “That that’s an excellent future Netflix cliffhanger right there!”
As alluded to above, I found City of Last Chances to be an ambitious epic fantasy read that contains many quality elements and memorable characters. Unfortunately, certain sections of the novel didn’t quite work for me and at times I had to force myself to plod through the 500 pages. Tchaikovsky’s presentation of the city throughout is admirable and detailed, yet after about the halfway point, even as events were heating up, I found that I didn’t care about certain chapters or characters at all. It’s possible that I was drifting away from certain events or members of the dramatis personae because the city itself was more important than them in the grand scheme of things. I purchased (and enjoyed) the audiobook during these harder chapters when I found myself disinterested, to help keep me focused and push forwards to the excellent scenes and exchanges that I knew would come. Having completed the novel, I’m content as the highs outweigh the lows, the ending is satisfying and this standalone epic fantasy all wraps up in a rewarding manner.
I’m rating City of Last Chances 6/10 as it features moments of Tchaikovsky‘s brilliance but was hard work in places too. That being said, it was a unique reading experience that I would recommend mostly because I’d be interested to see what other people think of this intriguing book. I’d especially recommend City of Last Chances to readers who enjoyed the sweeping scale, industry, revolution and political turmoil of Joe Abercrombie’s Age of Madness.
I received a review copy of City of Last Chances in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Adrian Tchaikovsky and Head of Zeus.