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City Under the Sand by Jeff Mariotte

Posted by travizzt on October 21, 2010

As the first new book in a decade that’s based on the Dark Sun setting, is City Under the Sand good enough that you would want it cast in metal? Or would you rather lose it in the desert?


City Under the Sand by Jeff Mariotte- This is the first book in the relaunched novel line of Dark Sun, a setting of Dungeons and Dragons. Currently, this is a stand-alone novel. This is Jeff Mariotte’s first novel that is set in a Dungeons and Dragons shared universe, but he’s written a number of other novels. His original works include; Witch Season (Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring), Las Vegas (High Stakes Game and Sleight of Hand), The Slab, Boogeyman, Missing White Girl, River Runs Red, and Cold Black Hearts . He has contributed a number of books to shared universes; Gen 13 (Netherwar with Christopher Golden and Time and Chance with Scott Ciencin), the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel series co-written with Nancy Holder called Unseen (The Burning, Door to Alternity, and The Long Way Home), Angel series (Close to the Ground, Hollywood Noir, Haunted, Stranger to the Sun, Endangered Species with Nancy Holden, Sanctuary, Solitary Man, and Love and Death), co-wrote two Charmed novels with Constance M. Burge (Mirror Image and Survival of the Fittest), CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Brass in the Pocket and Blood Quantum), a CSI: Miami novel titled Right to Die, a novel in Star Trek: The Lost Era series called Deny Thy Father, a novel in Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda series titled The Attitude of Silence, an Age of Conan series called Marauders (Ghost of the Wall, Winds of the Wild Sea, and Dawn of the Ice Bear), co-wrote a 30 Days of Night series with Steve Niles (Rumors of the Undead, Immortal Remains, and Eternal Damnation) and wrote by himself Light of Day, he wrote a Supernatural novel called Witch’s Canyon, a DC Universe novel called Trial of Time, a Spider-Man novel called Requiem, and he wrote a Criminal Minds novel called Criminal Minds: Serial Killers, Sociopaths & Other Deviants. Jeff Mariotte has worked on a number of graphic novels as well as comic book series. He’s also contributed a number of short stories in various anthologies. City Under the Sand was released in October 2010 and published by Wizards of the Coast LLC.

On the sand strewn land that is Athas, metal is a precious thing. After a group of lost mercenaries stumble into a long forgotten city, they discover a huge store of metal and decide to show their find to the Shadow King of Nibenay. However, things don’t go as planned, yet the message still reaches the ruler of Nibenay’s ears. The Shadow King decides that it would be wise to set out and find this trove, and he knows of a person with a remarkable skill to help find it. Aric, a half-elf, just wants to be a smith and a general nobody. Being a half-elf is hard in Nibenay. The full-blooded elves don’t trust you and the humans don’t as well. So Aric prefers to not be known. However, do to his gift with metal, the Shadow King sends him out on the trip to recover the metal. However, what Aric finds could more evil than anything Athas has seen for centuries. It doesn’t help matters when he and his friends unknowingly release it into the world.

Criticisms:
1) Rushed. The biggest issue that plagued the whole book is how rushed everything felt. There was hardly a time when the story slowed down enough to understand what was happening. It didn’t help that the story was just fight after fight. The times that the story slowed down felt unnatural and took way too long to get through. Because the story was basically fight after fight, a lot of things suffered. The characters were poorly developed and easily forgettable and the story felt choppy and unnatural. The characters took the biggest hit due to the rushed pacing. No one was developed or went through a progression other than Aric. So pretty much, everyone else felt unnecessary and unneeded. No one had a distinct enough personality that stood out enough. The characters themselves would have been interesting, if it wasn’t for the hurry and finish pace the story went. In fact, there was even times when I felt as though Jeff Mariotte just wanted to stop writing the story. It seemed like he may have realized that he had way too much going on to wrap up neatly in one book. So instead of pacing the story in a more controlled fashion, we have too much happening all at once. This really hurt everything and it killed some of the enjoyment I would have had.
2) Characters. Another major problem with City Under the Sand was the characters. In the main group of characters, I was constantly forgetting who was who, other than Aric. This can be explained with poor character development due to having so many characters in the story. However, towards the middle and end, the main characters did become more prominent and noticeable. There were even times where there was some good development going on and relationships forming within the main group, but this was tossed aside to hurry and finish the story. The other character issue was that there were way too many of them. Most of them never really played an important role, other than being named in a conversation or showing up for a minute to help move the story along. I don’t know who these characters were nor did I know why they were need in the overall plot. The characters themselves weren’t all that interesting, they weren’t engaging, and there was just too many of them.
3) Lack of Exposition. One would think that due to City Under the Sand being the first book under the Dark Sun name, there would be some more descriptions of things and explanations. It’s been more than a decade since the last Dark Sun novel was released, and for a new reader, some of the terms, creatures, ideas, beliefs, etc. were hard to follow and understand. It seemed like one would need a good amount of exposure to Dark Sun in order to really know things about the world. This could be a fault of mine, seeing as I have no background in Dark Sun other than a very basic understanding of the world. However, due to this being the first book in a relaunched series meant to gain the interest of new readers, I expected a little more exposition.

Praises:
1) Beginning. The beginning of the novel was surprisingly good. It really helped show what the world of Dark Sun was all about without giving away too much. It was interesting seeing a new world and I was very excited to start tearing through the novel. The characters at the start were interesting enough for me to care about their predicament. The build up of things happening after the mercenaries find this lost city was really suspenseful and, at times, terrifying. In fact, I couldn’t remember when I was this excited to jump into a book. However, things quickly changed after we leave the mercenaries and we meet the bland characters that are in the rest of the book.
2) Dark Sun. Dark Sun is a very unique and different kind of setting. When I first picked up this book, all I knew of Dark Sun was that magic wasn’t liked and caused the world to turn into a desert. After reading it, I know now a bit more about the world and am more than willing to read more. City Under the Sand really did pique my interest in finding out more about the Dark Sun world.

Side Notes:
1) Editing. It really seems like City Under the Sand never reached an editors pen. There were horrible editing mistakes everywhere, mistakes that a second grader would have caught. There was even a time that a saw a mistake on every other page. Quite frankly, it was more than pathetic.
2) Gates of Madness by James Wyatt. City Under the Sand also contains the third part of an event that is going to spread the worlds of the Dungeons and Dragons novels. The first part is found in the paperback version of R. A. Salvatore’s The Ghost King and the second part is found in Bill Slavicsek’s The Mark of Nerath. The next part is going to be in Richard Lee Byer’s Whisper of Venom, due out in November 2010. This part is titled “Sigil” and it’s interesting, but I’m not quite sure what’s it’s building up to.
3) Cover Art. The cover art that was released with City Under the Sand is boring. It doesn’t draw you in nor does look good. The two characters on the cover are, for lack of a better word, disgusting. They don’t look good at all. In fact, they look horrible. Their faces look unnatural and sloppy. If they weren’t on the cover, I think that the scenery would have been leaps and bounds better. In fact, the first cover art (below) is better and cleaner. It even looks more interesting. But the cover art that was used was just disgusting and very off-putting.

Overall: 2/5
Final Thoughts:
City Under the Sand had a number of problems. The story was rushed to the point that it became frustrating. There was not enough detail in anything due to the frantic pacing. The characters were so poorly developed that they could not have been there and I wouldn’t have noticed at all. Aric was the only decent character, but he seemed more like a side character than a lead. Another problem is the lack of exposition, something that a first novel in a relaunch of a setting that’s been gone for over a decade needed. There were a few good things but they were hard to come by. The beginning was superb, introducing the reader to the world of Dark Sun and making it exciting and thrilling. Too bad that this would only last for about thirty pages. However, the world of Dark Sun is still a very interesting setting and I wouldn’t mind reading more about it. However, I don’t feel comfortable recommending this to someone without a good amount of knowledge of Dark Sun lore. That said, it did get me interested in reading other Dark Sun based stories.

2 Responses to “City Under the Sand by Jeff Mariotte”

  1. Bendio said

    I also found CUtS to be really disappointing, especially aftering having read the original Prism Pentad (the 5 book series that describes the events taking place in the current Dark Sun setting released by WotC, which was placed after the events of the first book).

    If you haven’t read The Prism Pentad, I strongly recommend it. While some of the things have changed between the 2e AD&D setting and the one currently used, the feel and the basics are all exactly the same. The series was rereleased by WotC when they launched the new Dark Sun splat books, so it’s worth the time if you’ve got it.

    • travizzt said

      Thanks for the comment!

      I do plan on picking up and reading The Prism Pentad at some point in time. I just have to get caught up a little more before then! Thanks for the recommendation though!

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