On a far-future earth, the population of the world has been divided into various free tribes and city-states in and around the area of what would now be considered the Pacific Northwest and California. Those who inhabit these areas are the survivors of a great cataclysm which occurred two thousand years earlier when huge glaciers began encroaching and grinding on the northern continents. This encroachment sent those in its path searching for habitable regions where they could survive and not be subject to freezing temperatures and starvation. Another result of this glacial advancement southward was a catastrophic war which broke out between the great nation across the western sea called The Unified Tribes of the Black Cross and that of North America called The Unified Tribes of the White Star. The warriors of the nation from across the sea brought with them more than warfare however, and a violent strain of influenza quickly broke out, eradicating almost the entire population of the world. Two thousand years later, the few who survived that hideous time have repopulated the west coast of America, living in vast city-states, megalopolises, and the surrounding wilderness. Not only do the free tribes have to contend with other aggressive warrior clans, but they are also living in the midst of such deadly predators as saber toothed cats, mammoths, and dire wolves. It is almost as if a new ice age has imposed itself over the world again. Located in the southern part of what once was the nation state of California, is the one remaining semblance of civilization called the Black City. At one time the great city of Los Angeles, The Black City has now been thrown back into gaslight technology where zeppelins are the preferred mode of mass-transportation and steam power rules. The long ago buildings are crumbling and a mysterious cathedral sits at the heart of this decrepit megalopolis. When the shadowy priesthood which inhabits the cathedral begins to kidnap the magical shaman of many of the free tribes located in the surrounding wilderness, they begin to hint at a sinister plan which may ultimately lead to another colossal battle between good and evil. To uncover the secretive motivations of the priesthood and hopefully rescue their captured shaman, Kel and Lyria, two members of a prominent tribe, embark on a clandestine journey to penetrate the cathedral and put a stop to a potential reoccurrence of the great war that devastated humanity two millennia before.
Thus begins the post-apocalyptic fantasy Journey to the Black City. Author Keith Mueller is a student of metaphysical studies, shamanism, as well as ancient religions. After reading his first full-length novel I have to say that it definitely shows. His knowledge in these areas comes through so vividly in his writing. I enjoyed the idea of a future civilization having been devastated by an ancient cataclysm and the mystery surrounding that. The strong parts of the book for me were the inherent mystery and the magic system. I thought that the author did a good job of creating a magic system that involved the use of dream-walking. I’m assuming that his interest in shamanism had a lot to do with this and it worked extremely well for me. Each character being able to project their magic through a different animal was reminiscent of the patronus in Harry Potter, but Mueller handled them slightly differently, so that wasn’t really an issue for me. The bishops and priests living in the Black City were well done and sufficiently evil, if not in some cases a bit too evil. If I could compare the feel of this book to another series, I would say that it bears a thematic resemblance to David Weber’s Safehold series (which I am a huge fan of). The idea of a shadowy priesthood trying to subjugate the populace is very similar to Weber’s work. I was very impressed by Mueller’s ability to keep the mystery going throughout the entire book. Many authors either reveal things too quickly, or the mystery is much too predictable. Make no mistake, the mystery of the different factions of The Unified Tribes of the White Star and the Unified Tribes of the Black Cross are the center of the story. As a reader, I couldn’t help but get caught up in exactly what took place between those warring nations thousands of years ago and what the ramifications would be for the people living in the present. If I have one criticism, I would say that I thought there wasn’t enough emphasis put on describing the Black City itself. There were times when the author started to reveal and describe certain parts of the city in detail, but then quickly diverted into another viewpoint character’s story. I also found the romantic relationship between Kel and Lyria to be a little lacking in believability. Seeing as how they were the two main characters of the story, I thought more time should have been devoted to making their relationship more front and center. I really wasn’t as invested in them as I could have been which made me not especially care when they were put in a dangerous situation. Despite that, I enjoyed Journey to the Black City a good deal. It is definitely a fun read and I found myself turning the pages quickly. I wouldn’t put it on the level of the really great post-apocalyptic books in the genre, but I also wouldn’t say that it isn’t worth picking up and reading. I look forward to reading more books by Keith Mueller. If Journey to the Black City is any indication, I think that he has some room to grow and should create some really high-quality books in the future.
Review by Nick Taraborrelli
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