City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams

City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams
City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams (Italian edition)

The novel “City on Fire” by Walter Jon Williams was published for the first time in 1997. It’s the sequel to “Metropolitan“.

Aiah is considered a suspect in various alleged crimes by the Jaspeer authorities. It’s better for her to move to Caraqui, where Constantine became minister of the government formed after the revolution he helped win. She is tasked with running the Plasm Enforcement Division.

Thanks to her new position, Aiah can fight Caraqui’s mob but she finds herself entangled in the intrigues of the metropolis. The triumvirs at the head of the government have different agendas for Caraqui’s future and some nearby metropolises are fomenting a new attempted coup. Aiah finds herself helping Constantine in more ways than she thought.

This novel continues the story begun in “Metropolitan” set in a strange world isolated by the Shield and completely covered by a city divided into metropolises. The importance of plasm, the role it has in both novels, and certain developments in this sequel that become more mystical-religious gives them a tone closer to fantasy than science fiction but these are works in which genre labels are limiting.

Intrigues and manipulations were already important in “Metropolitan” and become central in this sequel. Constantine played a crucial role in overthrowing the corrupt government of the Caraqui metropolis but still has a lot of work to do. In some ways, he has to work even more than before because the internal situation, even with his allies in the new government, and relations with neighboring cities are complicated.

There are real battles but most of the power struggle is fought in more subtle ways that include propaganda, diplomacy, and even blackmail. Many dialogues concern the various moves of various characters and reflections that can also be very interesting on politics and government.

In a story in which the political element is central, the personal relationship between Constantine and Aiah with its complexity remains important. Already in “Metropolitan” it wasn’t simple, also due to the presence of Sorya, Constantine’s very special assistant, who in this sequel, has an important role in Caraqui’s intelligence.

Constantine and Aiah’s relationship becomes even more complex, as he uses her to carry out his plans by providing her with only the information he deems necessary. He entrusts her with increasing powers and responsibilities, which have important consequences, also in the relationship between the two of them.

Aiah’s role becomes very public, a position quite different from any of her previous experiences. In “Metropolitan”, her personal story was often that of a very normal person while in this sequel the contacts with her family remain but otherwise very little remains normal in her life.

Aiah conducts various operations on behalf of Constantine which are also used by Walter Jon Williams to show more of that world. For example, through one of Aiah’s experiences, we discover something more about the mysterious Shield that surrounds the world. It’s a mystery that isn’t yet revealed and the author probably planned to develop it in a further sequel. The cancellation of the series of books in which these two novels got published had halted the project.

The result is that “City on Fire” has a rather open ending. The good news is that Walter Jon Williams regained ownership of the rights to the two novels in this series and a few months ago, announced on his blog that he’s working on the third novel. Having an incomplete series was the only reason not to recommend reading two intriguing novels set in a unique fictional world. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the publication of the new book in this series and in the meantime, you can fully enjoy the first two.

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