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The Etched City [Paperback]

K.J. Bishop
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 25.95
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Book Description

Nov. 23 2004
Gwynn and Raule are rebels on the run, with little in common except being on the losing side of a hard-fought war. Gwynn is a gunslinger from the north, a loner, a survivor . . . a killer. Raule is a wandering surgeon, a healer who still believes in just--and lost--causes. Bound by a desire to escape the ghosts of the past, together they flee to the teeming city of Ashamoil, where Raule plies her trade among the desperate and destitute, and Gwynn becomes bodyguard and assassin for the household of a corrupt magnate. There, in the saving and taking of lives, they find themselves immersed in a world where art infects life, dream and waking fuse, and splendid and frightening miracles begin to bloom . . .

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Combine equal parts of Stephen King's Dark Tower series and China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, throw in a dash of Aubrey Beardsley and J.K. Huysmans, and you'll get some idea of this disturbing, decadent first novel from Australian author Bishop. Through the devastated landscape of the Copper Country, where their side has been defeated in a war, two powerfully drawn protagonists flee the victorious Army of Heroes: Gwynn, a former mercenary, a dandy, an atheist and, eventually, the lieutenant of a wealthy slave dealer, but also a man not totally without honor; and Raule, a physician who once served in Gwynn's mercenary troop and has chosen to devote the rest of her life to caring for the poor, though she also likes to collect deformed fetuses simply because they fascinate her. Later, they make new lives for themselves in the fabulous, horrific and corrupt city of Ashamoil, where beautiful artists occasionally turn into sphinxes, babies are born half crocodile, flowers spring from freshly dead corpses and drunken priests work useless miracles. Characters love to discuss theology, aesthetics and ethics, and they're prone to obsessive love affairs with inappropriate partners. They're also capable of committing cold-blooded and gruesome murder with little or no remorse. Despite the rather mannered language, this grim tale should strongly appeal to aficionados of literate dark fantasy.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"'Scenes among the most mystifying and astonishing I have found in a fantasy' Michael Moorcock, Guardian; 'Surpassing skill and vigour' Time Out; 'A brilliant first novel' Locus" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
K. J. Bishop, The Etched City (Prime, 2003)
Aussie author Bishop turns in her first novel, and what a first novel it is. The language in The Etched City demands to be savored, lingered over. It is beautiful to the point of astonishment. This is, basically, the fastest way to get a top review from me.
The problem being that when held up against such masterpieces of perfect prose as Walker's The Secret Service, Mieville's Perdido Street Station (to which The Etched City is oft-compared), or McCarthy's Blood Meridian, The Etched City suffers in one respect: pace. The first half of the book, give or take, is told at a leisurely pace, to be kind. (It took me over three months to make it to the last half of the book.) Bishop takes her protagonists, the gunslinger Gwynn (who bears a striking resemblance to a more cynical, lighter-hearted Elric of Melnibone) and the doctor Raule, through a few episodes in another land before getting to the city at the heart of the book, Ashamoil. Once in Ashamoil, Bishop takes her time setting up character, setting, and theme before actually getting down to plot. A few subplots are begun, a few episodes spun out (and The Etched City is very much an episodic novel, contributing somewhat to its overall sense of languor), but the biggest ball doesn't get rolling until almost two hundred pages in. If you love language, though, it is doubtful you will care; the book can be put down and picked up at various times allowing the reader to go on to more pressing matters and return at leisure.
Perhaps the oddest thing about the novel is that Raule, with whom the book begins, ends up being such a minor character in the general scheme of things.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Fantasy Novel in Many Years Dec 25 2003
By A Customer
This book is just brilliant from start to finish. It is totally different to what we think of as being fantasy. It's refreshing, new, exciting and deep - if you want an actioned paced yarn full of two dimensional characters who race through their scenes then stay away from this book. But if you want wonderful action scenes that actually work to reveal more about the characters' lives and you want some slow moody intriguing pieces that always lead you to wanting to know more, then you should buy this book. The character that got me was Gwynn, right from the start. He's the bad man, he does bad things, yet there is something noble about him at the same time - perhaps the angel of death, or like Shiva dancing, an almost godlike figure, understanding that creation and destruction go hand in hand - a character that you despise and respect at the same time. He might also be the anti-Buddha in some odd way, understanding the nature of life and choosing to embrace it with all its faults, rather than rejecting it for a life of retreat.
The prose is excellent and dances across the page. Heavy ideas like those mentioned above are skilfully woven into a plot which turns at every corner. This is story full of mystery and imagination and just bursts with the vibrancy of life. There are no easy answers, but it's an exhilarating journey into another world.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing, slow story Dec 12 2003
Two drifters: a battlefield physician and an introspective gunslinger, are pursued from the deserts of the Copper Country to Ashamoil, ancient city of freaks, art and crime. That's the first three chapters, after which the story begins to explore many different paths. In those first chapters Bishop assembles an oddly old-west atmosphere (her protagonists bear six-shooters and shotguns), a compelling feel soon replaced by the cityscape of Ashamoil. There is beautiful and ambiguous writing throughout, and a perpetual sense that everywhere is hidden deeper meaning. The city is rife with symbols and enigmatic denizens. The dark gunfighter Gwynn, who is the book's main subject, involves himself in a wide range of activities with a cast of diverse characters, including protracted discussions on the nature of Salvation, a love affair with a questionably human woman, and fulfilling his duties as crime-lord heavy. Though all interesting, the various plot lines seemed, at times, to clamor for center stage while suffering from lack of attention. Bishop is a powerful wordsmith, and I look forward to her next work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars All hail KJ, Bishop of Ashamoil! June 3 2003
What a fine book this is! While the world between these pages has been --justly-- compared with M. John Harrison's Viriconium and China Mieville's New Crobuzon, the world of Ashamoil and its environs is uniquely Bishop's own. Bishop's world is every bit as fleshed out as either of the formers', and there's plenty of action and plot to move things along. Ashamoil is not a pretty place, and I found myself immersed in the decadence and savagery of the place.
The author doesn't take the easy path of painting her characters in manichean black-and-white. Gwynn and Raule --the antiheroes and main characters of the story-- are very human in that they are both bad and good, and thus neither completely likeable nor unlikeable. As their paths cross and diverge, and as they confront their respective moral dilemmas, we come to see something of ourselves. In this aspect, she outdoes both Harrison and Mieville.
Should mention that it's written such that you may read it quickly, or linger over it for maximum effect. I chose the latter.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Etched City and plan to return to Ashamoil again soon. Books like this keep me excited about "what's to come" in fiction.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical
The Etched City is a complete surprise from a relatively unknown author, K.J. Bishop.
Fans of Tanith Lee's Paradys series will feel instantly at home in the enigmatically... Read more
Published on April 16 2004 by Alex Hutchins
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful characters
Bishop is a master of creating strong characters who do not fit easily into normal roles. Gwynn, for instance, who is the main character of The Etched City, is vile and... Read more
Published on April 3 2004 by Christopher Torgersen
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic fiction
This isn't just one of the best first novels that I've read this year, it's also one of the best novels. Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2004 by Kelly Link
2.0 out of 5 stars phantasmagoric muddle...
I suppose this is not your average fantasy, but it's not much of a novel either. It fairly defies you not to like it, to stand up to it as it were, as if a certain masochistic... Read more
Published on Feb. 18 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved it, can I have some more please?
What a surreal world Bishop has created and what a breath of fresh air for fantasy writing! Unlike many offerings in the genre this story is driven by the characters and the... Read more
Published on May 29 2003 by Felicity Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars What A Breath of Fresh Air
This is definitely something new. It's not about dragons. It's not about a beautiful heroine or a stunning hero. Read more
Published on May 15 2003 by W. D LaRue
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't believe this is a first novel!
The maturity of the writing in this book is not what you'd expect from a first-time novelist. I was completely enamoured by the world Bishop created for her characters Gwynn and... Read more
Published on May 7 2003 by John Klima
5.0 out of 5 stars Original Writing, Original Writing
Bishop has written an accomplished and brave first novel that doesn't pull punches. The novel gets stranger--and more strangely beautiful--as it progresses, until the reader is... Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2003 by A Reader from Florida
5.0 out of 5 stars The Etched City: a stunning journey of the mind and spirit
I cannot recommend 'The Etched City' highly enough. This is an astonishingly good book. As I read it I found myself thinking of Dostoevsky's willingness to tackle spiritual and... Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2003 by Heather M Campbell
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