PROCESSION OF THE DEAD, the premiere book in a new series, The City, is Darren Shan's first foray into adult novels. We knew his Cirque du Freak novels were dark and creepy (if for a younger audience) and therefore were pretty excited to see what the guy could do with more adult content, and we weren't disappointed at all.
PROCESSION OF THE DEAD follows one Capac Raimi, and is told from his point of view. He is an aspiring gangster with some mysterious past he can't really remember, except in very vague glimpses and flashes (yeah we know, it's cliché, but it is handled well). Capac comes to The City and gets in the "good graces" of the man who owns and runs it from the ground up; The Cardinal. The Cardinal's reputation is horrendous, though that description barely scratches the surface of his actual personality. Speaking of which, Capac's isn't exactly a role model either. As Capac rises through the ranks of the The Cardinal's empire, he comes across a variety of strange occurrences and people and the mystery of The Cardinal and The City builds.
PROCESSION is a very cool mix of mystery, urban fantasy, horror, crime/drama and a gangster story. The City has plenty of bizarre things going on, and Darren uses Incan mythology to create a unique setting. Many of the names are Incan in origin, or actual Incan words. The City has a lot of secrets (of course), many of which stem from ideas built from Incan society. Part of the allure of this novel resides in this fresh and creative use of a fascinating and under-used culture.
The characters of the story are all very intriguing, even if they are a bit one-dimensional. Each of them seems to embody one very strong characteristic or emotion, and really don't deviate much from their paths. Capac is ambitious. Really ambitious. Really scary ambitious. Paucar is a violent freak. A very scary violent freak. Leonara is motherly. Ama epitomizes desire and love. The way characters were designed and presented reminded us very strongly of David Eddings in a more horror-centric setting. In this case it worked, and we ended up liked every character.
Take it as a positive or a negative, but book is very short--only 278 pages--and moves very quickly. The pacing was pretty good, though the first hundred or so pages did make us wonder when things were going to get really interesting. Thankfully the last third of the book rewarded us and made us glad we stuck with it.
We did, however, want a little bit more depth. PROCESSION was really a novel that could have done with another hundred pages. Especially regarding the Blink Monks who seem to be such an integral part of The City, but are left largely untouched for most of the book. The ending also made us wonder how the book would become a series (a proposed trilogy).
The finale and epilogue were sufficiently twisted for us, but could have used another 10 or so pages to avoid feeling so cramped and rushed. The final paragraph had a very heavy "Dun-Dun-DUUUN!" feel to it. Woohoo! However, (you knew it was coming) the climax did feel somewhat muted by the fact that we had figured out exactly how it was all going to play out, and the fact that Capac wasn't really doing anything but riding on rails, like a train.
As you know, gangster-like stories should have well-done violence, so it was something we looked at with a critical eye. The action scenes are brutal and bloody, but never approach slasher-movie feel. They are very clear and detailed, but never cross into wordiness. Kudos Darren. This part was very well constructed, and fit the theme of the book extremely well.
We did have a few issues here and there, but perhaps our biggest was with that the main PoV character had such a strong sense of ambition and propensity for violence is was hard for us to identify with him, and care about him as much as we cared about other characters. Capac was largely an anti-hero, with a few scenes of humanity that didn't do much to hide the fact that he was a "bad dude". There just simply wasn't a lot to like about this guy, and what little there is quickly dissolves. Though...without spoiling anything there is a very cool reason for this, and was really the saving grace of that character.
All in all, PROCESSION OF THE DEAD was tons of fun to read. Darren Shan is an author we will be following now. Thumbs up for buying this book. It's very light, but it's very worth it.
Recommended Age: 18+
Language: Plenty of cursing. It is a book about gangsters. D'uh!
Violence: There wasn't a TON, but what was there was bloody, and quite visceral. Again, it seemed perfectly placed in this setting.
Sex: There aren't any actual events depicting it, but there is a lot of talk about it.
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Also, we would feel poorly if we didn't mention our like for the cover. Simplistic, yet extremely fitting.