Avery Cates: The City Lord

As mentioned in my previous reviews of all these Shattered Gears short stories/novellas, in the original series Jeff Somers introduced readers to Avery Cates, a not very likeable gunner you can't help but root for. Constantly down on his luck and not always the sharpest tool in the shed, Cates' first person narrative has been a highlight since the very beginning and it continues to be the case in these short fiction pieces!

The Final Evolution, last volume in the original series, seemed to bring the overall story arc to an end and no further misadventures appeared to be forthcoming for everyone's favorite gunner. But now, everybody who is somebody seems to be looking for Cates. Some to recruit him, some to capture him. The novella The Iron Island revealed the reason why. Problem is, Cates is no longer in possession of what everybody wants, so he has no choice but to go searching for it, hoping to find it before anyone else does. This was the premise for the last novella, The Bey.

The Iron Island and The Pale were novella-length installments chronicling the events which began in "The Shattered Gears" and "The Walled City." The Bey and The City Lord, two additional novellas, closed the show of that particular story arc. Jeff Somers had no idea that this tale would grow in the telling when he initially set out to write the first short story. Which is why he elected to self-publish them. Now that they have all been released, the author grouped them all into a single novel. If all goes as planned, this omnibus will act as the first volume in what Somers plans to be a new trilogy. Whether or not there is enough interest from Orbit (the imprint which published the original series) or other publishers will determine if this new series will be published the old-fashioned way, or if it will continue to be self-published. Time will tell, but it is now obvious that Somers has enough material for another compelling series featuring an endearing group of disparate misfits. And I for one am excited about discovering what happens next!

Here's the blurb:

As Cates follows the trail to the fortified city of Castelvecchio, he finds The System hasn't completely died yet, and he acquires something he hasn't had in a long time: A target.

The post-apocalyptic worldbuilding remains the facet which gives this series its distinctive flavor. However, the novella format forces this aspect to remain in the background and it doesn't intrude on the tale much. Just enough to convey to the reader what needs to be understood and little else. Now that the entire world order has collapsed, powerful individuals are manoeuvering to carve up small kingdoms and city-states for themselves. With most technology no longer working, psionics are gradually coming into power around the world. And one of the most powerful psionics alive, a mysterious person known as the Archangel, is looking for Cates. Following his narrow escape from a military platform in the Atlantic, Cates and his fellow escapees ended up on the shore of Italy. Trying to evade a strong psionic who is somehow always a step ahead or right behind him, Cates must make his way to Castelvecchio. Where, rumor has it, a remnant of the System and its technology still exists.

And since everything Cates touches has a tendency to turn to shit, the gunner always finds ways to find himself up to his neck into trouble. With former Stormers from the System as unwilling companions and what might be the strongest psionic left in the world attempting to capture him, it's evident that fate is not through with Avery Cates yet. There are rumors that an old-school Techie rules a city to the north and he has set himself against the Archangel. If true, that Techie could be Cates' only hope.

As is Somers' wont, the first person narrative filled with wise cracks and dark humor makes for a fun reading experience. As I always say, Avery Cates is a despicable, manipulative, immoral, lousy, and sick fuck. Yet for all his faults and shortcomings, it's well nigh impossible not to root for the poor fool. He's in over his head yet again, but that's business as usual for Cates. The supporting cast comes together a bit more as a whole and finally takes its rightful place in The City Lord. Moreau, Munkhbold, and Renque, especially.

In The Iron Island we discovered that the SFF built a failsafe installation designed as a fallback base in case the war went badly, as a final repository of armament, equipment, ammunition, and data. Its location is classified, but it's a place where the remnant of the SFF could remake the world anew. And the last existing field reports all name Avery Cates as the final possessor of the details: The location, the access codes, the authorization sequence. Trouble is, the gunner no longer has the piece of hardware in question. And he must now evade capture and death to try to get his hands back on it. Avery Cates can only hope that in Castelvecchio he'll find all the answers he's searching for.

The City Lord closes the show in satisfying fashion and leaves the door open for plenty more. Here's to hoping that a publisher will pick up this new Avery Cates trilogy, or that Jeff Somers made enough with this self-publishing experiment to give it another shot.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

You can download this novella for only 0.99$: Canada, USA, Europe.

You can also buy the omnibus edition, The Shattered Gears, which is comprised of all six Avery Cates short fiction pieces: Canada, USA, Europe

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