The New World

In The Electric Church and its sequels, 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 new 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.

Somers explained that he liked Avery and always enjoyed writing about him, but he needed any new material featuring him to have some sort of experimental edge in order to get excited about it. Which is why he wrote The Shattered Gears novellas, now collected into a single volume, yet still available as single short fiction vignettes.

When he was working out the plot of The Shattered Gears, the author also planned on writing two sequels, each divided into novellas like their predecessors. Somers found himself thinking affectionately of Avery Cates, and he wanted to give the protagonist a proper ending. Hence The Burning City, a follow-up to The Shattered Gears, comprised of four novellas: The New World, The Devil's Bargain, The Long Siege, and The Dark Hunt. Later, there will be a final installment titled The Machines of War.

Here's the blurb:

In this sequel to THE SHATTERED GEARS, Avery Cates is finding life as a City Lord not what it's cracked up to be, and is almost relieved when the woman he stole the city from, Lucinda Barowel, returns with a proposal. Partnering with a former Joint Council Undersecretary isn't a comfortable spot for Avery, and it leads him to some dark places -- and one dark place in particular he'd rather not have to remember.

But Cates knows the current state of humanity -- dying in a shut-down world -- is on his shoulders. He also knows he might not survive his struggle against the Archangel, the omnipotent psionic who's marching a genocidal army, intent on ending the world for good.

Cates sees that as his penance, and he's okay with it.

The post-apocalyptic worldbuilding gave the original series its distinctive flavor. Sadly, the novella format of these new tales forces this aspect to remain in the background for the most part. The previous novels have paved the way in that regard, and what worldbuilding there is conveys to the reader what needs to be understood and little else. After all, anyone reading these new novellas has obviously read the series, so there is no need for the author to provide a lot of background information. In The Shattered Gears, we discovered 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 was somehow always a step ahead or right behind him, Cates made his way to Castelvecchio. Where, ultimately, he became city lord. But with things the way they are and the now semi-regular murder attempts against him, Cates quickly realizes that running a city isn't always peaches and cream. Especially when the Archangel is still coming for him. Mankind's only chance for survival appears to be Cochtopa, 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. Problem is, no one seems to know where it is. And time is running out.

As always, the first person narrative filled with wise cracks and dark humor makes for a fun and entertaining reading experience. Avery Cates continues to be a despicable, manipulative, immoral, lousy, and sick fuck. Yet for all of his faults and shortcomings, it's well nigh impossible not to root for the poor guy. Surprisingly, getting older may have made him a little wiser. A little. And since everything Cates touches has a tendency to turn to shit, he's in over his head yet again. Yet that's business as usual for Cates, so he just goes with the flow. The supporting cast, which really came together and finally took its rightful place in The City Lord, didn't shine as much in this latest installment. The focus is more on Ezekial Marko and Spectacular Dan.

The City Lord closed the show on The Shattered Gears in satisfying fashion and left the door open for plenty more. And with The New World and its upcoming sequels, it's evident that fate is not through with Avery Cates yet. Not by a long shot. Which bodes well for Jeff Somers fans!

My only problem with these short, episodic novellas is that you reach their end all too rapidly. They're just teasers, making you want to find out what happens next. Hopefully we won't have to wait for too long for the next one, The Devil's Bargain.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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