The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over Ora’s citizens. Although ær world is restricted to what æ can see and experience through the Gleaming, Anima takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora safe from all harm.
All that changes when a mysterious visitor enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—æ never before imagined to exist, æ finds ærself asking a question that throws into doubt ær entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?
Thank you to Tor Books for the review copy. I can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
As soon as I read the description for this book I just knew I had to request it, though I had very little idea what to expect going in I was quickly swept away into a story within a story. In the Watchful City is a genre bending novel about life, grief and what it means to live, and for a Novella it sure packs on hell of a punch.
This is a really hard book to give a synopsis for, not just because of spoilers, but more because nothing I say will ever really live up to the actual story. Anima chose to become node, an extrasensory human hidden away in the inner sanctum and tasked with keeping the peace of Ora. But when a stranger appears with a chest full of mysterious objects, all with a story attached, Anima starts to question ærself and this city that she works for, and before long æ realises æ haven’t really been living at all.
Anima was just the perfect POV to read this story from. After an event in ær life æ gave themselves to become a node, a person who cannot leave the inner sanctum except through the gleaming, a process that allows ær to inhabit the bodies of animals to carry out tasks for the city of Ora. æ have lived a relatively sheltered life, until the moment a stranger arrives, and then æ realises that there is more out there. Though ær character the author explores grief, power and oppression in a way I have never seen done before.
Though the main story does follow Anima and ær story, some of my favourite parts were the disjointed and fractured story’s told to ær by the stranger. The author uses these to skilfully build their world without us ever leaving the city of Ora. They give us not only an insight into the current political climate, but also historical context as well as awareness of other cultures magic system and include Asian mythology and folklore to create a sweeping tale about what it actually means to live.
If there was one word I could use to describe this book it would be unique, everything from the world, the magic system and the inclusion of non-binary characters were just so far from books I have read before that I found myself wanting to devour every piece of information. It’s not a light and easy read by any means, the story deals with multiple dark themes such as suicide and grief, but told through Amina’s lens means we get to see them from a previously unseen viewpoint.
This review might seem a little disjointed, and for that I apologise, but this is just a book that I struggle to explain. It wont be for everyone, the use of stories within stories and the disjointed nature of them might put some people off, but I can safely say that it will make my favourite reads of the year and I will be eagerly anticipating the authors next works.