The City Stained Red
Bring Down Heaven - Book #4
by Sam Sykes
I picked this book up thinking it was the first in a series, but it wound up being Book 4 (i.e., the first book of a second trilogy). This explains why it was so hard to wrap my head around what was happening for the first third of the book.
As for the story itself, Sykes has a fantastic imagination, with majestic creatures such as the couthi, bizarre creatures with paintings for faces and four arms, and demons-that-live-in-arms. The city of Cier'Djaal is another bastion of imaginative creatures and customs and factions. I particularly enjoyed imagining some of the rivalries between religious / military orders.
The book is dark -- the body count is in the hundreds -- and spends a lot of time in the characters' heads. Rather than talking to each other about their problems, the characters kept their secrets to themselves, and it wound up with a bit of a mopey feeling. A lot of self-pity, and not a lot of confidence (other than Gariath, who was probably my favorite character).
Speaking of characters, the main characters all feel as if they're straight out of a D&D campaign. You have Lenk (human warrior), Dreadalon (human mage), Denaos (human thief), Asper (human priestess), Gariath (giant/dragonman berzerker), and Kataria (pseudo-elf archer). I thought the characters were fun at first, but as they went off on their own little adventures, the lack of originality shone through. I mean, who really admits to being a thief? It's one of the huge flaws of the D&D universes (Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms are huge offenders).
The NPCs (such as they were) were far more creative and memorable.
Overall, I'll give it an A+ for creativity, a C for diverse-but-predictable cast of characters, and a D for story and narrative. That said, I did read this out of order, so take my "grades" with a grain of salt. I probably won't read the original trilogy, but I might pick up the sequel. I don't know what that tells you about how I feel about this book, but there you have it.