J. Vincent Piluso 3:20 p.m., May 20
Internet Book Reviews: City of the Gods: Forgotten
Trapped in a timeless city governed by all the old gods of Earth, D'Molay is a tracker who works for the Gods. He makes a fateful choice to assist a hapless amnesiac girl early in the story. He then begins to suspect she has some kind of connection to a huge beast ravaging the Olympian realm. D'Molay is torn between his duty to the eternal world and the leading of his heart. His compulsion to protect her pits the wits of a man against the guile of the gods, rekindling a faith he had long ago forgotten.
City of the Gods: Forgotten is an illustrated fantasy novel by former San Diegan M. Scott Verne and writing partner Wynn Mercere, in the same vein as Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series and Phillip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go. The trade paperback edition has over 80 illustrations, many by notable classical artists such as Gustave Doré, Lord Frederick Leighton, Léon François Commerre, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Arthur Hughes, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Ingres, Diego Velázquez, William Bouguereau, Botticelli, John William Waterhouse, and others of the 16th through 18th centuries.
Future books are planned for the series. In theory, any of the gods of old could appear in the City of the Gods. Some of the deities that appear include the Greco/Roman Gods Zeus, Eros, Zephyrus, Ares, Hermes & Glaucus. Egyptian gods Set & Sekhmet and Babylonian gods include Lamasthu & Namtar. Also various Chinese, Norse, Indian, Mayan and African gods are featured as the story unfolds. The gods are portrayed very much as they appeared in classical mythology, but each exhibits their own personalities and motivations.
The book deals with issues of trust, faith and the loss of both. There are also strong hints as to why the gods left Earth, and the exploration of the different classes of inhabitants in realm of the Gods (slaves, merchants, freeman, priests and deities).
Authors M. Scott Verne and Wynn Mercere have written and edited numerous fantasy comics and role-playing game books. Verne has created and written material for several fantasy worlds for role-playing games and comics, including Citybook, MAPS, Lejentia, Tunnels & Trolls, Grimtooth’s Traps, Mega Traveller, Space 1889 and numerous others. Over a dozen of the projects he has worked on have been nominated for H.G Wells Awards by the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Two of the games he worked on were entered into the Gaming Hall of Fame.
Wynn Mercere writes fantasy, horror, and historical fiction, having been most active in the 1980s and 1990s in the gaming and comics industries. Some older works, published under the names Debora Wykle and Debora Kerr, are still in print. These titles include the gaming books Citybook VII: King’s River Bridge and Maps 2: Places of Legend (published by Flying Buffalo, Inc.).
Series artist Steve Crompton digitally creates the many illustrations by combining elements of various classical paintings, mixed with his own artwork and retouched photos, to create stunning all-new visuals that bring the COTG stories to vivid, colorful life. It’s impressive how he uses his own graphics skills as a fantasy artist to create such a consistently classical looking array of mythological characters, scenarios, creatures, and locales.
A sample chapter is available online at http://www.cityofthegods.com/chapter1.html , which seems a solid way to generate interest. The text definitely encourages poking around the site to find more. I like how the story description on the website emphasizes a murder mystery-style format. The sample itself is well done and certainly invites further reading. I’m reminded a bit of Edgar Rice Burroughs, in the way that it casually and easily (and skillfully) drops upcoming AND preceding story points into the narrative, and on how swashbuckling is immediately presented as a major story element.
The illustrated maps add a very nice Burroughs-style touch of added realism as well, establishing a topographical backdrop for the story to take place within, one that readers can continue referencing to review aspects of what they’ve read and/or to preview what’s to come.
As for the storyline itself, co-author Verne tells the Reader, “In a way it’s a little bit like a fantasy Twilight Zone episode where a character wakes up and is not sure who or what they really are. The toy box episode comes to mind, though I didn’t consciously plan it like that. Rod Serling’s influence has always been there for me. I still think the greatest movie ending of all time is the end of the first Planet of the Apes movie.”
Verne has known his co-author Wynn Mercere for over twenty years. “We first meet at a game publishing company called Flying Buffalo and became kindred spirits among the grownups. Eventually, we worked on several fantasy role-playing projects and both respected our ability to take a project and finish it. We did a Grimtooth’s Traps book, two books of Fantasy Maps, and a Citybook, so you can see we have been creating and enhancing fantasy worlds as a team for some time.”
Little known to even the most ardent City of the Gods fans, a two-issue Pantheon comic book series the duo did together in the mid 1990s takes place in the same universe as City of the Gods. "There’s a Godly Council, different realms for all the different pagans and religions…it's sort of the equivalent of the Hobbit compared to the later Lord of the Rings books.”
Verne and Mercere self-published the Pantheon comics as a joint venture. “It was sort of a dry run for exploring our realm of gods,” according to Verne. “Set was a villain in that book as well, along with a certain pink Demoness [Demi, the first adults-only comic book character to star in a live-action film] and her mentor cat goddess Kit-Ra.”
“I think that the ‘Realm of Gods’ was too good an idea for us to just let lie so, in 2006, I drew a map of the realm with the idea of creating a book for any role-players that might need to add such a place in their own adventures. After creating the map and a description of the major cities there, I started thinking about all the gods that dwelled there and what were they up to these days. Soon, the idea of writing stories and then a novel emerged out of the mist, and I contacted Wynn to see if she might be interested in working with me on such a project."
Mercere agreed and, in October of 2008, the duo started writing the book. “We divided the plot and characters and each wrote chapters following different character arcs and sub plots. Almost like building a railroad, we would keep laying track and slowly by surely the rail ways would meet up and cross connect until the main plot threads all came together."
"The process of creating the book took us a little over two years and three months, though we were both working on other projects at the same time.”
COTG artist Steve Crompton says that the method of illustrating the book emerged almost by accident. “I did a preview booklet of the novel and added a few digitally altered classical paintings in that book to make it more interesting, and everyone who bought one assumed that the actual book would also have illustrations. Not one to disappoint, I created or found an additional eighty more paintings or engraving that I customized to fit the text of the novel and added them in as the book was laid out."
"I’m sure no large book publishing would have allowed us the freedom to do that to a novel, but we were able to do it ourselves that way. It became one of the main reasons that we decided to publish it through Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing program.”
Though it took me awhile to read the entire first volume, City of the Gods: Forgotten, I found it outstanding. There are some really memorable bits, like when the innocent/naive amnesiac girl sees someone smoking a cigar for the first time and assumes "They must have found a way to cook and eat their food at the same time."
All the Tolkienesque RPG components (including player trading cards seen above, found in a COTG Map Pack) really flesh out the story, as do the illos. There are several segments that inspired post-reading contemplation on my part, like throwaway bits such as Eros pushing away a Nymph that had been cuddling in his lap, as well as the brief (but curiosity-grabbing) references to nine foot tall Amazons and birds with human faces.
There’s also a great line early on from the enigmatic Kafele, “There is no drama in convenience,” that really stood out to me as a potentially interesting untold story –
I read the book at the same time as a friend of mine, and we soon found ourselves discussing things like (SPOILER ALERT) whether the freeman tracker D'Molay should have killed the Mayan in the boathouse, and how it’s unique to see the mythological hierarchy depicted as such whimsical, capricious, careless, and frequently cruel creatures. There's little idolatry going on here.
So many of the Gods can't be trusted, especially around mere mortals. As often happens when gods and men commingle, mere mortals are dwarfed by the epic action and capricious disdain of the eternal beings in whose realm they dwell.
Discussing all this, we probably sounded like a couple of 'tween Twilight fans, all enthusiastic and earnest about the object of our intrigue. That's how enthusiastic we both were (and remain) about the COTG stories AND the illos.
In July 2011, Flying Buffalo Inc. released the City of the Gods Map Pack, a role-playing game supplement kit containing a large full-color map of the City of the Gods, a map of the surrounding lands, a booklet that describes important buildings in the City, and eighteen full-color character cards. Most of the characters and places described in the Map Pack are taken directly from the first novel.
I was able to check out the maps while reading COTG: Forgotten, enabling me to enjoy added contextual perks, like checking out where the armies were marching and reading the player cards with character biographies, as well as looking into the detailed descriptions of locales within and outside the City.
I haven't played a role playing game since the early Dungeons and Dragons of the late 1970s, but this looks like one I'd enjoy!
As part of COTG’s multi-media marketing plan, a digital comic book entitled The Last Goddess #1 was released in October 2011. Also written by Verne and Mercere, it’s the first in a planned City of the Gods Universe comics line. “The story is not directly related to events in the novel, but does reference concepts of the fantasy world,” says Verne.
The plot: At Dunwich Asylum, two evil gods secretly attempt to rebuild their powers and gain new converts. One remaining goddess of the light is reborn to thwart them. Can she rediscover her godhood, adapt to the modern world, and succeed?
The Last Goddess was actually the first new comic book I ever downloaded from the internet. It took me awhile to adjust to reading comics digitally by scrolling, but there's a lot of good artwork in this one. Especially the inking on the many splash panels, but it's sometimes hard to enjoy when revealed gradually or reduced small in order to see a full page at once. At least the panels were laid out to usually read horizontally in the correct order, which for this comic looked purposefully designed for digital reading.
I got a kick out of the Lovecraft mythologies being subtly worked into the narrative via "Dunwich" Asylum. It would be interesting to see a Cthulu story set in COTG! They’re gods too, so there MUST be a place for in the City or in its outer realms for them. (For that matter, shouldn’t Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters also be hiding somewhere in some copyright-and-trademark-protected corner of the COTG universe?)
The comic art suits the story well, other than perhaps Golem's unfortunate codpiece and 12-pack stomach muscles, which paired together resembled a giant reptilian penis. Made him a bit silly looking and hard to take seriously, tho his character is otherwise sympathetic (he loved his "familiar") and heroic.
As for future City of the Gods books, a short story anthology featuring multiple contributors will likely be first to arrive. "Mythic Tales is well on its way to completion," according to Mercere. "The book includes new stories by me and M. Scott Verne, as well as works by many surprise guest writers. You don't need to have read the novel to enjoy the stories in the collection, but if you have, it's all the better for it! Like the novel, this book will be illustrated throughout."
Verne reveals to the Reader that “Right now, we have a story about the Norse gods that were at the first book’s slave auction, and how they’re tricked by Coyote, and we have a story with D'Molay and Jolly Rajah tavern owner Sergius when they were partners. There’s also a story with a challenge between Set, Hermes, and Loki, and another story concerns someone stealing a magical necklace from Quezetcoatl, with a twist ending. There’s a tale with D’Molay versus Anubis."
"We’re also including two ‘outtakes’ from the COTG: Forgotten book; A scene about what happened to Tehn-Mer after she goes back to Sekumet, and an extra scene that takes place during the time Aavi is held as a slave.”
A promotional City of the Gods chapbook released in 2010 received a Silver award from the Arizona/New Mexico division of the Printing Industries of America for printing excellence.
The Kindle version of City of the Gods: Forgotten includes twenty full-page illustrations. Published by Raven Press, the book is available as a 310 page trade paperback or as an Amazon Kindle book.
Also available on the DriveThruFiction.com website, at this writing City of the Gods: Forgotten is listed on its top 100 seller list, at number 62 (of around 1,600 books currently available).
Video trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZ9CT3...
Sample chapter: http://www.cityofthegods.com/chapter1.html
Here's a link to the book as a downloadable PDF file: http://www.drivethrufiction.com/product_info.php?products_id=95074
(All artwork above courtesy and copyright 2011/2012 Raven Press)