City of the Snakes: Early Darren Shan

Darren Shan The City 3. City of the SnakesDarren Shan The City 2. Hell's Horizon 3. City of the SnakesCity of the Snakes by Darren Shan

City of the Snakes is the final entry in Darren Shan’s The City trilogy. The City is so corrupt that it should have fallen to pieces when its criminal overlord, the Cardinal, died. However, Ferdinand Dorak made careful plans for his successor, preventing the gang war that everyone was expecting. Dorak made a deal with the villacs, blind Mayan priests, and together they created human puppets known as the Ayuamarcans. Over the years, the Cardinal made many Ayuamarcans, but the Cardinal’s masterpiece was his successor Capac Raimi.

Raimi is calculating, ruthless, and immortal. He can die, and does many times, but after each horrifying death, he returns to the City on a train three days later, young and unharmed. This is what Raimi was designed to do. Although he will die if he leaves the City for more than a day or two, Raimi’s goal is to expand his sphere of influence until he controls the world. It’s a lofty goal, but he has eternity to meet it.

Unfortunately, things are not going well for Raimi. Years have passed since he first took control of the City, and now rival gangs are testing him again. Raimi reflects that he’s killed a lot of men, but “not nearly enough.” However, now he is more inclined to control the City using his wits rather than his Troops. Unfortunately, rival gangs may just be a distraction for the true enemy: the villacs, who have gone rogue. They seem to be creating new Ayuarmarcans to haunt Raimi. When he follows one into a series of hidden tunnels under a morgue (the “Fridge”), the city finally does erupt into chaos.

When Raimi goes missing, his top general calls upon Al Jeery to go after the villacs. Jeery, the unambitious Troop-turned-detective that starred in Hell’s Horizon, has now taken on the role of Paucar Wami, the City’s most dangerous assassin. He spends his days doing hundreds of sit-ups and pushups, a workout regimen that renders him invincible.

City of the Snakes is a noir story with supernatural motifs, which means that it often calls on the reader to suspend disbelief, perhaps to a fault. Although I can enjoy Capac’s gritty, first-person account of how he regained control of the City after his predecessor’s death and the noir setting that he rules, Al Jeery’s narrative was often more than I could bear.

For one thing, Jeery is in his 50s — and I hope my parents will forgive me for saying this — but I found it difficult to picture him as the most dangerous man in the City. Even Randy Couture has retired. I was also unimpressed with the notion that Jeery could become an assassin by training in his living room. Jeery may have abs of steel, but I’m not convinced abs are the most important credentials for entering the industry. All of this might be less glaring if it weren’t for the fact that Procession of the Dead was focused entirely around training Capac Raimi to become the Cardinal.

City of the Snakes has some enjoyably hard-boiled moments, but it is often easy to tell that this was a novel published by a young author. This is a series for the curious: what did Darren Shan write before he turned to young adult horror?


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RYAN SKARDAL is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF. Ryan and his wife make their home in New Jersey, where they read alongside several cats and two highly disobedient huskies.

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5 comments

  1. A hilarious review, Ryan! Two things occur to me. The first is that, since I’m not a city person, my idea of hell would be to become immortal in a city I could not leave. Secondly, I’m going to start doing push ups and situps in my family room so that after I retire, I can have a second career!

  2. I tend to think of older heroes as more dangerous because they have 1. lots more experience and wisdom 2. the wits and strength to have made it this far 3. more patience 4. the ability to suppress youthful urges 5. more confidence 6. less desire to jump into dangerous displays of bravado.

    As long as he hasn’t “let himself go,” a 50-something man could be much more formidable than a younger man.

  3. @Kat. You provide many good reasons suggesting that the middle aged can be dangerous, and Shan could have chosen any one of them. Instead, he went for sit ups and pushups in the living room.

  4. Like you say, when he wrote this story (he’s actually about my age now, but you indicate that this was his earlier previously unpublished work), perhaps he was too young to realize what goes into making a formidable hero. You’re right that sit-ups won’t do it.

  5. You mean I did those two sit-ups last night for nothing?

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