The Burning City
Copyright 2001 by
I first read this in July 2001.
It is the world of Niven and Pournelle's "The Magic Goes Away".
Magical power is gradually draining from the world and science is
taking its place. As the magic goes away, with it go the gods and
spirits, the spells and the enchantments. In the city of Tep Town, the
god Yagen-Atep sleeps fitfully. While he slumbers no fire can burn
indoors, but in the rare intervals when he awakens, fire can burn
anywhere and a madness possesses the people of Tep Town so that they
burn and pillage their own city.
Whandall Placehold is a child in the city. He's arguably privileged to
be one of the "Lordkin". While the Lords of the city live their hidden
lives in their protected enclave, the Lordkin rule the city taking what
they need, when they need it from the other inhabitants.
Whandall is clearly an bright kid, and with the benefit of some unusual
formative experiences, and the lessons he learns from them, slowly
starts questioning his life and his future in the city.
We follow Whandall as he grows into a teenager and then, working with
wizards, ducking and diving, dealing and fighting his way into a man of
notoriety and substance.
Now a book based on the assumption of the existence of magic should be
pure fantasy, but this is Niven and Pournelle, so there's a rationale and
logic behind the magic. They convince you that there's some sort of
scientific basis for it, and it's quite fun trying to figure out the
This is a more powerful work than "The Magic Goes Away". I've been
noticing recently how Niven and Pournelle's writing has improved over the
years and it shows in this exciting and stimulating novel.
However, although this book is stronger and better written than Magic,
Whandall does start to remind one a little too much of Heinlein's
independent, highly intelligent, supremely competent, tough yet caring
heroes, of which I've had just about my fill.
Loaded on the 3rd August 2001.