City of a Thousand Faces – audiobook review

“There is a city far away, my parents often spoke of it as if it has always been there, and always will be. I had seen it in paintings and read about it in stories the richest most powerful city on earth, the centre of everything. It drew people from every corner of the empire and beyond, hungry for wealth & power, or in some cases more wealth & more power. Dazzled by its brightness, and like moths drawn to a candle many were burned alive by its candle… Tumanbay!”

‘The City of a Thousand Faces’ written by Walker Dryden, and read by Clare Corbett is a deeper dive into the absolutely amazing world of BBC4 audio drama Tumanbay. I previously reviewed Tumanbay in some depth a few weeks back, and enjoyed the audio drama so much I just had to download the Audible version to compare experiences. And boy I wasn’t let down!

Tumanbay is a historical mystical world based on the Mamluk slave dynasty of ancient Egypt. Since the sultans of this dynasty  were earlier slaves or the sons of former slaves, the Mamluk dynasty came to be known as the slave dynasty. Visualise a desert city far away built by slaves ruled by the almighty sultan where wealth, greed, power, and corruption sit side by side as the natural order of society; and sultans are dethroned, or assassinated as frequently as the changing of the seasons.

The City of a Thousand Faces stage is set within the first season of Tumanbay’s audio drama world. The depth, and journey the writers take you on actually brings the characters to life in such an astonishing way it feels like they literally jump off the page, or in my case out of my headphones. Clare Corbett’s narration is absolutely spot on, and I was completely blown away by her vocal ability to make every character sound defined and unique. I was also massively impressed with her varied accents as she switches between both sultan and peasant, and back again with ease within a world built out of beggars, spies, and emperors.

This book and the subsequent dialect from the audio drama run pretty much in parallel with one another, with the book naturally adding more contextual details about events not so present within the audio drama version. The wonderfully crafted scene between Cadali & Gregor where they share a mutual joke between themselves at the expense of the sultan is absolutely fantastic writing; normally enemies they both enjoy a brief moment of dare I say it associated amusement.

I also enjoyed the detailed description as you discover the depths of Tumanbay’s city of the dead, where a much more richer, nuanced picture is presented of the dark catacombs where Gregor is held in court by the underworlds thieves & dwellers.

The high stakes powerplay story of love, betrayal, and corruption is all there in grizzly high definition for readers to fully immerse themselves into, as the story builds towards the cities slow process of self destruction. I comfortably chewed through the one hundred chapters within days as I enjoyed the storyline and enchanting journey that much. My one hope is that the writers John Dryden & Mike Walker continue the story beyond this first book/season, and continue the epic saga on into the other three seasons already associated with the audio based drama. Perhaps that was always the plan. Either way I know that if this was to happen it would make for excellent reading/listening (fingers crossed!)

However you chose to enjoy this book of historical fiction in either audio or book format, they both can be purchased from either Amazon or Audible for your reading/listening pleasure. I can also highly recommend listening to Tumanbay via the BBC Sounds App, or what other method you chose to listen to podcasts on (Stitcher, Castbox, Spotify).

For any budding writers out there that would like a frank & honest review of your audiobook or podcast whatever your genre please do get in touch via any of the below methods, or through my contacts page.

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