Fantasy Fans

SFINCS Review: Rat City

Welcome to another review as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship, or SFINCS, which I am judging as part of Team Jamreads alongside a cohort of other lovely judges. For my SFINCS reviews, I will be judging each book on the following five criteria: Characters, Setting, Plot, Writing, and Enjoyment with a bonus point for Cover Art and Formatting. This review contains my honest thoughts and does not represent the opinion or final rating of the team.

This review is for Rat City: The Rat City Chronicles, Book 1 by Laury Silvers and has been chosen by Team Jamreads as one of the team’s semi-finalists.

In the walled city of Aman Kala, the grisly murder of a sacred Rat Keeper pulls Detective Derya Mack into an investigation that threatens to expose the power struggles that guarantee the very safety the fortress offers from the plague world.

The year is 986H/1578CE and Derya Mack lives and works in Aman-Kala, a plague fortress located between Arab, Persian, and Turkic lands. The rebel Zanj have toppled the Abbasid Caliphate, outlawed slavery, and turned regions and cities into client states. The Zanj Caliphate governs from Baghdad backed up by the force of their empire-wide army. Regional militaries are outlawed and cities are left to govern themselves without police or jails. In Aman-Kala, private detectives solve crimes, large and small. Derya Mack is one of those detectives.

Rat City is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo OUT NOW IN REVENGE IN THREE, a collection of novellas based on the classic novel entitled Revenge in Three.

Find Rat City: The Rat City Chronicles, Book 1 on Goodreads

The Review

Rat City is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. I’ve not read The Count of Monte Cristo, so I couldn’t possibly tell you how this compares, but what I CAN tell you is that this is a historical detective story set in the walled city of Aman Kala, a Middle Eastern city plagued with rats and now a murderer.


Our main character is detective Mack, an older lady who happened to inherit the sleuthing trade. She’s brought in to investigate the mysterious murder of a Rat Keeper, a sacred profession that revolves around breeding and maintaining rats for the city’s rat policy – a system of supplying rats to the city so they can catch fleas and die of the plague instead of humans. Not everyone agrees with this policy, and as Mack begins her investigation to find the Rat Keeper’s killer, she unravels various plots that could threaten the political situation of the city, as well as threats that are more personal.

Mack makes for a refreshing protagonist. There aren’t many stories which feature an older woman protagonist, and Mack comes across as very human. She’s not young enough to be running around and getting into high-stake pursuits. Her body aches from years of service. But I also loved the way she interacts with the people around her, even feeling attraction to other male characters without it coming across as a sexual gaze, because you know, even older women have these feelings, dammit. I simply loved her character, and I loved that she pressed on to discover the truth and do the right thing.

The world is populated with a whole cast of minor characters, and they also felt human to me – even the jinn.


The story takes place in the fictional and medieval Middle Eastern city of Aman Kala, which is a walled city due to the plague. The author does a fantastic job of bringing this city to life and making it feel populated and real. Details of both the culture and religious practices drip off the page seamlessly and create an atmosphere that feels utterly immersive in a way few books can accomplish. There are some fantasy elements scattered throughout, such as jinn character, and Mack herself seems to show a magical connection toward animals that, sadly, doesn’t get explored enough for my liking, but I would say this story feels more historical than fantastical.


As you may expect of a detective story, the plot has many threads woven throughout. The whodunit aspect takes a while to unravel, with more questions appearing than answers and enough twists to make you dizzy. I’d say this isn’t an action packed book, so don’t go in expecting a brutal and bloody ending, but it certainly left me satisfied and wanting more from this world and detective Mack.


This story is dense. I don’t mean that like it’s a bad thing! It’s a heavy book that packs a lot of world building and story into a short novella format. There’s a lot going on here, to the point that a glossary is included to help you keep track of it all, but don’t be put off. While I say it’s dense, this book is akin to that stuffed satisfied feeling you get after eating a big meal. This isn’t a light snack. It’s a full course. So if you’re looking for a story with more depth, then this is for you!


Rat City was a surprise hit for me during this competition. I didn’t know what to expect from a book that pitches itself as a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, but I simply loved how different this book is to every other book I’ve read in recent times. It’s also put me in the mood for more detective adventures. It just goes to show that reading outside of your normal genre can be a wonderful thing. The author is definitely on my radar!

Cover Art and Formatting

The cover is quite simple and doesn’t show the setting, but it works for me! I also liked the inclusion of a glossary.

Final Score: 4.5/5

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