The Invisible (The City-States Cycle) by Seb Doubinsky

Book Review

Title: The Invisible (The City-States Cycle)

Author: Seb Doubinsky

Genre: Noir/Crime/Dystopian/Sci-Fi

Rating: *****

Review: I didn’t know there were multiple books in the City-States Cycle but from my understanding they are stand alone novels in a shared universe, so I should be ok. I didn’t know anything about this book before getting into it but from what I understood of the synopsis, it seems to be a noir crime novel with dystopian and sci-fi elements. I didn’t know what to expect from The Invisible, but the opening was interesting as we are introduced to the newly appointed City Commissioner Georg Ratner, who is taking over from a dead man. This world of New Babylon seems to be very politically driven as almost all the characters we have been introduced to are involved in politics and also seem very corrupt. Ratner even weighs people by how corrupt they are and the people he seems to trust are the least corrupt but even he himself can’t say he isn’t corrupt as he has done small favours for friends although nothing serious or criminal, yet.

An interesting thing to note is up until a new law is brought in right at the beginning of the book, politically driven assassinations have been legal, which puts politicians in an extremely dangerous profession. Ratner is visited very quickly by his old partner from the police force, Captain Jesse Valentino asking for a search warrant he was refused, he is investigated a coffee company he believes are importing drugs. Jesse produces email between the CEO and Helena Gonzalez who is known in the underworld and the head of his department is a politician named Thomsen who Ratner knows is extremely corrupt and agrees to give him the warrant as long as he is discreet and keeps him in the loop. Ratner has an interest in this as it is linked to the upcoming election as some of the parties involved are close to Ted Rust, the presidential candidate running against Maggie Delgado.

As we approach the ¼ mark in the novel, we start to see the development of the plot at the core of the novel as DA Flowers asks Ratner to personally take responsibility for dealing with the new drug, Synth, meaning he would be accountable for something that he can’t personally deal with. However, as it will help the current President Delgado with her possibly re-election, she promises him another term as City Commissioner and in Ratner’s eyes she is the lesser of two evils, so he agrees. He also uses his background as a cop to help in the investigation but it seems that the drug is really advanced and supposedly allows the user to see new realities, an ultimate escape, but the dealers have no connection other than they are all students or work, so they aren’t the typical types for dealers. He ends up meeting with Jesse again and he explains they found some information on the dead man’s laptop and that it might be big stuff, however, in the middle of the night, Ratner gets a call about a colleague being killed and has to rush into work. An old army friend now on the police force investigating Synth tells Ratner that this drug is political as it offers an escape from reality something the politicians cannot afford to stay on the street when they need to bend people to their ideas and agendas. So far, The Invisible was enjoyable, but I was a little confused about the world, political system and where the book is going to go.

As we cross the ¼ mark in the novel, the person who has been murdered is Jesse, and the laptop he found and his notebook are missing which makes Ratner believe that Jesse was on to something and someone didn’t want that knowledge becoming public but they didn’t know about the USB drive that Jesse had. On the back of all this, Ratner wants to find out who killed his friend but he is also dealing with the Synth crisis and a lot of political shifts from a lot of different people which makes following things a little difficult but we get the gist of where the story is going. I really liked Ratner’s relationship with Laura as through her we get an outside perspective on the state of New Babylon in the wake of a financial crisis and a fight for political power leading to strikes and a general discontent among the people. As City Commissioner, Ratner has a difficult line to walk in order to please the people above him while serving his own agenda to find the murderer of his former partner. The race for power is also heating up as Rust seems to be a well-loved if corrupt person and it seems like he is moving ahead in the Presidential race which isn’t something that Ratner or anyone else wants.

As we approach the halfway mark in the novel, things are starting to move forward as the tech team manage to break the encryption on the USB drive found on Jesse’s body but all it contains are a lot of spread sheets that the police have to go through but they lack man power due to budget cuts. Two strange things also happen back to back, Ratner receives an email from Inspector General Ali Shakr Bassam from Samarqand saying that he heard about Jesse’s death and what he was investigating and might have some valuable information to send his way and they arrange a time to speak over Skype to discuss this. On the back of this, there is a death being related to Synth which has never happened before, so a lot of pressure is being put on Ratner to produce results when he doesn’t have anything to go on. After meeting with the narcotics teams, he begins to suspect that Synth is an elite drug as it isn’t cheap and a lot of the junkies in New Babylon are sticking to tried and tested drugs like cocaine. He suspects that this drug is designed to appeal and target the elite, which would explain the politicians desire to see it gone from the city. He also believes that there isn’t a larger network as many believe, as the drug is only sold in limited quantities which would only produce small profits. Ratner is being to suspect that this drug is being used as an experiment of some kind and needs to get to the bottom of the mystery before his head is on the chopping block as Rust is gaining traction in the polls and if the current President loses power, then everything is going to go to Hell.

As we cross into the second half of the novel, I was really starting to enjoy The Invisible after getting used to the writing style and rather strange set up of the novel. When Ratner finally speaks to Inspector General Ali, he learns that Ali among many others are members of the Egregorians, a group fighting for the forces of good. Ali explains that the deaths of many writers all over the world including Jesse is a sign that very dark times are ahead but if it is developing into what Ali believes then there is still a chance for them to fight back and he asks Ratner to keep him informed and he agrees. That night Ratner dreams of Nut, an Egyptian goddess, who has helped him in the past but all she gives this time is a cryptic message that Ratner knows he will understand when he needs that information. While I was expected a group like the Egregorians to pop up at some point, I don’t know what the purpose of the Gods and Goddess are as they come from a variety of origins and they seem extremely real but I am not sure how they fit into the wider world. Ratner ends up in a Synth commune talking to Warren, and he realises that a lot of the information they have about Synth is false or misleading at best. Warren also lets slip that Synth is a drug of freedom as it has a set price that never changes, and you can only get it if you are connected to the right people. When Ratner asks if Warren is on Synth, his response is amazing as you wouldn’t know which is the point of the drug, to offer an escape to those that need it. Shortly after a general strike is called meaning there is even more pressure on Ratner to sort it out but he makes the right call in contacting the union rep in order to discuss a plan of action, but everything seems to be leading to the conclusion that Synth is a politically motivated drug and that someone high-ranking might be distributing it and this leads us back to the Green Star coffee company which both Jesse and John were looking into when they were killed.

As we approach the ¾ mark in the novel, Ratner learns that Jesse’s publisher has been killed in an arson attack and he informs Ali as he promised, in return Ali gives him the location where he can get his hands on Jesse’s last collection of poetry before his death. Ratner also gets the information for the spreadsheets back and it is bigger than he imagined. It turns out that Green Star is owned by S & G, which seems to be involved with some seriously shady business which all links back to Rust and politics. With Jesse’s former boss, Ratner decides they should continue their investigation into S & G, but they need to keep it quiet as they don’t want the investigation to be any more political than it already is. Ratner has Warren tracked and eventually breaks up a Synth festival where deals are going down, Warren agrees to help the police with a identification sketch in return for a lesser sentence but the name Vita, is one that was mentioned earlier and she seems to be the only person making deals with people using the drug. The political system is also changing as the President does a 180 on her ideal agreeing with the strikes, most likely in an effort to gain some left minute votes and maintain her lead and it seems to be working.  

As we cross into the final section of the novel, we see the final pieces of the puzzle come together and while it isn’t a happy ending, it is a satisfying one. However, I did have a lot of lingering questions about the world, political system and the involvement of the Gods and Goddesses. I think this might be something that might satisfied by reading the other books in this series, just to get more immersed and in tune with this particular universe, which is something I will definitely be looking into in the future. As a political/crime noir novel, The Invisible definitely hits all the right spots but the dystopian and sci-fi elements were very light, and I hope they are expanded on in the other novels too. As I mentioned, I haven’t read many crime noir novels and The Invisible was definitely an interesting introduction to the genre and I will definitely be reading more from this author in the future.  

Buy it here:


Kindle Edition:           

I received this copy from review consideration from the publisher. 

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