I have no interest in another year speeding by and me aging up faster than I’m ready to, BUT! Last night (or rather, this morning), I finished a book that I absolutely LOVED and just saw that the sequel will be available around May of next year. I cannot WAIT! I want it NOW!
What is today’s featured book?: Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donnelly, who, by the way, is not much older than I am, I think. She was featured in this episode of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is where I first heard about her and her book, so she has to be very young.
Format I consumed it in: E-book. I didn’t wait for it to go on sale or anything, despite my annoyance about e-books sometimes costing the same as/more than print books– that’s right, I paid full price for this book, and it was worth every penny!
The premise: Here are the players:
Cyril: 35, cunning, manipulative, bears a remarkable resemblance to a famous fictional movie star, comes from a long line of famous diplomats. Suffering from trauma from a previous mission gone wrong. Occupation: Spy. Although he’s described as 5’7″ and blonde, I kept picturing Richard Madden the way he looked in Sirens as Cyril, except with dark blonde/reddish hair. That image really grew on me, and now I can’t imagine anyone else as Cyril.
Aristide: 41 (42?), incredibly alluring, calculating, confident, flirtatious– a self-made man of many talents. Occupation: Master of Ceremonies/performer and notorious head of a smuggling ring.
Cordelia: Age unknown, stunning, sharp as a tack, loyal to a fault, resilient, brave, resourceful. Occupation: Showgirl.
The story is set in an almost alternate-universe version of Europe towards the end of the Jazz Age (it feels like the transition from the 20s to the 30s). The cities and states are all fictional, all part of a fictional country surrounded by other fictional countries, but they’re very familiar and clearly resemble real European cities during that time period.
I’ve read several reviews that call this book “timely”, and I have to 100% agree– the main conflict here is the government takeover by the new Ospie party and its leaders, who are mostly represented by conservative businesspeople who detest show biz and “out of the norm” relationships and everything else that’s fun in life. They also have a thing against immigrants and many of them seem to be racist to some extent. Everyone knows the election results were tampered with, opposing party politicians are forced to resign or are arrested after being framed for various crimes, the entertainment district is repeatedly raided, businesses are shut down, strict travel restrictions are implemented, riots are breaking out….. basically, throughout the novel, we are witnessing the transition of a state from flawed and slightly corrupt to completely fascist and corrupt, and get to see how our protagonists deal with these changes.
All three main characters are people who are used to operating from the shadows and more or less do illegal things on a daily basis. They are not pure, warm, friendly characters– they have all experienced life and are somewhat self-serving and suspicious of everyone. Their lives and work also overlap a lot: Cyril is in a romantic relationship, more or less, with Aristide, and many of his poor decisions are made to keep both himself and Aristide alive. Aristide has his own problems and network of friends/acquaintances/employees/colleagues/contacts, etc. to worry about, but I would say his actions are influenced by his feelings for Cyril as well. Cordelia is Aristide’s co-star and the only one of the three who actually tries not to throw her associates under the bus to save herself whenever a problem arises. Without further spoilers (in this section, at least), we move on to
My thoughts: This book was a fantastic read for me. I loved all three protagonists, especially Cordelia, who is just so spunky and is such a dynamic character. She starts out as just a showgirl who’s running deals on the side, but becomes a super important player by the end of the book. I enjoyed reading all the interactions between the characters– Lara Elena Donnelly does a good job balancing dialogue, inner thoughts, and action. I just complained in a previous review about a book having too much telling and not enough showing. Not so here! I was especially impressed by how she doesn’t spend paragraphs on world-building. We pick it up from things the characters say and do; we figure it out from brief descriptions that come up during action scenes and from government documents and propaganda posters and banners plastered around the city, almost as if we were walking through the place ourselves and not just having it described to us by a friend who’s recently traveled there.
That said, I have to mention that I may be a bit biased when it comes to the main relationship in this book, because I’m a huge fan of slash in books/media, especially if it’s canon. There were several detailed sex scenes. As a rule, I do not like detailed sex scenes in books because I feel like they’re interrupting the action. However! I didn’t mind these scenes, probably because of the aforementioned reason. If Cyril had been female instead and I had to read the same scenes….. yeah, I think I would have grumbled a little. I will say, though, regardless of gender, I adore Cyril and Aristide’s relationship. Aristide is a morally ambiguous character, and in the first half of the book, I thought Cyril was one, too, but by the end, I realized he’s an immoral little shit. He cares about his sister and Cordelia, but only in a passing sort of way (meaning he spares them a thought occasionally during his scheming). Aristide is probably the only person he wouldn’t betray to save his own hide, and you can really see it. It’s kind of beautiful.
[SPOILERS] I thought this book was a stand-alone, so I was super worried one or more of the three of them would be killed off. The whole thing also ends in a massive cliffhanger, but in a way that if Lara Elena Donnelly did decide “Nah, I don’t want to write any more”, you could PRETEND things will magically resolve themselves and it wouldn’t be too unsatisfying. I HATE ambiguous endings (I’m looking at you, German movies!), so I was relieved to learn that this will be a trilogy and I’ll get a legit resolution… probably by 2019.