I apologize for the late day! My internet was not working yesterday, no matter what I did, and then randomly at like 10pm, it kicked back in like nothing happened.
This was a book I got from a friend (along with an entire box of mixed books) simply because the title sounded cool and the synopsis was interesting. I’ve never heard of Martha Wells, so I was really going in blind. which, admittedly, I’m trying to do more of for this blog. I’m a comfort reader, and don’t stray from my favorite authors too much, but because of my friends and this blog, I’ve been grabbing more random books, and books I might not necessarily have gone for 5 years ago.
Only problem was I didn’t realize it was number 3 in a series until about half way through the book. So, I will eventually go and find the first two books, but until then, there might be some spoilers in this review that I’m not aware of.
Once I realized it was book three, certain aspects of the writing started to make sense. There wasn’t a lot of character or set explanations, no exposition outside of flashback style thoughts. You are literally just thrown into the story. That struck me as odd because to understand your characters and the story, you need to know who you are following and where in their world and time they are. Without this (I’m assuming because it was done in earlier books) it took me a long time to get attached to the characters, and it wasn’t until I saw more character reactions that I started to get attached to the characters. Because I was so far into the book and didn’t really want to drop it, because at that point it’s already too late, there are things that were mentioned that will ruin the beginning books in the series for me.
With that being said, not knowing the two previous books didn’t stop me from enjoying this book. Eventually. I just couldn’t understand the characters backgrounds and some of the underlying emotions and motivations.
When the book started it throws the reader right into a plot for Madeline (at the time my response was mostly “who the f*ck is Madeline?”) to get inside a party, find where the house has hidden the source for it’s warding, bring it down, and let her partners into the house. It was an awesome way to start the book, but also read as if you had previous knowledge. Because I didn’t know, and since it is written nowhere on my copy (it’s an old book), I wasn’t sure if this was bad writing, or just early enough in the book they hadn’t launched into introductions. So I kept reading. Information was delivered oddly, but it was enough I caught up. I was almost 100 pages in and I loved the idea of the book, but somehow the writing itself was intensely boring. It’s such an odd phenomenon when an author creates an interesting story, endearing characters, but their writing style is boring. Cassandra Clare is also victim of this (albeit she is getting better!). Eventually the writing got better, I think I was in the 200’s when I realized I was burning through pages and didn’t want to put the book down.
Another concern I have, one that I’m wondering if it’s explained in the earlier books, is her actual WORLD. They are in Ile-rien, which is near the main city of Lodun. But it’s written as if in the 1800’s or so, with swords, guns, carriages, medical science, and philosophy. But also with Queens, Courts, Police Constables …and court Sorcerers. In the beginning I just thought it was poor world building, taking England and making it the place of a fantasy. Lodun, which makes me think of London, and Vienne which makes me think of France/Paris. But! But, then as more story was revealed, she brought up the Unseelies and the Fay who took over and ruled hundreds of years before and I started to wonder. What if this IS England, but the rule of the Fay altered what would have been our history. Lodun IS London, but hundreds of years later after Magic has surfaced and the Fay altered the landscape. Thinking of it in this aspect started to make more sense, and it was less “bad writing” and more “alternate history”. Philip K. Dick wrote like this (Man in the High Castle anyone?), Shannara chronicles by Terry Brooks, and Jim Butcher writes a fantasy series based thousands of years in our future. This is just off the top of my head. I’m not saying this IS what Wells was intending, but it’s a possibility I hold on to until I get my hands on the first two.
With that out of my system, I will tell you, without as many past book spoilers as I can, about the plot of this books. Nicholas Valiarde, the adopted son of a noble, is the head of a group of thieves and goes by the alias Donatien. I’m assuming that his history before becoming Donatien is in the earlier books, and everything is tied deeply to the framing of his adoptive father for Necromancy. When they break into the house, they find that it has already been broken into, but where they were going for the gold (to hatch an elaborate plot to plant the gold on someone who is tied to Nic’s fathers death) these earlier thieves stole nothing they noticed. While searching around Nic is attacked by what looks like a reanimated corpse. As boring as the writing was, I wanted to know everything about Nic, Madeline, and these ghouls.
The story revolves a lot around Nic dealing with people involved in his fathers framing, but also following a hack spiritualist that is using a device Nic’s father invented and should have been destroyed when he was arrested. With the emergence of this odd spiritualist, the city is noticing missing people and odd sewer clogs. Nicholas, while following Doctor Octave, finds himself in the middle of a Necromancers laboratory.
Now is the race to find the Necromancer before more people die, and before the Necromancer can kill them with his own brand of magic.
There were a few smaller things that really grew my affection for this books (and my desire to read the others). Medical science is a thing, while still not as advanced as today, certain doctors are incredibly ahead of their time. They also knew enough to look for/create gunshot residue. I think this leads more to the intelligence of the characters over the state of the world. But still interesting to read. This book is also incredibly progressive. Madeline, even though a woman of her time, is still incredibly strong and resilient, yet still remains feminine. Showing that a woman can like womanly things and still kick-ass. Wells has also written gay characters; Reynard, Nic’s right-hand man, is openly gay. But the character is written so well, and the reactions of the other characters is so minuscule that him being gay is just up there with him being tall and handsome. It is nothing more than a character trait. No one has refused to work with him, no one brings it up maliciously, it’s just a part of him and a non-issue (Boondock Saints I introduced me to the idea of “non-issue”). Without the knowledge of the previous books I don’t know how it was broached, but in this book, he is basically just another Dorian Gray to society and it is widely known that he seeks out the company of younger men. This persona was created to get him into all areas of society to help Nicholas get information (I gather from the way they talk about this persona). The part of all of this that impressed me the most was I’m pretty sure Nicholas is also gay. He is in a relationship with Madeline, but in one of the earlier books (I’m assuming, it was a conversation she was having about past events) Reynard openly sought Nicholas, and he admitted that if he had kept up his advances, he would have been in a relationship (even if only a physical) with Nicholas. Leading me to thing Nicholas does have even a small attraction to men. Usually gay characters are side and background characters, it’s not too often in main stream media that the main character is gay. It’s happening more in modern literature, but it’s nice to see from a book originally published in 1998.
It was these small writing choices that really made me interested in the book. I recommend the book, I honestly do, but I recommend starting at the beginning of the series …