13 March 2009

Mélusine (Sarah Monette)

Last month I was challenged by the lovely Ana from The Book Smugglers and the lovely Amyless to review Mélusine (Sarah Monette). This was a book that The Book Smugglers had been challenged to read by Kristen (from Fantasy Cafe) and while the word on the street (blog) had me intrigued, the back cover summary hooked me line and sinker:
Mélusine - a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption - and destinies lost and found. Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But his aristocratic peers don't know his dark past - how his abusive former master enslaved him, body and soul, and trained him to pass as a nobleman. Within the walls of the Mirador - Mélusine's citadel of power and wizardry - Felix believed he was safe. He was wrong. Now, the horrors of his previous life have found him and threaten to destroy all he has since become. Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. Raised as a kept-thief and trained as an assassin, he escaped his Keeper long ago and lives on his own as a cat burglar. But now he has been caught by a mysterious foreign wizard using a powerful calling charm. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay - but for Felix Harrowgate. Thrown together by fate, the broken wizard Felix and the wanted killer Mildmay journey far from Mélusine through lands thick with strange magics and terrible demons of darkness. But it is the shocking secret from their pasts, linking them inexorably together, that will either save them, or destroy them.
I finished reading the book on Sunday and have attempted to cobble together a few of my thoughts. Where to start? Firstly, did the book work for me? The answer is a resounding YES! A caveat: this book is what is known as 'dark fantasy' and it is, while slightly humourous in places, very, very dark. Nasty, nasty things happen to the characters, things that only in the depths of depraved humanity would people inflict on others. Sometimes I'm not sure which is worst, specific, vivid details or my imagination filling in the gaps. This book had both!

Interestingly for a fantasy book (or at least the ones I've read), Mélusine is written in the first person, which I have to admit to not being a huge fan of. However, in this book it worked, maybe because the reader moves between the POV of the two main (male) protagonists - Mildmay the Fox and Felix Harrowgate. As the story develops, we get a very clear picture of both Felix and Mildmay. Often when I read books written in the first person I feel like I am getting a sanitised view. In Mélusine everything is raw, which meant that our impressions of the characters and the emotions the words evoke were, for me, just as raw. Both Mildmay and Felix have a strong voice. I just loved Mildmay's self-deprecating humour:
I trailed along after Felix all fu*king afternoon. We hit this kind of goat track after a while - and if you ask how I know it was for goats, it was because they were standing around laughing at us the whole way.
And his matter-of-fact way of looking at situations:
I met Ginevra Thomson in the ordinary way of business. She was looking for a cat burglar. I was looking for a client.
Mildmay has one face, which is not to say that he is one-dimensional, because he is far from it. (There is definitely more to Mildmay that meets the eye.) I guess what I'm trying to say is that while Mildmay uses many pseudonms he is, for the most part, comfortable in his own skin, with who and what he is.
Felix is Mildmay's diametrical opposite. I have heard that Felix is a love him/hate him character. I loved him. We see so many different sides to Felix as the book progresses and not all of them are nice. Felix runs from himself, hides himself within layers. In parts he isn't...likeable, but I was drawn to him. His madness was...interesting, and I spent most of the book thinking he wasn't completely mad. His magic was (IMO)...warped, and so he saw things others didn't. The big turning point for me with Felix was early on in the book, when he almost started down the path of his abuser. Instead, he looked inside himself, realised where he was going and decided he needed to be punished...by the one person who could truly, in his mind, punish him. So he went back to his abuser. That one small scene told me how broken Felix truly was.

Yes the author does kind of throw you in (at the deep end) to the story. No mass info dumping (because otherwise there would be nothing else as the world Mélusine inhabits is incredibly rich and complex, and different and yet at the same time not. I enjoyed stumbling over the occasional Earth-like references - Mark Polaris the explorer for example. There were definitely some VERY long sentences, that were a little confusing at times and had to be re-read. Then again, they could be likened to somone's thoughts. And thoughts can and do...ramble. It just meant I had to concentrate that much harder, which wasn't a bad thing as the imagery evoked was so vivid. I will echo all the reviews I have seen to date (including a marvellous review by The Book Smugglers at Fantasy Cafe) and suggest checking the author's website for a guide on the calenderical system and a map of Mélusine. However, where all the various suburbs in the city were didn't worry so much as where all the countries were. I spent the intial part of the book trying to remember what other book the Lower City reminded me of...then I remembered. Tamora Pierce's Terrier, although Terrier is a YA book and so sanitized to a certain extent. In Mélusine the depravities that humans can inflict on each other were very apparent.

The lack of a map was, however, a minor issue. I didn't want to put the book down and kept getting annoyed at how pesky things (like life) kept interfering. So I had to snatch pages here and there - not the best way to read a book such as this. Then again, considering how dark some scenes were, a break might have been beneficial. I think for The Virtu I will deliberately start reading it on a weekend so I am not interrupted! And the last 10 pages of the book just ripped at my heart - it was raw and I loved it!

So, will I read the second book (The Virtu)? Definitely! Once I have 'cleared the deck' (so to speak) of the library books I currently have I will be hunting down The Virtu. Hopefully if the review is as rambling as I fear it is then the fact I want to read the second book so desperately will give you a inkling into whether I liked the book or not *grin*


  1. Great review. Now I'm gonna have to add it to the TBB. Thanks! (I think) *g*

    Maybe I should check to see if my library carries this otherwise my wallet will just have something else to curse about! *sigh*

  2. Thank you Aymless ;) It is an amazing book! IIRC, the fourth and final book in the series should be published next month..

  3. Excellent review! I'm so glad you liked it! It is totally challenging and even overwhelming at times, but so worth the read. Felix is such a compelling character. The Virtu is also wonderful, and just as dark.

    The other book that reminds me of Melusine (though not quite as dark) is Havemercy. It also has the dark fantasy elements and split 1st person POV.

  4. Terrific review, orannia! Sounds like it's probably not my cup of tea (I don't really care for fantasy -- except CL Wilson), but I'm glad you enjoyed it. And more than that, you write a heck of a review!

  5. Hey! yay! Finally your review is here!

    Glad you liked the book - I think you liked a bit more than we did even. : D

    and Orannia, I am serious here, you totally should write more review. I really like your voice.

  6. That's Ana by the way, I keep staling Thea's identity god only knows how. *g*


    argh . Tnank god it's Friday.

  8. Great review! I've been wondering about this book since you mentioned it before. Def. bumping it up on the list.

  9. I agree with Ana-dressed-as-Thea: you need to write more reviews, orannia, that was lovely.

    I am not sure it's something I would like, as I don't read a lot of fantasy, but your review has piqued my curiousity, so perhaps...

  10. Linnea Sinclair's giving away copies of any of her books electronically (PDF format)!! Here's you chance to start reading Linnea

  11. Thank you all SO much for your lovely comments - you've so made my day! I always worry when I write a review that I will completely miss something obvious :)

    And thank you for the heads up Aymless on Linnea Sinclair's books!

  12. What an awesome review! I need more wizard themed books for a reading challenge and this might be one I'll add.

  13. Great review, Orannia! You should definitely write more of them. I'm glad you liked this one - as you know, it's one of my favorites, and I thought the next book was even better. Now I'm counting the days until April 7 when Corambis comes out.

    I hope to see a review of The Virtu when you read it. :)

  14. Thank you J. Kaye and Kristen!

    Kristen said: I hope to see a review of The Virtu when you read it. :)

    And here I was trying to keep a low reviewing profile :) OK...I accept... *tries to stop hands shaking* I'll give it a go :)