07 February 2010

The Mirador (Sarah Monette)

Caveat: This is not so much a review as my random thoughts...and since it has been so long since I read the book I’m not promising that said thoughts will be coherent *grin*

A long, long time ago (August 2009) in a galaxy (country) far, far away (New Zealand), I read The Mirador, the third book in Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series:
The dashing wizard Felix Harrowgate has reclaimed his sanity, magic, and position in society. But even as he returns to his former place in the Mirador-the citadel of power and wizardry-there are many who desire his end. Mildmay the Fox is an ex-assassin, a cat-burglar, and Felix's half-brother. Tied to Felix by blood and magic, Mildmay goes where Felix goes-even into the Mirador. There, Mildmay finds himself drawn to an alluring spy of the Bastion, a rival school of wizards. The Bastion desires above all else to bring down the Mirador, and Felix is the key to its destruction. But Mildmay cannot let Felix stand alone, and will fight to save both his brother and his city from certain ruin.
While I was relatively prompt in reviewing Mélusine and The Virtu, the first two books in the Doctrine of Labyrinths series, my partly completed review of The Mirador has languished in draft form for...months. At times I honestly considered not completing the review, but, in the interests of consistency, I decided to proceed. And, to aid in the reviewing process, I made myself a deal – not to read Corambis, the fourth and final book in the series, until I had written a review of the Mirador. At long last I am finally putting pen to paper...or should that be fingers to the keyboard? *grin* So, where to start?

At the beginning of the book I felt a little like Alice (in Wonderland), right after she has fallen down the rabbit hole. Because with The Mirador you just jump straight in to the story – there is no prologue (although approximately 25 pages in there is a rough update). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the lack of a prologue is a bad thing, just...sudden. Actually, I rather like that the author is treating me (the reader) as an adult, and not slowly and painstakingly going over everything that has occurred to date. The author has assumed I will remember. And I did...eventually *grin*

The Mirador definitely has a slower pace than the previous books, with more political intrigue and machinations. The danger in The Mirador is...not as overt as it was in Mélusine and The Virtu, but it is still present:
It wasn’t that Styrch [Malkar Gennadion] was everywhere I looked. It was that he was about to be everywhere I looked...
But, since I liked political machinations, particularly when mixed with strong characterization, the book worked for me (understatement of the decade). The other main difference (compared with the previous books) is the introduction of a third POV, that of Mehitabel, who we met in The Virtu. I still don’t think I know who Mehitabel really is...and I have a feeling neither does she. Everything is pretence with Mehitabel, endless layers of pretence:
The door swung shut behind me, and I heard the bolt thump home. I could have screamed, like a good bourgeoisie, or fainted, like the ingénue I was getting to old to play. I said 'Who are you?' and made sure I said it crossly.
Because I knew how careful she [Mehitabel] ran her life...What bothered me was, she didn’t want me to know that. She didn’t want me to know who she was. Not really. Not down when it counts.
And then there are the secrets...the ones that she hides from others, and the ones that she hides from herself:
And I couldn’t. Couldn’t get rid of the love. Or the guilt. For I should have stopped him from running, should have confessed my own plans, gotten him to wait, to be silent, to pretend acquiescence. But I’d protected myself. And the fact that I hated myself for it now meant absolutely nothing. It didn’t change anything. Didn’t redeem anything. It was just something I had to live with as part of who I was.
And then we have Felix. Self-destructive, cruel Felix, who is so lost. At the beginning of The Mirador Felix is, on the surface, back to his arrogant best (a la Mélusine). However, it is, to all intents and purposes, a facade:
'Of all the things you know about Felix, how many of them really matter? To him, I mean?'
'The same way you’re never going to tell me anything except exactly what you want me to hear.'
Felix was weird about being watched. For one thing he almost always knew. He didn’t mind – f*ck, he loved it. But when he knew, which like said was mostly, he’d...I dunno. He’d perform...I couldn’t even begin to imagine how tired it must have made him.
The obligation d’ame has changed Felix & Mildmay’s relationship:
And Mildmay was just behind Felix, like a shadow...The obligation d’ame meant that his only allegiance was to Felix, making them a separate kingdom of two, with Felix as king and Mildmay as ministers, army and populace, all coming in one. A stormy little kingdom I though, with periodic flare-ups of civil war and a magnificently unstable government.
And although the obligation d’ame ties Mildmay to Felix, Mildmay still gifts Felix with his loyalty...and his love. And yet that loyalty is sorely tested time and again by Felix. It’s like...it’s like a child, continually testing the bonds of a relationship to ensure that they are solid...while at the same time punishing those closest to them because the relationship (and their feelings) makes them feel vulnerable. Felix does care for Mildmay. He just...can’t admit it to himself. Felix is so wrapped up in his façade, in the present, in the immediate machinations of all and sundry, including his own, that he doesn’t seen the trap until it has sprung. Because the Bastion, unlike the Mirador, realizes that the Mirador’s fate is intricately tied up with that of Felix. And when that trap is sprung Felix only has Mildmay...the last chapters all but broke my heart. And it is then that he admits the truth, that he loves Mildmay.

Last but not least, there is Mildmay. Mildmay is taken from what he knows (the Lower City), and placed among what he does not know...and amongst those who do not understand him at best and revile him at worst. He is seen at Felix’s shadow. And although Mildmay has no illusions about Felix, he still wants that elusive relationship...he wants Felix to care. Yet throughout The Mirador he is...alone.

There are numerous symbols used throughout the book: Felix’s odd-coloured eyes – one yellow, one pale blue – reflecting his dual personality; the perseid tree in the Khloidanikos, reflecting Mildmay:
I stopped, as I always did, to check on the mostly dead perseid tree that stood against the ruined wall. I didn’t know if the tree still retained any symbolic connection to the waking world, but it had been linked to Mildmay...I could not enter the Khloidanikos without making sure that the perseid still had some life in it, even if only a bare handful of leaves.
And then there is the imagery. Sarah Monette has such a beautiful way with words. I think this has to be my favourite quote in the entire book:
Mildmay trailed me like my own black thundercloud of disapproval to Isaac’s rooms, where he sat wearing the dullest look in his arsenal like a shield.
And it’s not just the primary characters that take centre stage in The Mirador – the stories of various secondary characters (e.g. Gideon) are expanded, and we are introduced to new characters (e.g. Vincent De Mabrien, who I loved BTW). As always, the characters are so vivid they all by leap off the page. I felt connected to them and upon finishing the book I felt...lost.

If I had to sum this book up with one word (and couldn’t use brilliant *grin*) I think I would use the word secrets. This book is all about secrets – the secrets we keep from others and ourselves – and lies. And everything has come full circle. By the end of the book, Felix is all but back to where he started – banished from The Mirador. However, this time, unlike the last, he has one person standing with him, one person who has gifted him unequivocal loyalty – Mildmay. The question is, whether Felix can trust Mildmay. Hopefully the author has answered that in Corambis...


  1. Wonderful review, Orannia! You had some really interesting insights about the characters. This one and The Virtu both had so many great character moments and for that reason those are my two favorites in the series (with The Virtu as my very favorite). Now I can't wait to hear what you think of Corambis!

  2. Your review reminded me how excellent this series is that I too have not picked up Corambis and finished the series. Have to get to that. Very thoughtful review. Thanks!

  3. Kristen - thank you! I rather embarrassed about how long it took me to write this review...and how much I'd forgotten. I have to be honest, I focus far more on the characters than the plot :) As for my favourite, I'm not sure. They all have their good points *grin*

    SciFiGuy - thank you :) I felt it was a rather scatty review. It's taught me to always write a review (not that I write many :) while the book is still fresh in my mind. If you do read Corambis, I'd love to know what you think. It's next on my reading list *rubs hands with glee*

  4. It makes perfect sense that you would focus far more on the characters than the plot - these books are mainly about the characters, in my opinion anyway.

    Don't feel too badly about taking too long to write a review - I still have one from November I haven't written yet.

  5. I just skimmed the review because I'm planning on reading this series eventually and didn't want to spoil it. However, I like how summed up the book in a single word at the end. :)

  6. Kristen - I agree. There is a plot, and it is good, but it's the characters I'm reading this series for. And I'm so excited that Sarah Monette has a new publisher and a new WIP! After Corambis is A Companion of Wolves (and I hear that book has two sequels :)

    heidenkind - please let me know what you think when you read each book. This series was my big find for 2009 and I love to talk about them (as evidenced by my very long review :) And summing up the book in a word was kind of an afterthought, but...I think the word I chose fit. I will have to try it again with Corambis *grin* Happy reading!

  7. I decided to pick up the first book in this series to see how I like it, orannia. I did read your review. It's a wonderful character study... by the time I get to read this series, I won't remember, lol! Hope I love it as much as you do. :)

  8. Ok, you sold me on the series :)

    I like the point about just starting you in the action. While prologues are probably necessary sometimes, I also think they can be a deterrent.

    What an intriguing book...thanks for the review.

  9. Hilcia - I really look forward to hearing what you think. The first book - Melusine - completely blew me away! And yes, it is all about the characters. And the varying shades of grey :)

    Mandi - YAH! *happy dance* I look forward to hearing what you think. I think it's a fantastic fantasy series!