Write on: Mon, 13 Feb 2017 by  in Archive Read 9335

Both timely and timeless.  Wonderful yet heartbreaking.  Completely fucking awesome.  Oh, and debut of the year. 

A nationalist fervor has empowered the One State Party though they still lack the votes to control Amberlough City.  Cyril DePaul once enjoyed the spy game but is now a man who doesn't quite want to admit he may be broken.  Called back into field work he is sent to investigate the One State Party (better known as Ospies) and quickly finds himself way over his head.  Soon enough he must make some tough decisions as the 'game' puts everything (and everyone) he cares about in danger.

Amberlough City sits on the cusp.  At the Bumble Bee Cabaret Aristide Makricosta dances, flirts, and runs a small smuggling empire.  His known relationship with Cyril will put them both in danger for many reasons; not the least of which is the Ospies lack of tolerance for their lifestyle.  To provide cover Aristide helps introduce Cyril to fellow dancer Cordelia.  All three start to play their own games; even as allies none dare share all of their cards.  As Amberlough slides toward the fascist Ospie rule tough decisions are made.  People are played, betrayed, and other wise used in a frantic attempt to survive in a changing world.

Think something like KJ Parker set in a cabaret club.  Less fantasy than secondary world this is a spy thriller with strong characters and a heavy political influence.  Also a cautionary tale, historical simile, and yet completely original.  Nothing unique; many Ospie tactics are ripped straight from the history books.  But original in set up and Amberlough City breaths its own life seen through the eyes of it's diverse cast of characters; spies and dancers, smugglers and police, revolutionaries and true believers.

The book is driven by the constant quest by those most quickly affected by lands quick decent to save something.  Many are actually trying to save someone they love yet show no hesitation to throw someone else to the fire.  One person's plan can get in the way of another; even if both have a similar end goal.  And in the end it shows some of the true horror of a fascist landscape as people willingly engage in the worst in order to save their own (or themselves).  In a totalitarian world life doesn't stop but fear takes over.

What makes Amberlough shine is in the way it weaves hope throughout a dreadful tale.  At time it is false hope of course, but our main cast holds out that there is always an escape, or a way out, or one last chance to make a difference.  That the reader is mostly left heartbroken is just a positive side effect.  

Amberlough City stands strong right alongside the characters; setting and people holding equal billing in this robust world.  Quickly enough the lands language and political differences become clear even if the characters motivations remained veiled.  The Bumble Bee is a perfect setting; a natural place for characters to meet and plots to be hatched.  It also sadly a volatile spot to watch during a drastic change; a free wheeling club of ill repute that is exactly everything the Ospies want out of society.

Debut of the year has already been stated and will be stood by, February release or no. 

5 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.   

Last modified on Monday, 13 February 2017 02:34

Nathan Barnhart lives in Colorado and writes self-indulgent reviews. He reads, gives as much time as he can to his family, and occasionally can be found chucking up bricks on the basketball court. Be warned, he will find a way to turn any conversation into one about Terry Pratchett.  You may or may not remember him from his days at Fantasy Review Barn.  He can be found on twitter @reviewbarn