How is it fair that books like, well, I don’t think I need to name any names, I’m sure we can all think of at least one book that defies all laws of good writing and yet still has a huge fanbase. So how is it that books like that, with their sparkling vampires and their last suppers get printed and reprinted and reprinted again, while excellent books like Sarah Monette’s Melusine go out of print?
I had one hell of a time tracking this book down, let me tell you. If it wasn’t for a particularly enthusiastic discussion about it in one of the Goodreads groups I belong to I probably wouldn’t have bothered. And I would have been the one to miss out there, because this really is a very enjoyable read.
The book is told from two separate first person points of view, brothers Felix and Mildmay. It's not so easy, making multiple first person points of view work well. With third person point of view differentiaiting between characters is easy, because you’re naming them ever couple of lines. But you don’t have that luxery in first person. So many books that try to do this whole alternating first person view points thing fail because each character sounded almost exactly the same. This is not even close to being a problem for Monette. Felix and Mildmay are both incredibly distinct characters. The names at the start of each section were wholly unnessary, it was easy to tell within a single line whose head I was in. It seems like such an obvious thing- make your characters seem like different people. And yet so few authors pull it off as well as Monette did here.
Mildmay grew up as a thief on the streets and is now a cat burgler. His voice is ridiculously conversational and engaging, and I don’t doubt that he will be most reader’s favourite. He’s funny, in a cynical kind of way, and good at what he does. But dispite his coolly competent demenour he’s very self conscious, which was actually one thing I really liked about the book. Because Mildmay and Felix don’t meet until halfway through the book, you see Mildmay as Mildmay sees himself. Ugly and scarred. But then when you eventually see him from Felix’s point of view you realise that this is not the case at all. It was just another example of how skillfully Monette’s employed the dual view points.
In contrast to easy to like Mildmay, there is Felix. Handsome and charming, he’s a high ranking wizard and the king’s brother’s lover. His wit is sharp and biting, and while I liked him from the start I think fewer readers will warm to him. He’s just so snarky to everyone. That is, of course, until he goes completely mad.
Because, yeah, for most of the book Felix is completely fucking insane. A spell, and I won’t into anymore detail than that because of spoilers, leaves him mad and presumed guilty of a heinous crime. Which, again, could have really sucked. But Monette manages to walk a fine line between Felix’s madness and still keeping the reader engaged with the plot. It was actually really cool. Felix starts to see various characters as animals, and I had fun trying to figure out which animal was who. I also liked that on one level it was just Felix raving, but if you looked a little deeper you could start to assemble a picture of what was going on. It took a little effort, but I am certainly ok with putting a little effort into my reading, if it's for the right reasons, (like it was here).
I also really, really loved the world building. Different elements of society use different calanders, and different cities subscribe to wildly different kinds of magic. There was a very European feel to the world and it's history, almost like an alternate Venice. I would have liked to have seen more of the world building than what was in this book, but there are three other books in the series so I’m sure I’ll get my way.
The book isn't perfect, but it's definitely one of the better ones I've read this year. It certainly didn't deserve to be treated so poorly by it's publisher. I definitely recommend trying to find a copy of this one. I think it's still available in digital form, so if you've joined the ranks of the advancing ebook armies you'll have an easier time of it. Otherwise, like me, you'll be hitting up ebay and the like. But it's worth it. I promise.
I bought this book.