Saturday, November 27, 2010

Girl on Book Action: The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

The Drowning City by Amanda Downum
ISBN: 978-0-316-06904-5


Symir: The Drowning City.  Home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers.  And violent revolutionaries who will stop at nothing to overthrow the corrupt Imperial government.

For Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, the brewing revolution is a chance to prove herself to her crown.  All she has to do is find and finance the revolutionaries, and help topple the palaces of Symir.  But she is torn between her new friends and her duties, and the longer she stays in this monsoon-drenched city, the more intrigue she uncovers.  As the waters rise and the dams crack, even the dead are plotting.


My Thoughts:

You know, this book was quite enjoyable.  I’m glad that I decided to check out Amanda Downum’s work after encountering one of her short stories in Lovecraft Unbound and since I’m a little late to the party I don’t have to wait too long for the second part in this trilogy to be published.

Now, let me gripe just a little before I tell you all the good things.  My complaints are rather minor ones anyway.  The only real issue that I have is that, at times, it might have been nice to know more about the world in which the story is set.  I’m not expecting to have 50 pages of info-dump about the history of the place, and there was a good bit of world-building interweaved with the narrative, but I admit to feeling a little lost in some spots.  I wanted to know more than I was told, which I feel is as much a compliment as a complaint – I was interested in the history of Symir.  And I cared about the back stories of the characters, and the religions and social structures and governments and all that so I wanted more.  That’s the griping done with, on to more positive things.

I really liked Isyllt; she was believable and a solid main character.  She wasn’t all-powerful and perfect; in fact, she gets hurt and sustains some permanent injuries over the course of her adventures.  Her necromancy was fascinating and I’m hoping that in the second book there is more explanation of her powers and what she can do with them.  I especially enjoyed the binary opposition between Isyllt and Asheris who was fire to her ice. I might have been partially biased toward Asheris because it’s been unusually cold in these parts the last few days and his furnace-heat was mighty appealing as I cowered under blankets and clung to cups of tea to keep my fingers from freezing.  Anyway, I digress.  Most of the characters had enough depth to them to make them memorable and none seemed like they were just thrown in to move along the plot or provide a brief distraction never to return.  The relationships between the cast were at times painful, at times touching, and sometimes tense, but always intriguing.

Something else I appreciated, aside from the lush setting and believable characters, was that Downum isn’t scared to kill someone off, or break their heart, or maim them.  People get hurt, people die and only a few are left standing at the end.  I dislike novels where there is no sense of real danger when the heroine is off fighting against the odds, because you know that she’ll just magically get out of whatever trouble she’s in.  Not so here, there might be victory at the end, but it comes with a high price, which is as it should be in a novel about espionage and revolution.

Oh, and I haven’t actually discussed the setting at all.  It was lush, warm and damp.  I felt like I was in some sort of Asian version of Venice – what with the canals and the constant talk of curries and rice and monsoons.  What really stuck with me throughout was the sense of humidity and warmth – which again might have been a reaction to the dismally cold weather hereabouts.  I also completely identified with Isyllt’s discomfort in the humid, warm place with her pale skin and dark hair and while she ultimately dealt with it with some grace, I know that I would have been a wimp about it and sulked in some relatively cool place, wishing for home.  Who says I'm a wuss about the weather?

All in all, I recommend this novel.  It’s fairly short and for its length (about 350 pages) it packs in quite a bit of intrigue, fighting and magic.  Personally, I’m looking forward to the second part as I very much want to learn more about Isyllt, her powers and what other trouble she will get into.

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