Image of Amberlough: Book 1 in the Amberlough Dossier

AMBERLOUGH

Image of Amberlough: Book 1 in the Amberlough Dossier

Though Amberlough has much to recommend it — an intricately designed world, three-dimensional lead characters and a chillingly relevant fascistic seizure of power — the story moves at a nearly glacial pace, only picking up in the last third of the novel. For a book filled with spies, smugglers and burlesque dancers, the story seems most interested in the tedium of its knotty, convoluted politics, which isn't nearly as engaging as the human drama unfolding among the characters. Donnelly's writing is wonderfully potent and effective when she charts the tragic trajectory of Cyril and Ari's romance, but we get there far too late. While one might anticipate many more richly realized worlds from Donnelly, the hope is that her future work will focus more on character and less on the complications of statecraft.

Amberlough City is the shining jewel of the nation of Gedda, if you ignore the tarnish of decadence and corruption that's penetrated almost every level of government and law enforcement. Intelligence agent Cyril DePaul isn't exactly exempt; he's having an affair with charming burlesque emcee — and smuggler — Aristide Makricosta. The blurring of ethical lines is all business as usual, until Cyril's cover is blown on a secret mission. He quickly becomes a pawn for an arch-conservative political faction bent on totalitarian rule — who want Cyril to help them consolidate their power. Forced to play along with their far right, anti-gay agenda, Cyril, at Ari's behest, publicly takes up with Cordelia Lehane, a burlesque dancer. As Cyril, Ari and Cordelia struggle to survive under this brutal new regime, they must decide whether to stay loyal to one another or whether to save their own necks. (TOR, Feb., 400 pp., $25.99)
 
Reviewed by: 
Regina Small