Amberlough

Amberlough

Book - 2017
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A double-agent sacrifices all his ideals in order to save his smuggler lover before a government coup takes over their decadent city in Lara Elena Donnelly's glam spy thriller debut, now a Nebula finalist for Best Novel!


"Exploring the roots of hatred, nationalism, and fascism, while at the same time celebrating the diversity, love, romance, fashion, and joy the world is capable of producing." --Bookriot

In Amberlough, amidst rising political tensions, three lives become intertwined with the fate of the city itself.

The Smuggler: By day, Aristide Makricosta is the emcee for Amberlough City's top nightclub. By night, he moves drugs and refugees under the noses of crooked cops.

The Spy: Covert agent Cyril DePaul thinks he's good at keeping secrets, but after a disastrous mission abroad, he makes a dangerous choice to protect himself...and hopefully Aristide too.

The Dancer: Streetwise Cordelia Lehane, burlesque performer at the Bumble Bee Cabaret and Aristide's runner, could be the key to Cyril's plans--if she can be trusted.

As the twinkling marquees lights yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means -- and people -- necessary. Including each other.

"James Bond by way of Oscar Wilde." --Holly Black

"Sparkling with slang, full of riotous characters, and dripping with intrigue, Amberlough is a dazzling romp through a tumultuous, ravishing world." --Robert Jackson Bennett, winner of the Shirley Jackson Award and the Edgar Award

"Astonishing first novel!" --World Fantasy Award-winning author Ellen Kushner

Publisher: New York :, Tor,, 2017
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780765383815
0765383810
Characteristics: 397 pages :,map ;,22 cm

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goldenbeetle
May 10, 2019

Sparse with details, the writing style is personally difficult to read.
I stopped several pages in realizing the author was not going to engage with the world that exists inside the book.

n
NVMercer
Dec 13, 2018

In a ‘20s inspired setting rife with political upheaval and seedy nightlife, intelligence agent Cyril is sent out on one last job that should have been a walk in the park, but goes tits up pretty immediately. Cover blown, he winds up working unwillingly as a double-agent for the ultra conservative One State Party (Ospies). Meanwhile, he tries unsuccessfully to keep his drag queen boyfriend, Aristide, out of the mess. But Aristide does what he wants, worried boyfriends and murderous conservatives be damned!

So he sets Cyril up with a beard: fellow cabaret dancer Cordelia. At first just in it for the money, Cordelia’s character arc is probably my favorite, as she proves herself more than just a pretty face but willing to stand up for herself and what she believes in.

Donnelly has a tendency to infodump at some points in the book, and in the beginning the complicated regional politics can be difficult to follow. But eventually I (mostly) understood the situation and huge cast of characters. Still, it’s some really fascinatingly detailed worldbuilding I can’t help but be impressed by.

The world is colorful and complex and nuanced, and feels very real because of it. The characters are equally so, from the good and pure ginger accountant boy to tall, dark and fabulous Aristide.

If you like political intrigue, spy novels, Moulin Rouge, and/or that Gatsby aesthetic, but without all the usual homophobia and sexism that plague those genres, I would recommend this book. It features a cast that’s diverse in race, gender, gender expression, sexuality, and social class. There’s even happy, healthy polyamory.

But maybe take some notes along the way.

h
heavenne
May 22, 2018

This was the type of book that when I finished it, I had to lie back down and just stare at the ceiling. It was mind blowing. There are layers of intrigue and you don’t watch it unfold, in fact it’s the opposite, you watch it form and develop as the story progresses.

The setting in this one is one of a lot of political instability. It’s explained in the earlier parts of the book. It’s a bit difficult to follow (notes may help some readers) perhaps a character list would help in this case to keep everything straight. A glossary would have helped as well as the characters have their own slang - most of it straight forward but it would help nevertheless. That being said despite these little shortcomings, the world is rich and detailed. Amberlough is decadent and has remnants of Weimar Berlin. Now I did say previously it’s hard to follow because of the slang, but it’s precisely because of this slang that makes the world more detailed and fun to read.

The pace of the plot is slow and steady as it sets up the stage for what would follow after. It is essentially, a spy novel, so it quickly leads to a lot of double dealing, moments of backstabbing and betrayal. There are only three characters that you really need to focus on as the supporting ones just add to the flavor of the novel. Of the three that are central to the plot, one must love Aristide.

With a name like Aristide Makicosta you know he’s going to be a character to remember. He’s flamboyant, street smart and clever. Despite the world burning around him he always manages to do everything in style. It’s hard not to fall for his charms and so you would understand Cyril’s love for him. I still don’t know what to think about Cyril. He was doing the job and had to. It came at a great cost but he had no choice and he had to think for himself (although I know there seems to be a lot of hate for him).

I love Cordelia. She’s got sass, she’s just as street smart and a survivor. Her character development is on point in this book. Yes she may be just a ‘dancer’ but she soon develops into someone with a cause to defend the city she loves. Despite the horrors she goes through in the latter half of the novel, she doesn’t let it break her. It’s admirable and she’s likable not only because of her catchy personality but also because of her unstoppable strength.

That ENDING THOUGH. I felt my eyes grow wide each time I turned the pages throughout the last third of the novel. This was why I had to sit back and just absorb everything I’ve read when I finished this one. It was that good.

Greatly recommended if you like intrigue, a decadent setting, and memorable characters. I absolutely enjoyed this book.

samcmar May 21, 2017

Amberlough was a book I randomly grabbed while I was at this year's OLA Conference. I didn't know much about it, but I found the cover very striking. Cabaret? Spies? Fantasy? LGBT? All checkmarks for things that I love to read about.

What I loved about this book was the world that Donnelly has created. It's got a seediness to it, something that feels so colourful yet vibrant. I really loved the characters, especially Cordelia who is an absolute boss. I also loved Cyril and Ari, and I thought they were such a delightful couple. The characters are just a lot of fun, and they have just enough depth given that this story is more about solving a mystery and dealing with an uncomfortable political atmosphere.

Spy fiction often doesn't get it's due in fantasy, but I love the way in which this book meshes both genres together. This book has both glitter and glamour, but it also has so much discomfort when you start to learn about what the One State Party is after. I felt like the world of Amberlough in itself was a character in the story as well! The world building just really stuck with me as the story progressed, and I knew I was easily along for the ride.

If I have any complaints about this story, it's really that I just didn't want it to end. I was just so completely glued to what I was reading, and I loved following these characters through this vibrant world. This is just a wonderfully impressive first novel, and if you love fantasy that has a very political spin, or you love the glitz of cabaret like I do, then Amberlough is worth your attention.

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