fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Sarah Monette MelusineMelusine by Sarah Monette

Melusine has some definite issues as a first novel. It’s setting doesn’t feel quite fully fleshed out — even if one gives the author the benefit of the doubt and believes things are left unanswered for plot purposes and are “to be revealed later.” If that’s the case, the reader could have done with a bit more revelation early on, especially with regard to the politics which drive so much of the characters’ motivations. Without that background, their actions run the risk of seeming arbitrary just for the sake of plot. Some of the side plots/characters get dropped or resolved a bit too abruptly, as do some of the major actions, again even given consideration for the sequel. And the language moves too often between imagined-word-speak and modern slang.

That said, there is much to be enjoyed in Melusine and the book rewards the reader who is willing to overlook a few of these flaws and let the book lure him/her in. Most of the book is set in the city of Melusine, protected by a cadre of court wizards and a magical talisman (the Virtu). Felix Harrowgate, a magician whose up-from-the-streets secret background has just been revealed, runs to his brutal mentor who uses him in a sadistic and relatively graphic rape scene to destroy the Virtu. The rape and destruction of the talisman leaves Felix mad and this, along with a magical compulsion not to reveal what happened, leads to his imprisonment.

Meanwhile, in the less aristocratic parts of the city, Mildmay the master burglar takes on a job that gets him first into an unlooked for romantic relationship and then into more trouble than he had planned. Eventually, the two main characters are both forced to leave the city and their two personal quests bring the two of them together in the latter half of the book.

The book’s plotting may be the weakest part. Some of it seems overly convoluted, some too unexplained (such as the background politics/geography) and some too arbitrary (such as supposedly experienced wizards not noticing or thinking to look for a compulsion). And parts that should have been drawn out for tension (such as an evil spirit discovered late in the book) end more with a whimper than a bang. The plot holds interest despite these flaws, but more for atmosphere and character than actual events.

The characters, on the other hand, are the strong suits here. Both main characters have their own distinctive voice and each has an engrossing back and present story. They’re also a nice shade of grey, allowing for more complexity in their actions/motivations and the readers’ response to each. Just as importantly, the secondary characters, no matter their importance to plot, length of life, or species, also are fully dimensional and capture one’s interest.

In the end, the book drew me in fully despite its annoyances of plot and language so that if they didn’t go unnoticed, they stopped pulling me out of the reading experience. One assumes the next book (and be clear on this — this book has a sequel and can’t be read without it) will improve in those areas. Good recommendation for Melusine and expectations for a better one for its sequel.

The Doctrine of Labyrinths — (2005-2009) Publisher: Mélusine-a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption. It is here that wizard Felix Harrowgate and cat-burglar Mildmay the Fox will find their destinies intertwined in a world of sensuality and savagery.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSarah Monette The Doctrine of Labyrinths: 1. Melusine 2. The Virtu 3. The Mirador 4. CorambisSarah Monette The Doctrine of Labyrinths: 1. Melusine 2. The Virtu 3. The Mirador 4. CorambisSarah Monette The Doctrine of Labyrinths: 1. Melusine 2. The Virtu 3. The Mirador 4. Corambis


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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