I can’t exactly remember where I heard about the Drowning City by Amanda Downum, but nevertheless I had it in mind when I went to the bookstore the other day and so I bought it. An interesting first novel for Downum and a good opening to her Necromancer Chronicles (it seems like all I’m doing is reading first novels/beginnings to series). It was published in last September, so once again I’m a bit late (but who really cares?).
Blurb: 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 Symnir. 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 – even the dead are plotting. As the waters rise and the dams crack, Isyllt must choose between her mission and the city she came to save.
The plot… wasn’t bad. There were some really great elements and some not so good ones, not that I was expecting anything else from a debut novel. I really did like the basic story elements, the intrigue, expect it seemed too vague. And confusing. For it to be a political intrigue book, it’s sort of implied that whatever scheming our characters are going to have to achieve will not be easy and straight forward right from the outset. Isyllt barely has any doubt about how to start a full-out revolution and it never seems to be much of a challenge to her to get it done. It gets so unimportant that we have to branch off into a bunch of lesser arcs that we sometimes explore and sometimes forget along the way.
I would, however, like to particularly praise Downum’s choice in setting. I guess that inside of the fantasy genre we kind of get use to the medieval Europe look a likes in terms of our supposedly purely fiction worlds. Downums thankfully makes a break from that and apparently decided that she preferred to base her world in a setting more reminiscent of the middle-east. That’s awesome. It’s not that I dislike medieval Europe but it’s much appreciated to get a book with a different “look” to it. But Downum doesn’t stick to the world she builds as much as could have, or I probably should say that she doesn’t explore it as much as she could. And not in the sense that she leaves things open to be discovered in sequels, but she just does not set it up as much as I wanted; maybe a little more information on the clans, on the rest of the world, on how Selefain came to exist, etc. The Drowning City is quite a short book as fantasy books come, wrapping up at 350 pages, so there might not have been much space to do all of that.
The characters sort of follow the same pattern as the story arcs; their all mostly engaging yet not developed enough or developed at the right time and you’re never too sure what the characters’ purposes are. But they remain captivating enough to stick with through the book, even if we sometimes don’t hear from them for some pretty significant bits of the book. Isyllt, the main protagonist, has a pretty good back story and she is one of the characters that is nicely defined (I mean, she is the main character after all). I’m still not completely sure of what she does for a living since I’d originally thought she was exclusively a state-spy, though other elements suggest she is some sort of spy-mercenary up for hire. I’m not sure either how she, a necromancer, is different from the other mages that we encounter, but whatever…
So in the end, though you might be thinking from what I wrote above that I hated, or very much disliked this book, I didn’t. In fact I kind of liked it; it was okay. I am looking forward to its sequel, The Bone Palace, due out sometime this summer, to see how the experience of a first novel has improved/changed her writing. Read if the premise interested you (as in the necromancer stuff + Middle East), or else this book is probably not for you.
My Rating: 3 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Sex/Language: No significant amount of either
Amanda Downum's website: http://www.amandadownum.com/
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