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Fine start and a plodding finish
on 4 January 2007
This book starts out very well. I like the way the naming conventions of this book bring to mind Viriconium by M. John Harrison, even if we are more in the often too-self-conscious and secretly conservative New Weird tradition of Mieville and Vandermeer, rather than the no-holds-barred radical enthusiasm of original New Wave.
There are two viewpoint characters, an effeminate mage who is a former prostitute and a street-wise cat-burglar whose manner of speech isn't too affected to be unbelievable even if the conspicuous repetition of the word "septad" for "seven" is annoying and they are both a little cliched and foreseeable in their actions. So, beyond some conservative character-presentation there is a well-realised city-state with a seeming wealth of history behind it (well brought out even with only passing reference to characters, legends and events in the city's past).
The fall into madness of one of these characters is handled very well though there comes a moment when one wonders whether the writer had trouble deciding how to use a madman as the narrator of events meant to hasten the overall plot. These hesitations come off as a bit tedious, especially in the second half when the action transforms into a roadtrip and the most interesting things the characters think about for almost a hundred pages are whether or not they can find food and an inn, or if they have to steal things, again, for far too many times. The only thing offered as a reason for this prolonged plodding is an event the two protagonists have to stage, described as very meaningful, but using the madman as the one who has both the necessary information to explain this event and at the same time no means to offer a coherent explication of it makes the whole event meaningless. In the end it is passed over rather quickly. After this, for the rest of the trip we get a sea voyage and a prolonged descent into variations upon the same theme in the closed quarters of a ship's hold: how can the other guy not make the other guy go more mad. They get nowhere, the same chain of thought is repeated over and over again. Yadha yadha. At least this reader was left with a feeling of utter boredom. The final ending does pick up a little and there are some nice embedded stories.