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City of Saints and Madmen: The Book of Ambergris Paperback – September 1, 2001

75 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Ambergris Series

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Paperback, September 1, 2001
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A master of postmodern game playing, VanderMeer (The Exchange) here gathers all the fiction published in his earlier trade paper collection (also titled, in a typically Borgesian maneuver, City of Saints and Madmen), plus an equal amount of new material. Set in the haunted city of Ambergris, with its Borges Bookstore, these stories feature bizarre recurring characters and intensely self-referential plots. Among the highlights are the World Fantasy Award¤winning Transformation of Martin Lake, the tale of a talented painter who's obsessed with a great composer; The Strange Case of X, which concerns an incarcerated lunatic found wandering the streets of Ambergris carrying the very book being discussed in this review; the wonderful new story The Cage, in which an antiques dealer becomes infected with a fungus that's slowly taking over much of the city; and, oddest of all perhaps, an untitled short story, which fills the entire dust jacket and concerns an unnamed traveler who has a close encounter with a giant squid in the river that runs through Ambergris. Other pieces take many forms, including a history of the city complete with footnotes, psychiatric records from a local hospital, an amazingly funny work of pseudo-biology entitled King Squid and entirely bogus bibliographies and glossaries. This beautifully written, virtually hallucinatory work isn't for every taste, but connoisseurs of the finest in postmodern fantasy will find it enormously rewarding.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


a masterful novel...complex and textured, decadent and decaying...a beautiful work of art, both as physical object and text. -- Locus Online, 2002 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Wildside Pr (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587154366
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587154362
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,235,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Michael Scott on April 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
'The City of Saints and Madmen' is easily my favorite collection of 2001. Comprised of four stories, each more deliciously exotic and fascinating than the one before, this attractively priced trade paperback is sure to entrance all readers willing to immerse themselves in VanderMeer's brilliantly conceived world.
VanderMeer's Ambergris is easily the most lavish and enticing fantastic world that I've yet to encounter. Articulating the brilliance of this book would require writing skills on a par with VanderMeer himself. I can only point to the book and insist that it is excellent. Truly excellent.
Taken by themselves, the stories are small gems...but when looked at as a whole, as part of the wonderful Ambergrisian tapestry, they become more than the sum of their parts. I anguished with the title character in 'Dradin in Love' as he realizes that his passionate longing for a mysterious woman is unlikely to be consummated. The fascinating history of Ambergris as told in 'The Hoegbotton Guide to Ambergris by Duncan Shriek' is surely one of the most complete histories of a fictional world ever conceived. The World Fantasy Award Winning 'The Transformation of Martin Lake' tells the amazing story of a humble artist who is transformed into a master through a harrowing and bizarre experience. Finally, 'The Strange Case of X' blurs the lines between fantasy and reality as an author whose life appears analogous to VanderMeer's undergoes rigorous questioning concerning the substance of reality.
Under VanderMeer's watchful eye, Ambergris is a thriving and exotic landscape. I devoured this collection in a matter of hours. Hungry for more I jumped onto the internet and searched out more VanderMeer.
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful By John Klima on July 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Do you love books? I mean, really love them? Then this is a book that should be on your shelf. The writing is top-notch. Modernist fantasy as powerful as anything from Tim Powers, Charles de Lint, or China Mieville. The best realized fictional world since Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.
In addition, the book is gorgeous! It is filled with wonderful illustrations, great design, and interesting typography.
What else do you get? How about a story on the dust jacket? How about a story written in code? Cool stuff.
In short, stunning.
Did I mention this is a print-on-demand title? This means the book is printed as it's ordered (well, maybe not every time, maybe every 50 or so) but it's a totally different printing process than standard books. No plates. That makes the layout of the book staggering!
Did I mention that the writing is amazing?
Buy this book. Buy several copies of this book and give it to friends.
Don't miss out.
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33 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Dark Mechanicus JSG on December 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
Jeff Vandermeer's "City of Saints and Madmen" is sort of like finding a chest full of gold in a house fire: you've got to be quick to filch out the treasure in this awkward collection of often gripping, typically ghoulish little tales desperately searching for some order among the chaos---much like the boys and girls of Ambergris, the teeming city in which all this dastardly stuff takes place.

That's too bad, because half-hidden beneath this obtuse, strangely skeletal, self-satisfied wreck of a book are five juicy little stories, nuggets of unmitigated grue and wonder that Vandermeer has clearly invested his mind and imagination and soul. The stories suggest a writer with tremendous promise and some magic in his keyboard.

I first encountered the noxious "The Cage" in an obscure horror anthology. It is a shivery little morsel of pure dread concerning the fate of a stout descendant of the auspicious Hoegbotton clan. But it's what the story doesn't say---the dark things it hints at---fungus! dwarves! Truffidian priests!---that intrigued me, and led me, at long last, to Ambergris.

Try "The Cage": you'll like it. Upon my first reading, I found wicked, brimming with subversive, infectious evil. I wanted more.

Alas, Vandermeer never fashions a crown for his crown jewels. Expect an Ambergris any fuller or richer than that glimpsed in the five main short tales? Expect to be disappointed.

But those short gems do gleam in the darkness, and for them Vandermeer merits a chance. I have written already of "The Cage".
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you like E.A.Poe, Lord Dunsany, Mervyn Peake, the Jack Vance of Dying Earth, the Michael Moorcock of Gloriana and Dancers at the End of Time, the M.John Harrison of In Viriconium, the J.G.Ballard of Vermilion Sands -- you'll be able to add this to your shelf of favorites for reading and re-reading. Atmospheric, dreamlike, intelligent. This is one of the very best of the literary fantasy writers. VanderMeer's rep. has been growing apace and this is a great introduction to his strange world of Ambergris. A fine, original work.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By D. Read on September 25, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For those who have not yet discovered Jeff Vandermeer, and his rich, beautiful, and terrible world called Ambergris, I envy you. Within the pages of City of Saints and Madmen, you will find a rare quality of writing and storytelling that will at turns cause you to laugh, to cringe, to wonder, and to marvel at the audacity and daring of a writer to create these characters, situations, and settings. For those who are looking mainly for great storytelling, human drama, and fantastic settings, you will absolutely find what you are looking for here. However, for those who are also fetishists for exquisite prose, you will find more than you bargained for. Vandermeer's skill with the English language is what is sure to earn him an international following. Reading City of Saints and Madmen, it is clear that the author has slaved over every word, every sentence. I cannot fathom the rewriting, polishing, and sleepless nights that must go into this kind of prose.
Everything in this book is great, but my favorite piece has to be the novella "The Transformation of Martin Lake." This is the one that won the World Fantasy Award, beating out the likes of Lucius Shepard and Tanith Lee that year. Another favorite is "Dradin, In Love," which was a finalist for the prestigious Theodore Sturgeon Award. City of Saints and Madmen is indeed a collection, but if you are primarily a fan of novels, don't let that put you off. The four main pieces are quite long, and each is quite satisfying on its own. This is not just a collection of short stories, but rather more like a cycle of novellas, all set in the same world. Also, this kind of "literary" fantastical writing always brings up the "Is it genre fiction?
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