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Amberlough: Book 1 in the Amberlough Dossier Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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“James Bond by way of Oscar Wilde.” ―Holly Black
“Donnelly blends romance and tragedy, evoking gilded-age glamour and the thrill of a spy adventure, in this impressive debut. As heartbreaking as it is satisfying.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Donnelly’s striking debut brings a complex world of politics, espionage, and cabaret life to full vision. The emotional journeys of the characters as they struggle to survive in a society under siege by dark forces will strike a chord with readers as they race to the story’s conclusion.” ―Library Journal, starred review, Debut of the Month
“A tightly woven and diverse cast of spies, criminals, cabaret bohemians, and lovers struggles to save what matters to each of them against a tide of rising fascism and violence in Donnelly's debut novel, set in a vaguely 1920s milieu….A sense of inevitable loss and futility permeates this rich drama. The fascists may never be defeated but only escaped―if the characters are willing to abandon the people they love. That dilemma will haunt them, as it haunts the reader.” ―Kirkus Reviews
"Amberlough grabbed me from the first page. It is beautiful, all too real, and full of pain. Read it. It will change you." ―Hugo Award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal
"An astonishing first novel!" ―World Fantasy Award-winning author Ellen Kushner
"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
"It’s a terrific novel. Very Evelyn Waugh meets The Sandbaggers.” ―John Chu, Hugo-award winning author
"A peach softens and grows sweeter until it reaches a fragile state, lasting only about six hours, during which it's actually better than perfect--and then it goes off, it's gone, it's through. In Amberlough Donnelly takes us to a city and culture just tipping from this pluperfect moment. What a rich and melancholy book; so tragic, so gay!" ―Kai Ashante Wilson, author of Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and the Nebula & World Fantasy finalist for "The Devil in America"
“This is the book we need right now. Amberlough is a gorgeous, crucial reminder that even when the Fascists take over, people will fight back - no matter how flawed or frightened or damaged they might be, or how much they risk by doing so.” ―Sam J. Miller, finalist for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards and winner of the Shirley Jackson Award
“Amberlough offers a sharp, lush, sensual espionage Cabaret, a Weimar world of lovers, criminals and spies all floating toward the fire.” ―Max Gladstone, LAMBDA Literary Award finalist
"Intrigue and passions intertwine in Amberlough – A city on the edge of political upheaval, glittering with decadence and riddled with spies! Be careful or you too will be lost in the whirl of the kind of glamour familiar in 1930s Shanghai or Weimar-era Berlin. Donnelley's debut is powerfully seductive and wrenching." ―Fran Wilde, author of Updraft
"A glittering cabaret of a novel, with show-stopping language on every page." ―Lev AC Rosen, author of Depth
"Lust and betrayal, intrigue and treachery, feints within feints within feints―Amberlough will keep readers up late into the night. I look forward to more adventures from Lara Elena Donnelly." ―D.B. Jackson, author of the Thieftaker Chronicles
"Amberlough is the stiletto-sharp tale of an intelligence agent caught between corrupt handlers, a rising fascist regime, and his doomed passion for the notorious star of a sizzling underworld nightclub. Sexy and suspenseful, with characters who play for keeps, Donnelly's debut novel mixes secrets, spying, and outlawed love like a perfectly made cocktail... one that seduces before hitting you with an unforgettable kick." ―A.M. Dellamonica, LAMBDA Literary Award finalist for Child of a Hidden Sea
"Weirdly elegant, wholly engaging, Donnelly's Amberlough is a richly visualized and genuinely fascinating novel. I couldn't put it down." ―Josh Lanyon, author of the Adrien English Mysteries, and USA Book News Award for GLBT Fiction and the Eppie Award winner
"If you put David Bowie, China Mieville, and Shakespeare in Love into a blender, you might get something as rich and frothy as Amberlough. An intricate tale of society where nothing is as it seems, and where the political is all-too-personal." ―Cecilia Tan, author of The Struck by Lightning series
About the Author
LARA ELENA DONNELLY is a graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, as well as the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers, where she now volunteers as on-site staff and publicity coordinator. In her meager spare time she cooks, draws, sings, and swing dances. After an idyllic, small-town Ohio childhood, spent time in Louisville, Kentucky. She currently resides in Harlem, in a tower named after Ella Fitzgerald. Amberlough is her debut novel.
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But as brilliant as the setting and style of the novel are, it's the characters who will live on in my head, haunting my psyche and informing my experience of humanity. Amberlough's central cast are a disparate group of frustratingly real people acting in frustratingly real ways. Their motivations and interactions are flawlessly portrayed, such that the hand of the author is never felt, but rather, these people of the page are autonomous, rational beings, intent on accomplishing their ends and satisfying their needs and desires. They're people that the reader can love and hate all at once, because they are as inspiring and as fallible, as infuriating and as comforting as any human inhabitant of our own world.
Read this book because it will introduce you to a new and wonderful world. Read this book because it will populate your mind with new people and fresh ideas. Read this book because it subverts and dissects and reimagines society. But really... read this book because it is SO MUCH FUN!!!
The characters are deep and complex, with voracious passions and conflicted morals.
Amberlough is a vaguely 1920s European inspired city state surrounded by a collection of vaguely European inspired city states. One of the states has come over a bit fascist and the book revolves around this fascist party, the "Ospies," rising to power in Amberlough.
They're a rigidly conservative bunch, which does not bode well for our three protagonists. Cordelia and Aristide headline at the Bee, basically the Moulin Rouge of Amberlough, and Cyril is a government spy. Oh, Aristide is also a smuggler. Oh, and Cyril and Aristide are also having an affair. Cryil knows Ari is a smuggler and Ari knows Cyril is government but mostly they just ignore it.
So in other words three of them are everything the Ospies hate, which already is probably making you think the book will be about Ari, Cyril and Cordelia vs. the Ospies. But Amberlough is not that kind of book. Mostly it's about the awful, inevitable rise to power of the Ospies and how the city slowly loses its colour under their grip. It's not so much about Aristide and Cyril fighting them as it is the two of them scrambling to find organise papers and passage out of the increasingly hostile city. It's about Cordelia's transformation from fun party girl to something else entirely.
It's also a book without magic. Which is actually one of my favourite little fantasy niches; books set in completely secondary worlds but with no other fantastical elements. I like knowing for certain what the "rules" are but still have the fun of slowly piecing together a new world. And what a fun world it was to piece together! The city of Amberlough lives and breathes and it physiclly hurt me to watch her suffer under a fascist regime.
The book is also brought to live by the prose and use of language. Donnelly basically created an entire language of slang with she almost rarely explains but at the same time is never confusing. It all makes perfect sense in context and it actually took me a good chunk of the book to realise it wasn't slang I already knew.
The characters are fantastic, especially Aristede. The book really uses the three pov characters to explore the idea of survivial, and what lengths should a person go to to survive; basically is surviving at any cost selfish? And while where at it let's also look at how selfish love can be too.
My only real complaint with the book is that I went in expecting a standalone. And while is does technically work as one, it was clearly written with a sequel in mind (and the author just announced its going to be a trilogy now) which is ultimately a good thing because the ending would have a been a real gut punch if that was it, but it's annoying to have to wait for any kind of real resolution.
Lara Elena Donnelly is a former student and now a staff member at Alpha, the SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers..