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City of Saints and Madmen Paperback – September, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Ambergris Series

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Paperback, September, 2001
$16.20 $3.82

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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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Cosmos Books (PA) (September 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587154366
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587154362
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,658,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I ordered this book purely on the basis of reviews. I'd never heard of Jeff VanderMeer, but the book sounded quirky, unconventional, and interesting. On two out of three, I definitely got my money's worth.

This is essentially a fully immersive, highly self-referential collection of stories about the city Ambergris, the Freshwater Squid in the river that passes by, the mushroom people that are its original inhabitants, and the humans that try to make the city their own. There are glossaries, bibliographies, and all sorts of other bits, each with a story to tell. Some of the stories appear to be previously published (it's a little hard to tell from the credits).

Probably the most accurate thing I can say about the book is that it's clever. In fact, relentlessly clever, and not always in a good way. It starts off well enough, with a fairly straightforward story ("Dradin in Love") introducing the gritty and complex city. The writing is good, and there are all sorts of in-jokes (I presume I missed many). I found the story dragged a bit, though the ending was strong.

For me, part of the problem with "Dradin", and with the rest of the book, is that I just wasn't very interested in Ambergris. VanderMeer has clearly had a lot of fun fleshing out backstory for the city and many of its characters, but it didn't really grab me. What was intriguing were the mushroom people and their mysterious history. Unfortunately, while they form an important backdrop to the story, VanderMeer never really digs into them in a very fulfilling way. Instead, the story is about the humans and their version of the city, which I found far less compelling.
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