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The Drowning City (Necromancer Chronicles, Bk 1) Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Downum effectively combines action, magic, police procedure and political intrigue in this complex and striking debut. Isyllt Iskaldur, a Selafaïan forensic necromancer, travels to the monsoon-soaked canal city of Symir, capital of Sivahra. Her plot to undermine the occupying Assari Empire before it can invade Selafai is complicated by her attraction to handsome Imperial fire-mage Asheris. Isyllt's bodyguard Xinai, a Sivahran native, despises the empire for its brutal destruction of her clan; young apprentice mage Zhirin Laii struggles between love for a guerrilla leader and loyalty to her mother, a respected politician. Refreshingly, Downum treats necromancy as an unclean but necessary defense against evil and nicely handles the complex nuances of a quasi-Westerner fomenting revolution in a quasi-Asian country occupied by quasi-Arabs. A strong (if not happy) conclusion still leaves plenty of room for sequels. (Sept.)
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About the Author
Amanda Downum was born in Virginia, and has since spent time in Indonesia, Micronesia, Missouri, and Arizona. In 1990 she was sucked into the gravity well of Texas, and has not yet escaped. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in English Literature, and has spent the last ten years working in a succession of libraries and bookstores; she is very fond of alphabetizing. She currently lives near Austin in a house with a spooky attic, which she shares with her long-suffering husband and fluctuating numbers of animals and half-finished novels. She spends her spare time making jewelry and falling off perfectly good rocks. To learn more about the author, visit www.amandadownum.com.
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I do think that had I been better acquainted with ancient mythology, some of the characters and "creatures" in this book would have made more sense to me. That is a thin-place in my own literary education, not a criticism of this novel.
Overall, a great read.
The characters speak modern, semi-formal English, not high-fantasy English, although with some made-up words tossed in. They might confuse at first, but it shouldn't take long for you to grasp them. And the book's not without wit, both in the dialog and the descriptive passage. (Wit, but not humor. There's no comedy here.) Ms. Downum also has mastered the tricky art of a multiple POV structure. The sets change quickly, but logically. You probably won't want to skip ahead at any point to keep following the story of Isyllt, when we switch to a different pov.
It's got a simple concept: Isyltt is sent by an ex-lover to the city of Symir to foment revolution against the crown. Accompanied by a body guard and a mercenary, she pokes around among the various rebel factions (there are two principal factions, one sane the other crazy) and embarks on a scheme to fund the sane faction's rebellion. But things soon go rather wrong, and events spiral out of her control.
The characters who possess mage-like abilities have different abilities: Isyltt can exorcise ghosts and probe the dead to see what they've witnessed just before they've died, another character can absorb fire, a third can call the river into the fray. And the author unlayers their capabilities as the story develops, which means not only that there are few pauses for explanations, but also that there's no chance that on page 207 she can violate rules established on page 59--you'll learn the rules as you go along.
Isyltt herself is complex; she fascinates. And I was happy to learn that a second book in the series, "The Bone Palace," has already been published.
I was also surprised how few reviews commented on the metaphor drawn by the interaction of the various political factions. I agree with the reviewer who wrote that this is what the book does best, portraying the three sides in conflict but also that each side is flawed. For me, this political exploration was one of the things that set this book apart.
That said, was it perfect? No, far from it. While I didn't agree with many of the comments on writing style, there were some that were valid. I definitely agree that this book needed some more attention from an editor. There were a few plot elements that were poorly connected and thus confusing, some of the minor characters were not given anywhere near sufficient life for the number of times they appeared in the plot. A good deal of the book occurs after the deal between Isyllt and the revolutionaries is done, but while her continued presence in the city is described as 'waiting for the supplies to arrive', there is no description whatsoever of how long this is expected to take / any actions on her part to further this process along / check up on it in any way. This left me feeling that the original purpose of the main character had become secondary to the events but without being actively relegated to that position by plot developments. Not good.
Overall though, I would recommend this book highly, and hope that Ms. Downum refines her craft so that future books retain the positive aspects of this one while removing some of the flaws.
Suffice to say, this is good not great fantasy. Has a female protagonist, and a well rounded magical system, which is allways a plus if you're writting about magic and casting it.
I give it 4 stars, because I enjoyed the read, enough to purchase the other 2 in the series, and would recommend the book to anyone else who likes non romance fantasy, with a female protagonist.