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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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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.
The supporting cast was pretty awesome. I loved Asheris and the back story on his character was perfect for him. I was left guessing who's side he was really on right up until the bitter end. Zhirin's character development was also very well done. In the beginning I thought she was a total twit but as the story progresses, she does too. And she really steps it up in the end.
And that leads me to the only complaint I had about the whole book. Some of the names were similar and early on I would get them a little confused. By the end I had them all worked out. It could just be me and the fact that I don't read a lot of pure fantasy, so the unique names throw me. Who knows.
The plot was executed extremely well. It flowed along at a fast pace and I didn't experience a single lull or "come on already" moment.
I thought this book was fan-freaking-tastic! I read it in roughly 5 hours. I had to put it down and sleep at one point but it was so hard to do. My eyes were about to bleed though, so I had to give in.
It was creative and detailed. I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who can create a whole new world. But to be able to give it such detail and really bring it to life is even more impressive.
This is a five star read. I absolutely, positively, loved this book.
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.