‘Amberlough’ Book Review

Mount Readmore Book Review, 2017 58/100


Amberlough By Lara Elena Donnelly

Audiobook Edition, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Finished on 6/28/2017


Genres: Low Fantasy, Fantasy, Thriller, LGBT, Political Fantasy

The Decadent City of Amberlough is Going through a Time of Crisis, as Fascist Politicians take over. Can the anti-Fascist Bumble Bee Cabaret survive?

Spoiler-tastic review

Holy fuck, this book was good.

This book is only technically fantasy, for it is set on a world which is not Earth. There is no magic, nor any supernatural events or creatures. Instead we have Amberlough, a neon-lit, grimy and cosmopolitan city. A setting similar to 1930’s Europe, where the decadence of the fading Empires is being consumed by a rising current of fascists and nationalists, Amberlough is gorgeous. All of the characters, including the minor characters, are cut of the same seedy cloth.

The characters all pass the ‘Must not be boring’ test. We have Cyril, the spy who must hide his gay lover Aristede. Aristede is the black cabaret singer who smuggles poppy on the side. Finally we have Cordelia, the streetwise woman who’s equal parts cabaret dancer and untrustworthy. All of them are fascinating people, with unique speech patterns and modes of thought. And all of them are passionate.

I’m tempted to call this a romance novel, for the love story between Ari and Cyril is a powerful thing. Ultimately I decided against that, because there is no happy ending. Be forewarned that none of the characters in this book are ‘good,’ neither the protagonists or antagonists. All are selfish or zealous or wrathful.

The Ospies, aka One State Party, are a fascist political party moving into Amberlough to clean up the streets and crush non-traditional things like cabaret and gay love. Cyril the spy is caught, and he must make sacrifices to survive. I’m not going to go into too many details, but it was not just a generic thriller plot.

Well done, Lara Elena Donnelly, this was a fantastic book. I’d highly recommend this for someone who likes ‘literary’ books, or alternative history fantasy books set in the modern era. If you are a fan of the literary genre, but want to dip your toe into fantasy, here is an excellent place to start.

This surpassed ‘The Library at Mount Char’ for my favorite book of the year (so far), and not because ‘Mount Char’ was bad. This book was firing on all cylinders, in terms of plot, character development and setting.

Audiobook notes: Mary Robinette Kowal did a fantastic job, giving the characters distinctive voices suitable for this stations in life. Cyril was slightly high-class, Ari has a stuttering effeminate voice, and Cordelia has the best voice of all.


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