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Downum, Amanda. The Drowning City. London: Orbit Books, 2009.

I confess this book had me at the dedication: "For New Orleans," and the epigraph, from Emily Dickinson, and all in all Downum (aka [ profile] stillsostrange) does not disappoint. The story follows one Isyllt Iskandur, necromancer and agent provacateur, as she attempts to incite a rebellion in the conquered city of Symir so as to subvert the expansionist Assar Empire's designs on her own country across the Inland Sea. Isyllt's an engaging character, very human despite her chosen professions, and for the most part the people she encounters are a well-rounded, believable bunch of mages, spies, conspirators, politicians and rebels. There's a definite feel of cultural melange to Symir; in some ways it seems very Middle Eastern, while in others it's very clearly Southeast Asian, and Downum modulates between both influences well. In some ways the book reminded me of nothing so much as Tamora Pierce by way of Sarah Monette--gemstones, volcanoes, mages, spies, and not too explicit sex, which frankly surprised me. There's even an unambiguous reference to Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths in the epilogue. In any case, I'll definitely look out for the next book about Isyllt, The Bone Palace, when it appears.

McGuire, Seanan. Rosemary and Rue. New York: Daw Books, 2009.

Rosemary and Rue is the first book in a series chronicling the trials and tribulations of Sir October Daye, changeling (i.e. half-Faerie, half-human) and P.I. in contemporary San Francisco, by Seanan McGuire ([ profile] seanan_mcguire). In the prologue of the book, Toby is turned into a koi for 14 years by her liege's brother and enemy, which naturally wreaks havoc on the life she'd built outside the Fay Court with her human lover and their four year-old daughter. Six months after the enchantment breaks, Toby's life as a night clerk at a 24-hour supermarket is interrupted by the murder of one of her oldest friends, Evening, Countess Winterrose, being recorded on her answering machine, and becoming blood- and curse-bound to find Evening's killer. Naturally, Toby is drawn--more like dragged kicking and screaming--back into life among the Faerie, and though as a changeling and a former P.I., she's tough, she spends most of the book injured, confused, and in pain. I like it when female protagonists go through the wringer not because of their gender but because of their profession or circumstances (The Drowning City does this too), so I appreciated that Toby gets injured and has realistic aftereffects of those injuries. The book is a cracking good read, a real pageturner, and I don't normally care for stories about the Fair Folk (War for the Oaks being a notable, and at least slightly comparable, exception in this regard), but I have to recommend this book. Toby is a fascinating, painfully real character, as are the people who surround her, and McGuire's evocation of San Francisco, as well as of the power dynamics in the Faerie Courts (in which changelings are only a few steps up from dirt), feels very believable. I'll be looking for the next book, A Local Habitation, which comes out in the spring.

Bear, Elizabeth. Dust. New York: Bantam, 2008.

I read this book on a whim, and on one level it's a fascinating take on--whose law is it again? Heinlein's?--that science looks like magic when it gets to be advanced enough. It follows Rien, a servant in the House of Conn, who must undertake a perilous journey to the other side of her world, to Engine, after she rescues her sister Sir Perceval from the dungeons of their cousin Ariane Conn. They must also deal with the machinations of Jacob Dust, the Angel of Memory, and his plans for Perceval and for their world, Jacob's Ladder. As usual, Bear writes beautifully, and the epigraphs to the chapters have gotten me interested in the New Evolutionist Bible. But the characters, who are all rich, complicated individuals, drive the narrative as much as the fact that the binary system around which the ship is orbiting is about to go nova. I liked this book a lot, and I very much will read Chill, which comes out at the end of this year. But then, it's hard not to like a book in which the answer to "Why are you called the Angel of Poison?" is "Because there is no ancient Hebrew word for 'mutagen.'"
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