Contemporary Literature · Fantasy · Mystery/Thriller


This was a phenomenal book – definitely in my “Top 5” so far this year. Dazzling. Full of sex, love, intrigue, danger, secrets, and a political coup, this is an atmospheric read at it’s best, drawing you into a world you’ll never want to leave. I’m not at all sure what genre this would be – thriller, scifi/steampunk, contemporary – but it doesn’t matter. It’s just that good.

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

Amberlough 00011

“From page 1, you are dumped right into the glittering world of Amberlough, a sort of 1920s burlesque underground scene, full of spies, smugglers and lovers, all with a healthy dash of rakishness and showmanship, in a world where bribes are king and anything can be overlooked for a price. Immediately there is a local twang to the dialogue that takes a hot second to get accustomed to, with slang words and phrases that you really need the context clues to pin a meaning to. It’s a little bit of effort on the part of the reader at first. But soon you’ll be speeding your way through the read, as naturally as if you were born there, and feeling quite satisfied about it.

We meet Aristide, Cyril, Cordelia right away – two are lovers, two are stars in one of the biggest shows in Amberlough, one runs drugs and other packages, one is a sort of underworld kingpin (with more connections and colleagues than the read can reasonably keep track of) and one is a government spy who, despite his original intentions, has fallen in love with said kingpin and is toeing a very thin (and not at all secret) line between his love and his job. And all three love, for their own reasons, the free-thinking, malleable, sordid, but comfortable, world of Amberlough City in which they live and thrive.

Soon after Cyril is called, reluctantly, back into the field by his boss, a cascade of events in the political world ends in a government takeover by a fascist regime. The Ospies are sick of the crooked government, the bribe-able police force, the late night culture of Amberlough (among other things, like trade restrictions) and are looking for reform. They are not pleased with Cyril’s underground, mostly not secret, “relationship” with Ari, or with the club, The Bumble Bee Cabaret and Night Club, where Cordelia and Aristide preside, and most definitely not with the network of contacts and products that Aristide deals in on the side. As the plot moves forward, all three are intertwined in a variety of ways, as they scheme to make their own way, save their own necks, and hold onto (or avenge) the city and people that they love.

This is the type of story you just cannot put down. The world building is lush and, almost, melancholy…an inspired combination of breakneck speed and satisfied laziness that creates the perfect backdrop for an old school spy game. The cabaret feel of the entire city is an added bonus of foreign and exotic that hits the spot. The characters all have their secrets and their private games that are crafty and complicated, impressive in their scope and frustrating in their blindness to the machinations of each other. The plot is perfect, a gorgeous parallel with the world in which it takes place, and the character development is done almost as well. I loved everyone and everything the author introduced us to and while the story ended in a fairly satisfying place, I cannot wait to see where it goes from here.”

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