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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

review: Mélusine by Sarah Monette

Doctrine of Labyrinths #1:
by Sarah Monette

Mélusine - a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption, and destinies lost and found...
Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But the horrors of his past as an abused slave have returned, and threaten to destroy all he has since become.
As a cat burglar, Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. But now he has been caught by a wizard. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay, but for Felix Harrowgate...Thrown together by fate, these unlikely allies will uncover a shocking secret that will link them inexorably together.

adult fiction ; fantasy ; glbt { genre
NC-17 for violence and sexual content { rating
August 7, 2005 { first released
Ace hardcover (432 pages) { review edition
borrowed { acquisition ; ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
I had been on a rampage looking for books that feature brothers recently and remembered GAL Novelty mentioning this series a while ago. I do admit that some of the tags (incest and lgbt to be exact) made me curious, but cautious too, and I had resolved to put it away if the incest bothered me (er, being a fan of Kaori Yuki's Angel Sanctuary though, it wasn't likely lol). However, I immediately fell in love with Mildmay, and no matter how obnoxious/insane Felix is, I could not stop reading until I saw the brothers complete their journey.

First Lines
Felix: The Hall of the Chimeras, having no windows, was lit by seven massive candelabra hanging above the mosaic floor like monstrous birds of prey. Their fledglings, twisted iron stands crowned with candles, rose up at intervals along the floor, interspersed with the busts of dead and ancient kings. At the east end of the hall -- not that east and west mattered in the great, labyrinthine bulk of the Mirador -- the Virtu of the Mirador on its obsidian plinth cast its own strange, underwater light, which reached down to touch the steel spearheads of the Lord Protector’s throne, but reached no farther.

Overall Rating

While the world and the characters were interesting and vibrant, the writing was hard to appreciate. I have to say though, I was completely pulled in by the 'brothers' premise, and I loved Mildmay very very much, so I may be a bit biased on the ratings here. Also, this book has gay relationships, violent rape and even a dash of incest, so read at your own discretion.

review posted to, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari


My main attraction to this series is the theme of brothers and them working together, so it felt to me that it took a bit too long for them to finally meet. And then when they do meet, Felix is all semi-there and crazy as hell, so I don't really even know how Mildmay develops any form of relationship with Felix during their journey - in fact Felix sorta projects different identities onto Mildmay for the majority of the first half. Mildmay still tries so hard to protect him though, it's kind of heartbreaking when Felix doesn't or can't respond.
The world building is quite detailed and creative, though I'm a little dubious of the supposed language consistencies and the binary good city vs. evil city thing. There's lots of talk on labyrinths, which, even though it was very unique and surreal, made only a vague amount of sense. Then again, I'm one of those readers who would enjoy a good theory, but still have major qualms about the logic and plausibility or lack thereof (ex. time travel).


I became very invested in the characters right away, though Mildmay quicker than Felix I must say. They do not so much grow as get squeezed and beaten into shape as their desperation for survival pushes them to do terrible things. The glimpse of healing towards the end benefits Felix a lot more than Mildmay, but I love a bit of hurt-comfort in my books and I can't wait for more.
Felix is cowardly and self-serving - and I don't really like him. His entire narrative is based around running away from problems, venting his frustration on others, and drowning in boatloads of degenerative self-pity. He appears to me as a person who is used to and resigned to being used and letting people (Malkar) use him - he practically no backbone to speak of. I cannot really put a finger on how I feel about him outside frustrated and a vague sense of nothing-can-make-him-worse-at-least. The glimpse of him at the end of the book promises to show him in a new light though, and I am willing to cling to that tiny hope.
Mildmay I love way more than Felix (understatement) and I thoroughly enjoyed his half of the narration. He's crude and simple-minded, but kind and straightforward. He's also very snarky in his own head, berating himself more often than not for his own mistakes and actually doing something about it (unlike Felix). He is also strong-willed and stupidly courageous at times, though only for the one or two people he cares very much about, the world be damned. It is easy along the journey to sympathize with Mildmay's grim realization that Felix is probably the last person in the world he can connect to, and his desperation to hold onto that hope for dependency is very touching.
I liked the side characters too (though not most of the Mirador court), von Heber and Bernard were charming, and I liked Gideon's ambiguous motives, but the Sunlings seemed to have very little personality out of plot-device and deux ex machina...


The flow is a bit jumpy here and there, especially with Mildmay's "horrible" grammar and the many over-used metaphor adjectives. The author also clearly went through the trouble to invent new names for stuff (ex. special calenders, counting guides, occupations), but then reverted to using modern English slang in other areas of the book, which kind of confused me a lot since this is clearly not urban fantasy. There were also inconsistencies in quality, where some parts had wonderful plot development, while others were kinda rushed over - especially when the brothers first meet. That was such a half-assed scene...or maybe she was trying too hard to give the Meet Scene a low-profile approach? Overall, it is readable if a bit frustratingly dull and inconsistent at times.


The action really spun down ten-fold from the beginning of the second half to the end. I felt like I was reading the beginning of a sequel attached to the end of the first book. It was slightly frustrating in that sense to see the brothers' relationship progressing so slowly, and even though the very end wasn't a cliffhanger in terms of action or plot, I felt none too mollified. If you like this first book, I recommend having the second book handy so you can continue reading right away because I for one could not just stop there.

Doctrine of Labyrinths Series
#1 Mélusine (2005)
#2 The Virtu (2006)
#3 The Mirador (2007)
#4 Corambis (2009)

Reading Challenges
1st in Series Challenge 2009 → Doctrine of Labyrinths Series
GLBT Challenge 2009 → GLBT characters
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