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Thursday, October 22, 2009

review: The Virtu by Sarah Monette

Doctrine of Labyrinths #2:
The Virtu
by Sarah Monette

Felix Harrowgate was a dashing and powerful wizard until his former master wrenched Felix’s magic from him and used it to shatter the Virtu — the orb that is the keystone for the protections and magic of the wizards of the city. Felix has painfully clawed his way back to sanity, and his only chance to reclaim the life he once knew is to repair the seemingly irreparable — to restore the Virtu.
Mildmay the Fox was an assassin and a cat burglar — until a curse caught up with him and his life changed forever. Haunted by death, his leg damaged by the curse that should have killed him, he does not know what awaits him in Mélusine, but for good or ill, his fate is tied to Felix’s, by blood...and by magic.
On their journey, Felix and Mildmay will encounter friends and enemies old and new, vengeful spirits and ancient goddesses. They will uncover secrets better left buried. But nothing can prepare them for what awaits their return: Felix’s former master, the cruel and decadent wizard Malkar Gennadion...

adult fiction ; fantasy ; glbt { genre
NC-17 for violence and sexual content { rating
June 27, 2006 { first released
Ace hardcover (448 pages) { review edition
borrowed { acquisition ; ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
I really liked the beginning of the sane relationship between Felix and Mildmay from the first book and this book seemed like the direct continuation. Then, GAL Novelty, who has also read this series, said that this second book would appeal to my love for Mildmay.
Plus, the cover is gorgeous and I can rarely deny reading a book with a beautiful cover - my love for Mildmay is a bonus - so I began this right away after Mélusine and got through this volume in one day. I was reading through the entire night and had morning class the next day, but it was worth the erratic 4 hour nap I took at noon.

First Lines
Mildmay: When I opened the door, I could tell that Thamuris was dosed to the gills on laudanum.
"You sure about this?" I said.
Thamuris came drifting into the room like a ghost. His feet were bare, and his hair was down, and he was wearing something that looked basically like a bedsheet. I hoped like fuck nobody’d noticed him on his way here. "I have to," he said, and there was something about the way he said it -- I can’t explain it, but I knew there wasn’t a thing in the world I could say that would mean anything to him. He was past the point where anybody could talk him down. I took a deep breath, let it out, admitted to myself that I was going to get in trouble over this and I was okay with it. Then I shut the door and said, "What d’you want me to do?"

Overall Rating

A great improvement since the first book in terms of both writing and characters. This "sequel" feels more like a direct continuation of the previous book and focuses much more on the half-brothers' relationship - and their struggles to define it. Signs are showing of actual character development, as well as a growing mythology surrounding the mysterious cult of the labyrinths. However, there are still gay relationships, and the incest has increased about two-fold (which still isn't much), so read at your own discretion.

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


Truthfully speaking, I really didn't expect much from the plot. It lead me to be pleasantly surprised though that Monette brought back the characters and loose ends of the first book and resolved many of them here. The proceedings were a logical progression, though I felt some of the resolutions were a bit oversimplified.
I loved the ongoing tension between the brothers, each having no trust to spare, but caring about each other without knowing why - Felix doesn't remember his crazy-timez, and Mildmay didn't really interact with the non-crazy Felix until now. Their tension, especially after the bonding thing, is crackling with potential - even more so when the incest-y feelings come to light.
The mythology is actually pretty interesting, with the appearances of different kinds of labyrinths and mazes, and the lurking danger works well to build up mystery and intrigue. Some of the events are a bit too coincidental though, the hunted girl especially appears pointless. But seeing how there was that whole "prophecy made true" vibe going on, I guess some suspension of belief is to be required.


Felix, like I had expected, is still very unstable and erratic in his decision-making and general state of mind, but at least he's not fully crazy anymore. I liked that he finally acknowledges his inability to be considerate to others, and his guilt over forcing Mildmay to be the lenient one. That said, I still don't like the way he makes everything out to be about himself, not thinking things through and putting other people in danger. He also seemed to get distracted really easily, putting insane focus into one issue at a time and seemingly forgetting the other problems at hand. Still, at least he finally gathered the guts to smoke Strych.
Then there's Mildmay's resignation in being the one ordered around as he can't say no to Felix (first figuratively, and then literally), as well as his fear that Felix doesn't need or want to associate with him anymore - which disturbingly parallels the Malkar/Felix relationship dynamic. The jealousy and helpless fondness is a little heartbreaking, just as his sense of betrayal and distrust at the end is too (for some reason I think the Felix/Mildmay and Felix/Gideon seems to be moving along like one of those romance novels where one of them is an asshole, but the other keeps going back to them).
I suppose the reader is just as unsure of the brothers' relationship as they are themselves - sometimes they're saving each others' lives, when at other times they're endangering them. Sometimes they spend pages thinking about the other, and then they seem to forget the other exists. I'm not sure if this is due to the writing/plotting or the actual dysfunctional relationship though.
I liked Mehitabel, even though her story is a bit underdeveloped, at least she can be counted on to care about Mildmay when Felix is too self-centered to notice. Only problem I have is that von Heber and Gideon seem to have entirely new personalities. I liked the old Gideon better, when he wasn't ever so dependent on Felix.


The bad grammar and repeated phrases are back, though at a more controlled level so it didn't bother me as much as it did before. I like Felix as a sane narrator much better, since he is rather coherent in his new mindset, if not still as obnoxious.
Truth be told, I didn't notice the writing so much this time, as I was way too invested in the story. This is by no means an amazing work of literature, but I do commend it on its effective use of first-person POVs to compare and contrast the brothers as they face personal and mutual struggles.
Also, Mildmay's snark keeps me happy.


This ending was much more satisfying than the first book's. There are conflicts between the brothers that you would want to read about them resolving, but most major plot lines are resolved. There is less urgency to read the next book with this ending, but it does allow for the story to develop in a hundred million ways.

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

Reading Challenges
GLBT Challenge 2009 → GLBT characters
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Ah Yuan said...


It's weird though, that I kinda see the Felix/Mildmay or Felix/Gideon as moving along like one of those romance novels where the guy is an asshole, but the girl keeps going back to him...


Oh man, when Felix goes on with the superlative usage about Mildmay, I thought I died. I was like, I was so wrong about you Felix. Please bby, talk sweet nothingness to me more. *is shameless*

Are you gonna read the 3rd book? Maybe I'll finally motivate myself to start the 3rd book and maybe eventually finish the series...

ninefly / angeltyuan said...

actually, I kinda skim-read the third book already >3>
to tell you the truth, it wasn't nearly as "good" as this one: too much politics, too little Felix/Mildmay, too much Felix being a general moron...
I'm hoping Corambis is better though, since the brothers would certainly be together more often =T

Ah Yuan said...

Hmm, how's the girl in the 3rd book though? That's what I'm kinda curious about...

Gah, got to find time to read 3rd book. ToT