"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Doctrine of Labyrinths

TITLE: The Virtu, The Mirador, Corambis
AUTHOR: Sarah Monette

According to Sarah Monette's LiveJournalMelusine and the books following are The Doctrine of Labyrinths series, which refers to the labyrinths that play an important part of the magic in her universe as well as important roles in each of the four books.

I can't remember when I've devoured a series as quickly as I read these 4 books and rarer still, that as soon as I finished reading Corambis, I wanted to start all over again. I can't get these books or their principal characters out of my mind. I thought about reviewing them individually, but for me, they are really one long book broken into 4 volumes, and therefore, am combining my thoughts on the last 3 volumes.

In Melusine, which I reviewed previously, the characters of Felix Harrowgate, a Cabaline wizard, and Mildmay the Fox, a cat burglar, were introduced. Felix was used by his evil mentor, Malkar, a blood wizard, to destroy the Virtu, the globe that channeled the magic powers and spells of the Mirador's wizards, an act which drove Felix insame. It isn't giving much away to say that Felix turns out to be the half-brother of Mildmay, a development that even I, an inexperienced fantasy reader, figured out early on. By the end of the book, Mildmay, and the mad Felix, after a series of misadventures, reached the magical gardens where Felix could be cured.

The Virtu picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of Melusine, and details how the half-brothers journey back to the Mirador, in the city of Melusine. Accompanying them on their travels is Mehitabel Farr, an actress with a secret past. Felix is convinced he can fix the Virtu and hopes he will have the chance before tried and executed for its destruction. Back in the Mirador, Mildmay becomes a pawn in Malkar's plot to ensnare Felix once again.

The Mirador jumps two years past the end of The Virtu, and focuses on political intrigue and on Mehitabel who is forced into being an unwilling spy on the Mirador's doings for one of Melusine's enemies. And Corambis, picking up soon after the events of The Mirador, is the story of Felix's exile, with Mildmay, and the terrible magical engine that could destroy the nation of Corambis.

To do justice to these books without giving much away or without going into details that might spoil the joy of reading these books is darn near impossible. The characters are what makes this series. Felix and Mildmay, both sold to thief keepers by their prostitute mother, grew up in Melusine's Lower City, but the paths their lives took were very different. After being a thief, Felix ends up working in a brothel, where he's found by Malkar and taught how to pass for an aristocrat, which led him to become a wizard of the Mirador.

Mildmay also began as a kept-thief at an early age, but by the time he was 14, had been trained as an assassin, finally breaking away from his keeper and earning a living as a cat burglar and cardsharp. Where Felix is arrogant and vain, the taciturn Mildmay is humble to a fault, living on the edge and old beyond his years. Where Felix is educated, Mildmay is barely able to read. Where Felix has magic, Mildmay has his fists and his tenacity. Their strengths and weaknesses are both complementary and cause for conflict, with each causing the other pain, both intended and not. Entwined in their adventures is the slow progress of their relationship over time as they learn to trust each other and their own feelings. Throw in various forms of magic and magic theory, and the books have a strong foundation.

Told in alternating first person povs, the narratives have distinct voices that will get into your head and stay with you a long time. Because I have a lot of books still waiting to be read, I'll resist the urge to reread these now. But I doubt I'll be able to hold out for long.