Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"The Drowning City" by Amanda Downum

"The Drowning City"
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Orbit Books
The review is based on a bought copy of the book

The Drowning City: home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers. And violent revolutionaries who will stop at nothing to overthrow the corrupt Imperial government.
For Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, the brewing revolution is a chance to prove herself to her crown. All she has to do is find and finance the revolutionaries, and help topple the palaces of Symir. But she is torn between her new friends and her duties, and the longer she stays in this monsoon-drenched city, the more intrigue she uncovers – even the dead are plotting.
As the waters rise and the dams crack, Isyllt must choose between her mission and the city she came to save.

A mix of information, cover art and reviews prompted me towards Amanda Downum’s “The Drowning City”. With my curiosity tickled heavily by the synopsis of the novel it was only a matter of time before I’d pick up a copy of “The Drowning City”. Although the respective moment came after more than a year since Amanda Downum’s debut novel was published it finally came, as I was certain that it would.

My curiosity paid once I opened the novel, because as the first pages are turned so Amanda Downum raises the curtain on the city of Symir. A combination between Venice and the Far and Middle East cultures, Symir made an immediate and strong impression. The streets, or more exactly the canals, of the flamboyant city are bustling with life, Symir feeling truly vivid, without leaving any sensation that it is an inert setting. Symir is made even more distinctive with the culture Amanda Downum builds around the city. Customs, food and drink inflict new sparks of life within the setting and transform Symir in an almost three dimensional location. The outskirts of the city are not neglected either, contributing with new elements and details to a setting that turns out to be the masterpiece of “The Drowning City”.

However, I cannot say the same about the rest of the novel. The story is concentrated on three major characters, Isyllt Iskaldur, a necromancer and a spy, Zhirin Laii, an apprentice who finds herself caught between the conflicts of interest and Xinai Lin, a mercenary who returns home and struggles with her past and present. Unfortunately, although all of them do not turn out to be just cardboard or stage set characters, they do not turn out to be strong or remarkable ones either. The potential for their transformation is in the pages of the novel, Isyllt with her past memories and lost love, Zhirin with a desire to fight for her country but without forfeiting her principles and Xinai who returns home to find her past and the desire to remain there, but none of these incipient metamorphoses takes place. Amanda Downum makes these aspects felt, but not even close of the scale of the setting of her novel.

Symir is a city occupied by the ever expansive Empire of Assar, but its citizens fight to overthrown the Assarian dominance. Isyllt Iskaldur comes to Symir in an attempt to divert the Assari Empire attention from her own country. “The Drowning City” develops around this plot and it is moving fast and effective. Political intrigue, underground plotting and action scenes are present aplenty and keep the story moving in a steady pace. Ghosts, magic and necromancy are important ingredients for the story and everything reaches the high peak in a vigorous end. Sadly, “The Drowning City” is not a striking story, the novel doesn’t touch any boundaries of the genre or attempts to step over any of them. To put it simple, although it is a novel that I read until the end with any problem it is not one that makes me want to reread it in the future.

“The Drowning City” might not be suitable for a reread, but it certainly emanated a strong flavor when it came to its setting, powerful enough to make me read eventually the following novels in Amanda Downum’s “The Necromancer Chronicles”.

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