It’s difficult to give a summary of this book, because a lot happens and very little of it seems to matter by the end. I’m not really sure what Sarah Monette thought as she wrote this. She probably intends to expand on a lot of the themes and hidden references in the next book. There is a lot that feels just tossed in, with no explanation, and definitions of words like septad definitely would have helped. I don’t mind if a book tosses me straight into a world if explanations are forthcoming, and here they’re not. In that way it reminded me of Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson; not in any other way though.
I spent about the first half of the book hating it. I hated Felix, everything was depressing, and I kept wondering when Mildmay and Felix were finally going to meet each other. It was driving me crazy, I felt like the book was going nowhere. I’m generally patient, but I can’t stand when the back of a book promises me something that isn’t forthcoming quickly, because to me that makes it a spoiler and ruins the experience. This book does that, and I kept wondering when the torture was going to end for various characters.
When Mildmay and Felix do meet, the book gets vastly better. The plot starts to move, things start happening, and more importantly, I get a sense of the characters’ feelings for the first time. Both had involved themselves in emotional entanglements beforehand, but only here did I feel like they were real people and start to care about them. We get to see more of the world – I didn’t like Melusine the city very much – and some resolution finally shows up, although nowhere near enough. I don’t know why the book doesn’t state that it is the first of a trilogy anywhere.
Also, there’s a lot of modern swearing and slang that doesn’t really fit in a pseudo-European world for me. I like when she makes up her own slang and I think it may have been better if she’d done more of that, or at least used fewer four-letter words. Mildmay’s sections got jarring at times because he swears so often.
Other than that, I actually liked the last hundred pages. I liked them a lot. They were really emotionally successful and finally got me into the story. Almost enough for me to get the next in the trilogy, but probably not for quite a while.