Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Rec: The Drowning City (Amanda Downum)

So last week I went on a business trip to Ohio.  Not a very exciting destination, you might think - but these days, I rejoice in my rare opportunities for business travel.  Not only do I get to sleep in a nice quiet hotel room without an energetic toddler demanding I jump out of bed at 6am, but I get scads of uninterrupted reading time while in airports and on planes.  As always, before the trip I loaded up my Kindle with a whole stack of new books to read.  But much as I love my e-reader for travel, there's that annoying 15 minutes on take-off and landing where you're not allowed to use it.  Which means I always take along a paperback book, too - wouldn't want to waste 15 minutes of reading time!  (I can read a good few chapters in 15 minutes.)

This time I grabbed a paperback off the unread stack of freebie books I got at the World Fantasy Convention last October, and the book I happened to choose was Amanda Downum's The Drowning City.  It's the first book in her Necromancer Chronicles, a series I'd heard some recommendations for but had not yet gotten around to trying, mostly because the blurb hadn't particularly captured my attention.  When I boarded my flight to Ohio, I figured I'd read a few chapters while waiting out the "no electronic devices" purgatory and then dive back into the current book on my Kindle (a book I was thoroughly enjoying).

Well, when the flight attendant came on to say electronic devices were a-okay again, I couldn't bring myself to put The Drowning City down, not even to return to the Kindle book I'd wanted so badly to finish.  I ended up reading The Drowning City straight through during the flight before returning to the Kindle.  (And then re-reading some bits I'd particularly liked when I had to shut the Kindle off for landing.)  I even downloaded the next book in the series (The Bone Palace) the minute I had internet access again.

So what hooked me so deeply?  Well, I harbor a deep love for spy novels, and The Drowning City is a spy novel in a fantasy setting.  Not the big flashy explosions and cool tech sort of spy novel, but the quieter, more realistic sort, where fallible characters with conflicting goals struggle to navigate a confusing, messy tangle of loyalties and information.  Not to say that the book doesn't have interesting magic and some nice action scenes, because it does - but to me, the real strength was in Downum's weaving of the viewpoints from various characters (some jaded spies, some not so) to create a coherent tale.  I also appreciated the plethora of female characters (a nice change from many fantasies), and I loved Downum's descriptions of the city, which felt both real and pleasantly different than the usual quasi-european fantasy setting.

Fair warning: you need a fairly high tolerance for confusion at the start of the book; this is something I don't have a problem with as a reader, but I know some people dislike having lots of unfamiliar terms and political factions thrown at them.  (I like to figure things out as I go, and when in doubt I just trust things will come clear later; a trust that Downum rewards, I think.  For me, nothing was so confusing it got in the way of the story; others may vary.)  So long as you don't mind that, I definitely recommend the book - I know I'm quite eager to read the next two in the series (just started The Bone Palace, in fact.)

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