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Amberlough: A Novel by Lara Elena Donnelly
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Amberlough: A Novel (edition 2017)

by Lara Elena Donnelly (Author)

Series: Amberlough Dossier (1)

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4342847,545 (3.89)34
"Welcome to Amberlough City, the illustrious but corrupt cosmopolitan beacon of Gedda. The radical One State Party--nicknamed the Ospies--is gaining popular support to unite Gedda's four municipal governments under an ironclad, socially conservative vision. Not everyone agrees with the Ospies' philosophy, including master spy Cyril DePaul and his lover Aristide Makricosta, smuggler and emcee at the popular Bumble Bee Cabaret. When Cyril's cover is blown on a mission, however, he must become a turncoat in exchange for his life. Returning to Amberlough under the Ospies' watchful eye, Cyril enters a complex game of deception. One of his concerns is safeguarding Aristide, who refuses to let anyone--the crooked city police or the homophobic Ospies--dictate his life. Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, top dancer at the Bee and Aristide's runner, who could be the key to Cyril's plans--if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means--and people--necessary. Including each other"--… (more)
Member:DeannaHoak
Title:Amberlough: A Novel
Authors:Lara Elena Donnelly (Author)
Info:Macmillan Audio (2017)
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Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

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» See also 34 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
This was grimmer than I usually go for, so I couldn't get into it as much as the world-painting and ambiance deserved, although the very end took a sharp upturn, so I'll probably read the next book. Inexorable facist takeovers fueled by rising conservatism to crack down on queer people, the arts, and sex workers is a little too on the nose right now to be my preferred bed time reading. But I did love the atmosphere of the theatre scene, the glam cover on everything, and how the writing style flowed and created very clear sensory images. ( )
  Monj | Jan 7, 2022 |
Not really sure genre to call this. It's not fantasy, because there's no magic. It's not alternate history, because it's set in an invented world. I'm honestly not quite sure why it isn't just alternate history, when several blurbs compare Amberlough City to Weimar Berlin, and can only speculate that it's because the author was less interested in the real history than in the invented world and characters.

I mention this because the book feels pretty shallow all the way through. We get most of our politics shoved into the first quarter or less, and then it's supposed to resonate deeply with us as four-state Gedda goes into political upheaval. But there were some fundamental things that I either never figured out or I forgot: Why do the Ospies, the fascist party, want to unite Gedda instead of strengthening their nationalism and conservativism in their own separatist "country"? With some old-religion practices still above the boards, it feels like they haven't consolidated their power at home enough to start looking beyond their borders. I think a four-country/state parliament was mentioned--do we assume that's gone just because the Ospie leader came into power? If marriages of all pairings and more and high-ranking working women are the norm, why is it so easy for the Ospies to find people who oppose those social norms?

I feel like the sense of depth and urgency that you can get with historical fiction is missing. The country names aren't cleverly-disguised versions of existing countries (or if they are, they are too cleverly disguised for me to recognize them), so there isn't the historical resonance that you feel when you read about interwar Germany and Europe. And it all seems so simplistic: a violent, conservative, fascist government takes over a free-wheeling, fun-loving place. Black-and-white, good-and-bad. Why do the Ospies care what happens in Amberlough? There's such complexity in the world, as we've seen in the U.S. pre-, during-, and post-Trump, that Amberlough feels a bit reductionist.

All that said, I still enjoyed the book. Entertaining enough during the slower start to keep me going, then exciting once the setup was in place and we finally got to the spy-thriller elements. (No mystery, though--this is about what happens to the cards on the table, not how they got there.) Aristide and Cordelia are fascinating characters and I wish we'd had even more of them. I can't say I was as interested in Cyril, with his upper-class background, until the consequences of his plot-starting failure kicked in about halfway through. Even then, Aristide and Cordelia were cleverer and more resourceful and just more fun to be along with. For all that people kept saying that Cyril was a good spy, he never seemed to have backup plans like Aristide or good improv skills like Cordelia.

The world was rich and lush, even though I can't necessarily call it world-building when most of the world seems grounded in historical reality. Gender roles may have been different from ours, but they were seamless--once you know that "razors" are butch working women who cut their hair short, you see them commuting and hanging out at bars in the background; a realistic number of people in multiple professions have partners and spouses of the same sex, not just in the arts. I would have liked to see more of the cabaret/theater world, especially when what happens during one undescribed act costs the life of a fun minor character.

A tiny part of me wishes we could have hopped on this train halfway through the book, but then that shallowness of political history would be even more noticeable. But the character who grows and changes most in this story is Cordelia, and I wish I could have gone just a little further with her. Amberlough does not have a cliffhanger ending, even if all the ends are open: you can stop here, if you're not inclined to go further. And, since I just liked the book instead of loved it, and the pages have run out and I don't have the sequel at my fingertips, I think I will be stopping here. ( )
  books-n-pickles | Oct 29, 2021 |
Donnelly has a tendency to infodump at some points in the book, and in the beginning the complicated regional politics can be difficult to follow. But eventually I (mostly) understood the situation and huge cast of characters. Still, it’s some really fascinatingly detailed worldbuilding I can’t help but be impressed by.

The world is colorful and complex and nuanced, and feels very real because of it. The characters are equally so, from the good and pure ginger accountant boy to tall, dark and fabulous Aristide.

If you like political intrigue, spy novels, Moulin Rouge, and/or that Gatsby aesthetic, but without all the usual homophobia and sexism that plague those genres, I would recommend this book. It features a cast that’s diverse in race, gender, gender expression, sexuality, and social class. There’s even happy, healthy polyamory. ( )
  Erandir | Feb 1, 2021 |
I found Amberlough hard to get into at first; there are a ton of names – of people, places and political groups – and while I picked them up before too long, it took a lot of furrowed concentration at the start. The good news is that so long as you're willing to do that, you'll be rewarded with a fantastic spec fic thriller, set in an analogue for Weimar-era Germany as it succumbs to Nazi rule.

The main characters are split between spies and burlesque theatre folk, most of them gay, and the rest dead broke (my god how refreshing it is to read a book where not everyone is rich!!). The characters are all far from perfect people, but especially Cyril, whose flaws are so glaring and decision-making skills so horrible that his chapters made me squirm to read at times. And also let's be real, there was no reason he had to murder Finn. That was cruel. That said, despite their flaws I found them all compelling to read about, the way their stories crossed paths and had them sometimes allied and sometimes working against each other. That was neat.

There is a palpable sense of dread over the course of the book that gets sharper and heavier the closer you get to the end. The real theme of it is the way that the impending seizure of power by the Ospies (Nazi equivalents) forces people into some nasty dilemmas where every option sucks, but it still matters what option they choose anyway. I'm looking forward to seeing how that develops over the rest of the trilogy.

As an aside, I also appreciated the depiction of Amberlough itself – the many districts, from genteel to bawdy and everything in between; the public transport routes; the sights and smells of the city parks; the sounds of the different accents of its residents… it was just clearly a book from someone who loves urban life and can put into words all the things that make cities great. It made for an immersive environment as all the politics and scheming were underway. If this book sounds like anything you might be interested in I encourage you to give it a try, because it really gripped me. ( )
  Jayeless | Sep 9, 2020 |
Brutal, and not entirely to my taste, but very, very good. ( )
  elenaj | Jul 31, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Donnelly blends romance and tragedy, evoking gilded-age glamour and the thrill of a spy adventure, in this impressive debut.
 
A tightly woven and diverse cast of spies, criminals, cabaret bohemians, and lovers struggles to save what matters to each of them against a tide of rising fascism and violence in Donnelly's debut novel, set in a vaguely 1920s milieu.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lara Elena Donnellyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Collins, GregDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davies, RhysMap artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kowal, Mary RobinetteNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stafford-Hill, JamieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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At the beginning of the workweek, most of Amberlough’s salary-folk crawled reluctantly from their bed—or someone else’s—and let the trolleys tow them, hung over and half asleep, to the office.
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"Welcome to Amberlough City, the illustrious but corrupt cosmopolitan beacon of Gedda. The radical One State Party--nicknamed the Ospies--is gaining popular support to unite Gedda's four municipal governments under an ironclad, socially conservative vision. Not everyone agrees with the Ospies' philosophy, including master spy Cyril DePaul and his lover Aristide Makricosta, smuggler and emcee at the popular Bumble Bee Cabaret. When Cyril's cover is blown on a mission, however, he must become a turncoat in exchange for his life. Returning to Amberlough under the Ospies' watchful eye, Cyril enters a complex game of deception. One of his concerns is safeguarding Aristide, who refuses to let anyone--the crooked city police or the homophobic Ospies--dictate his life. Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, top dancer at the Bee and Aristide's runner, who could be the key to Cyril's plans--if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means--and people--necessary. Including each other"--

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