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The Drowning City by Amanda Downum
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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
This is the debut novel by author Amanda Downum and also the first in a fantasy trilogy. It does however work as a standalone with a satisfying conclusion to the story. Perhaps the strongest aspect of this book and what really makes it stand out from the crowd is the lush, tropical south-east asian inspired setting. The world building is excellent - the city of Symir growing restless under the yoke of a foreign empire - as well as the larger world and the political rivalries between empires and kingdoms are well realized. So is the role of magic in the world which relies heavily on the use of charms, gems and the binding of spirits and ghosts - it is both unusual and memorable The flora and fauna and geography of Symir and its surrounding jungles and swamps are all vividly described and add to the dense, cloying, riotous atmosphere of the story. All of it adds up to give the world great depth in which the story can unfold.

The characters too are memorable. The main protagonist is a young necromancer and spy, Isylt Iskuldur who has been sent to Symir with arms and money to see if she can stir the brewing discontent in to open revolt in the hopes of disrupting Symir's crucial trade in gemstones (which are important components in the working of magic), thereby distracting the Emperor of the Assari Empire away from plans of Imperial expansion in the north. However Symir's rebels are themselves divided in to factions, some of whom see any foreigners, even those who come bearing gifts, as a threat to be eliminated. To make matters more complicated, elements of the Imperial government also seem to be working to cross purposes and Isylt has to navigate the murky waters of internecine conflict while the lines between who is ally and enemy get increasingly blurred.

My description may make the whole thing sound like an incredibly convoluted thrill-a-minute ride but in fact the story unfolds in a stately manner. The author takes her time in introducing characters and letting plots and subplots unfold. If there is a criticism to be made it is that at time Isylt seems somewhat passive (not in her actions but in her decision-making) and her motivations not always entirely clear. At different times it is other characters who are much more the author of events and Isylt seems to be content to go along with things which one might expect she would balk from given her mission. The secondary characters are also interesting and well-realized - in some cases perhaps more well realized than Isylt.

Despite this criticism, all in all this was a satisfying and entertaining read. The world-building once again stands out and as soon as I was finished I picked up the sequel, not because the story was left unfinished (as mentioned earlier the story comes to a satisfying conclusion) but because the world and the characters were so intriguing that I wanted to spend more time with them. ( )
  iftyzaidi | Mar 28, 2018 |
I am cleaning up my currently reading list. I haven't touched this book in ages. That is probably a good indicator that I didn't like it to much.

I will say this:

1) The book has good world building.

2) Well thought out magic system.

But:

1) Also uninteresting characters.

2) A story that just doesn't grip you.

I give this book 3 stars. On the good reads scale I would still like this book, I think it's a bit of a wacky scale. ( )
  lente | Dec 6, 2015 |
Symir, the Drowning City. A lush subtropical port, home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers. And violent revolutionaries who'll stop at nothing to overthrow the corrupt Imperial government. Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, has been sent to Symir to stir the pot and help the revolutionaries out. Unfortunately the longer Isyllt stays in the city the more dangerous it becomes. Will she choose between her mission or saving the lives of millions?

The Drowning City is the first in The Necromancer Chronicles and the first book by Amanda Downum. There is a definite Asian/Arabic influence to the world building. I enjoyed reading about the city itself and the steamy jungle. The characters even eat a a sushi cafe at one point. The magic system is also interesting. It is more shamanistic, spirit and ghost based, quite different than anything I've read recently.

What drew me to checking the book out was the fact that the main character is both a necromancer and a spy. Here is where the story fell short for me. Isyllt wasn't very spy-like in my opinion. Several of the books revelations occurred with our her by secondary characters. In fact, more time was spent with secondary characters than with Isyllt, which was both interesting and odd. Interesting because the characters we fun to read about but odd that the heroine wasn't allowed to shine more.

For a first novel it shows promise. There is a good amount of action and political intrigue. It's also nice to see several strong female protagonists. I hope in future books the magic system is played up more and a glossary would be a good addition if "foreign" words within the context of the world will be common. ( )
  Narilka | Feb 1, 2015 |
The Drowning City is a promising debut that overcomes its few hiccups by the conclusion of the book. Downum is definitely one to watch.

Isyllt is a necromancer spy, sent to the steamy south to sow trouble in a rival empire. But on arrival, she realises she's stepped into a colonised city on the precipice. Can she push it over the edge without taking herself with it?

I struggled a little with the start of this book - I am not alone, judging from some reviews. Downum pops you straight into her city, and she fills her story with new terms, names, cultures. The political situation is not complex (an empire, their colonised kingdom, another rival kingdom/empire far to the north) but when it's served up all at once, the info dump was a little intense, especially coupled with constant allusions to what's happening offscreen and multiple protagonists.

This is compounded by Downum's rather heady prose. I don't know if I got used to it, or if she scaled it back a little bit as the book progressed, but either way I was fine with it by the end.

The setting is a kind of pan-Asian setting. It works very well in some places, and not so well in others, as Downum is happy to mix up syntax and cultural norms from very different Asian countries (eg Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam/Laos, India etc) to make her setting, and for me it was both a bit confusing, and also skirted the line of orientalism for me. I know her fantasy country is not meant to be analogous to one particular Asian country, but this kind of blending felt a bit haphazard - I felt she just wanted it to feel exotic and "Asian".

However, these weaknesses were far outweighed by the novel's strengths, first of which was its mature and engrossing plot. I love tales of intrigue, and Downum has a good one here - and one that escalates steadily, avoiding a tit-for-tat feel that Game of Thrones imitators can have. There is a sense of things being at stake in The Drowning City, and also progression.

Whilst the multiple protagonists were confusing at first, as their stories matured and developed I really started to appreciate them. Characters I had written off as one dimensional and shallow came to life, with more complexity than I had given them credit for.

This goes for our main protagonist, Isyllt, as well. Downum stuffs her with backstory and it really does add a lot of depth.

The climax, when it comes, is a superb collation of these separate threads. None of it felt forced or rushed to me, and I finished the book with a feeling of great satisfaction. A promising debut; I bought the sequel immediately. ( )
  patrickgarson | Dec 29, 2014 |
A solid book in the modern fantasy genre - We have a wonderful detailed world, with interesting cultures and well written characters. The heroine, Issylt, is interesting - and considerably more than a simple spy - she acts rationally, asks for help, and has humanity - a welcome change from the loner type heroine novels that are so frequent. That isn't to say she isn't kick-ass, but she works within the system (well, her country's system - she is a spy), uses her skills when necessary, but knows her weaknesses.

The supporting characters are equally well written - for example, the student/revolutionist might be idealistic - but is smart and steps up to the challenge, without losing who she is.

The book is slow - there is a lot of politics, world building, and wordy scenes - but it picks up speed in later chapters, and becomes a book that you can't put down.

So, to summarize - nice world building, interesting characters, but at times a bit slow. If you like your fantasy with more of politics than fighting - this is a book you should read. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Oct 5, 2014 |
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Epigraph
Drowning is not so pitiful

As the attempt to rise.


--Emily Dickinson
Hope lies in the smoldering rubble of empires.

-- Rage Against the Machine
("Calm Like a Bomb")
Dedication
For New Orleans
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Symir.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Symir -- 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. --Google Books
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316069043, Mass Market Paperback)

Symir -- 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Necromancer Isyllt Iskaldur finances revolutionaries who would overthrow the corrupt Imperial government, but finds herself torn between her new friends and her sense of duty as her home is beset by increasingly violent uprisings.

» see all 2 descriptions

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