|The Drowning City by Amanda Downum
promised to be exactly the kind of book I enjoy strong fantasy setting, likable
protagonist, intelligent plot. And by and large, it delivered, although not always in the
ways I expected.
Our nominal protagonist Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy for the
next kingdom over, has arrived in Symir The Drowning City to cause trouble. She's capable,
powerful, attractive, genuinely good hearted, but with a self-destructive streak that
makes her hard to sympathise with. A well rounded character.
It's a pity, then, that she sort of stops being the protagonist about half way through
the book, and spends the third act frantically trying to find her feet as two strong B
characters take over the plot entirely. They're not as well rounded as Isyllt, but they
are embedded in their environment, and either would have made a fine protagonist of a much
larger book. It is their decisions that decide the fate of Symir, while Isyllt becomes an
observer in her own story.
The story itself is dominated by the environment of Symir a rather
trope-infested cross between New Orleans and Venice. Out back, with the bayou and the
volcano, are the native tribes and the ghosts of their ancestors, struggling for freedom
and prepared to do anything to achieve it. In the city, among the Masquerade balls and the
canals, are the collaborators and the foreign politicians, getting rich off the land.
Somewhere in the middle, the river maidens work their own magic to keep the city safe from
the creatures of the water. With such a set-up, conflict is never far from the surface,
and Isyllt barely has a chance to do anything before the fuse is lit. But the explosion is
perfectly paced, and finale is long and intense enough to be satisfying.
Amanda Downum's writing tends towards the purple, and displays an over-fondness for
certain turns of phrase. But it's never unreadable, and helps develop the environment in
ways that a more spartan writing style wouldn't. The C characters are introduced too
quickly, and there are too many to keep track of, which lead to some backtracking to
figure out who this now pivotal character is.
The Drowning City is a strong fantasy read, The plot, the
characters and the environment, both physical and political, support and develop each
other. Good enough that I picked up the sequel immediately.