Nicholas Valiarde is a passionate, embittered nobleman with an enigmatic past. Consumed by thoughts of vengeance, he is consoled only by thoughts of the beautiful, dangerous Madeline. He is also the greatest thief in all of Ile-Rien... On the gaslight streets of the city, Nicholas assumes the guise of a master criminal, stealing jewels from wealthy nobles to finance his quest for vengeance: The murder of Count Montesq. Montesq orchestrated the wrongful execution of Nicholas's beloved godfather on false charges of necromancy - the art of divination through communion with spirits of the dead - a practice long outlawed in the kingdom of Ile-Rien.
But now Nicholas's murderous mission is being interrupted by a series of eerie, unexplainable, even fatal events. Someone with tremendous magical powers is opposing him. Children vanish, corpses assume the visage of real people, mortal spells are cast, and traces of necromantic power that hasn't been used for centuries are found. And when a spiritualist unwittingly leads Nicholas to a decrepit mansion, the monstrous nature of his peril finally emerges in harrowing detail. Nicholas and his compatriots must destroy an ancient and awesome evil. Even the help of Ile-Rien's greatest sorcerer may not be enough, for Nicholas faces a woefully mismatched battle - and unthinkable horrors await the loser.
©1998 Martha Wells (P)2013 Tantor
"Wells continues to demonstrate an impressive gift for creating finely detailed fantasy worlds rife with many-layered intrigues and immensely personable characters." (Publishers Weekly)
Kingdom-level fantasy with strong elements of magic, mystery, and political conspiracy. Pitch perfect narration. Easy on the ears with discernibly different voices. No irritating breathing sounds, affectations, or mannerisms.
As for the story, it's got vengeance, vivisection, resurrection, and insurrection. Political intrigue via golems and hedge witches, science and sorcerers, magical paintings and magical trees (a lá Hogwarts), and steampunk-ish spheres melding magic and technology. There's Unsealie Court Dark Fey and cute garden fairies, too (but not a dragon in sight).
(I listened, didn't read, so names may be misspelled.)
It's captivating, somewhat heartwarming, fast-paced and coherent. The story is set mostly in a fantastical rendition of old world London (Lodun) and Vienna (Vienne). Horses and carriages, ball gowns and butlers, telegraphs and ... sewers. (Lots of action down in the sewers.)
The good guys are a band of thieves, a likable cast of ne'er-do-wells reminiscent of Robin Hood. The leader of this gang is Lord Nicholas Valliard (aka Donaten the mastermind thief). His team includes Madeline, an actress and master of disguise (his lover); Cusard, a lock-pick thief; Captain Raynard, a calvary officer wrongfully discharged; and Crock, a prison escapee framed for murder.
Then there is Nicholas's friend Ariselde, an opium-addicted sorcerer, and Isham (Ariselde's manservant). Eventually Madele, an old hedge-witch, joins in.
And there's a queen -- fabulous character. In fact, nearly every female in this story is strong: Madeline, her grandmother Madele, the queen.
Plus, serving the queen is the tenacious and perceptive Inspector Sebastien Ransward, along with his discerning colleague Dr. Halle.
The villains are varied and many, but Nicholas primarily is after Lord Montesq, who fabricated evidence to frame his beloved adoptive father Edouard, which led to his hanging. Of course, he's first got to put a stop to the Necromancer.
I like how this author writes, slowly revealing character traits and pertinent life stories, weaving these tidbits into the story over time. Also, she avoids long info dumps, doesn't try so hard to convince me that her magical theories hold water, and goes easy on the internal dialogue, so the pace isn't mired in needless and redundant thoughts. She lets me draw my own conclusions about what the characters might be feeling and thinking. I appreciate this so much.
This is straight fantasy suspense. Sometimes gory, gruesome, scary. No real romance, since Madeline and Nicholas are already openly in love and cohabiting on page one. Yet their devotion is cool!
There is a touch of bromance, however, among the members of this Ocean's Eleven team. Crack loves Nicholas, especially. And an intriguing relationship sprouts between Nicholas (channeling a kinder gentler Moriarty) and Inspector Ranswald (a more socially adept Sherlock).
Some good plot twists.
My only quibbles are minor: A little too pat at the ending, and I'd be willing to sacrifice some high-octane action scenes and skullduggery for bonding time around the fire. Phew! These guys never get to rest! (Except for poor opium-soaked sorceror, Arisilde -- another fabulous character). Some parts are predictable.
It's all good. Not sure I would listen to it again and again -- as I do with favorites -- because it didn't totally pull on my heart strings. But maybe I will.
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