The Virtu
by Sarah Monette
512pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 10/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.29/5
Good Reads Rating: 3.93/5

Note: There may be spoilers for Melusine in this review.

The Virtu, the second book in Sarah Monette’s The Doctrine of Labyrinth series, picks up where Melsuine left off and ties up all the loose ends from the first book. The series could have been brought to a satisfying conclusion with this book, but I am glad there is one more book out and one more yet to be published since the character of Mildmay has become one of my favorites of all time and Felix is not too far behind him. As much as I loved Melusine, I thought this book was even better and this was the book that secured Monette a place as one of my favorite writers.

Upon reaching the end of the journey begun in Melusine, Felix is enjoying his restored sanity and Mildmay is recuperating as much as he can from the curse of the Mirador, which left him with a permanently crippled leg. While Felix fits in easily and is quite popular with the people, Mildmay is an outcast due to his lack of refinement and the widespread belief that he mistreated Felix. Mildmay, as usual, keeps his feelings on his hatred of the place to himself, but Felix eventually realizes it must not be easy for his brother to be looked down on all the time. Driven by a desire to repair The Virtu and return to his former glory as a wizard of the Mirador in addition to the this, Felix decides it is time for them to return to the city of Melusine.

Since the curse of the Mirador’s activation exposed Mildmay as a murderer, he cannot simply go back to his old life in the Lower City of Melusine. He refuses to leave his new-found brother, whom he cares for a great deal, so he asks Felix to take him under his protection through an ancient ritual, regardless of the consequences.

This is not a book to read when looking for a light-hearted, easy story. It’s often harsh, melancholy, and haunting, though it is interspersed with humor that keeps it from being excessively dark. It is somewhat angst-ridden but it also has the most forward-moving plot of any of the books in the series thus far.

Like Melusine, the story alternates between the first person point of view of Mildmay and Felix. As with the former book, the characters are the strong point of the story, but they shine even more brightly in this novel. Each point of view character has such a strong, unique voice and you could easily tell which character you were reading about without seeing the name attached to the section.

Since very little was seen of Felix as a sane person in the first book, more of his personality is revealed in The Virtu. He is one of those wonderfully flawed characters. Most of the time he is charming and manipulative and he tends to hurt everyone around him, yet there are glimmers of humanity when he displays kindness toward his brother. Although Felix’s point of view is more self-centered than Mildmay’s, I still find myself sympathizing with him and feeling like he’s not that bad when reading about him. In fact, I even find him rather likable most of the time.

Mildmay is certainly the more sympathetic of the two brothers and perhaps one of the best written characters in fantasy. He certainly has his flaws – a devotion to his older brother that often gets him into trouble, insecurity, and an inability to let go of his past – but they tend to be shortcomings that are endearing rather than the despicable imperfections possessed by Felix. Mildmay’s point of view is always infused with a intelligent insights and a dry sense of humor that make him nearly impossible not to love.

I would recommend The Virtu to anyone who has read and enjoyed Melusine. It is necessary for completing the story arc begun in the first book, and it is more of the same dark story with well-realized characters as the first book but improved. This is one of those rare novels that sticks with one long after putting it down and you know you will have to reread it multiple times.


Read the first chapter on Sarah Monette’s website. The first four chapters of both The Virtu and its sequel The Mirador are available.

Barnes and Noble’s Center Stage Book Club is currently featuring George R.R. Martin. This means fans get to ask him questions and he tries to answer as many of them as he possibly can. The main focuses for questions are the new Wild Cards book Inside Straight, writing for television, and his books (which of course mostly consists of questions about the A Song of Ice and Fire series).

If you haven’t heard of Center Stage (I only first heard of it a couple of weeks ago myself), it features one author per week and gives fans the chance to converse with that author. This should be interesting, as Martin is one of my favorite authors and a master at writing complex, gray characters.

DreamHaven Books currently has a fantastic selection of signed books by authors who have recently appeared there. These writers include Sarah Monette, Lois McMaster Bujold, Alastair Reynolds, Patrick Rothfuss, Charles de Lint, Jim Hines, Kelly McCullough, Christopher Moore, Elizabeth Moon, and Lyda Morehouse. If you scroll to the bottom of their home page you can see the complete list of authors who have recently signed books. It’s a very tempting selection.

Also, if you are in the area (Minneapolis, Minnesota), Lois McMaster Bujold will be answering questions and signing books there on April 22. I’m very sad it’s so far away; authors rarely do book signings where I live.

by Ann Aguirre
320pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.45/5
Good Reads Rating: 4.1/5

Grimspace is the first novel in the new Jax series by Ann Aguirre. Even though this book just came out in February of this year, Wanderlust, the next book, is scheduled for release on August 26, 2008. While this romantic space opera could work perfectly well as a stand alone book, I was glad to see the next one is coming out so soon, as I am looking forward to reading more about Sirantha Jax’s adventures.

Sirantha Jax is a rare carrier of the J-gene, which allows her to jump a ship through space (grimspace) while jacked in and mentally bonded with her pilot. The monopolizing corporation she works for isolates Sirantha after she is the sole survivor of a crash in which many important people were killed, including her pilot and lover Kai. Since there is a gap in her memory, Sirantha is unsure about whether or not the crash is her fault. However, she is sure that something terrible is going to happen to her if she remains there and decides to take her chances when a mysterious man named March sneaks in to her room to steal her away from them.

After meeting the rest of the crew she is now supposed to work with and learning of their plans to study the J-gene and recruit jumpers from various planets, Sirantha feels as though she may not be better off with these strangers after all. They are in constant danger and Sirantha actively dislikes half of her new companions – a rather snarky lesbian mechanic, a peaceful alien slave, cold-hearted March, and a kind-hearted doctor. She and March in particular grate on each other’s nerves and are constantly bickering.

Grimspace is an entertaining and fast-paced adventure containing a nice blend of character interaction and rapid plot advancement. It is not terribly original, nor is it a novel that will blow your mind with profound insights and deep characters, but it is a lot of fun from the first page to the very last page. The pace is rather fast, sometimes too fast even, as I felt the ending was a bit rushed.

The story is told from Sirantha’s point of view and is all in the present tense. The language is very modern and the prose is nothing special, but it certainly works for an enjoyable tale. Most of the time Sirantha’s thoughts are quite amusing.

Although they are not astonishingly well-written, Sirantha and March are interesting characters with dark pasts with room for more revelations in the future about how they came to be the people they are. Sirantha is one of those badass women who says exactly what is on her mind no matter what the consequences, often leading to trouble. There is a lot of snappy dialogue and tension between the two characters who have a bit of a love/hate relationship.

I have seen a lot of comparisons between this book and the TV series Firefly and I can see the resemblance. This book also reminded me somewhat of Catherine Asaro’s Primary Inversion, although it is less reflective and scientific.

Grimspace is a novel worth checking out if you are a fan of strong female leads, adventure, and romance. It’s a quick read that will not challenge your world view, but it certainly can be challenging to put the book down.


Other opinions:


by Sarah Monette
496pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 3.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.17/5
Good Reads Rating: 3.77/5


Sarah Monette’s stunning debut novel, Melusine, is the first book in The Doctrine of Labyrinth series. The next two books in the series, The Virtu and The Mirador are currently available, and the fourth and last book Corambis is scheduled for release in 2009. This book and its successors are exactly the types of books I like and have become my favorites I have read so far this year.

Felix Harrowgate is a powerful wizard who is part of high society in the city of Melusine. When at a party with the Lord Protector and other important people in the city, Felix’s enemy Robert reveals a dark secret about where Felix came from and his former profession. Shunned by the others after this revelation, Felix visits the one person who knows about his past – the wizard Malkar who found Felix and became his mentor in wizardry. Malkar controls Felix against his will, harnesses his great magical power, and uses it to break The Virtu, a magical item that has been around for ages and contains spells to protect the city. Once his diabolical scheme has come to fruition, Malkar casts a spell on Felix preventing him from being able to tell anyone the truth about who actually broke The Virtu that drives him completely insane.

Thief and assassin Mildmay the Fox is approached by a beautiful young woman named Ginevra who would like to use his stealth to retrieve some of her belongings from her former lover’s house. Mildmay soon becomes romantically involved with Ginevra and entangled with her dealings with the infamous blood witch Vey Coruscant. Tragedy leads him into stupidity which puts him in the hands of a wizard who believes Mildmay will lead him to Felix, a key player in gaining revenge against the mage’s old foe.

Although it is thoroughly enjoyable, Melusine is the most flawed of the books in the series. The beginning is a bit abrupt, and Felix’s connection to Malkar has not been fully revealed so the control the old wizard exerts over him does not make as much sense as it does in later books. Felix and Mildmay do not actually meet until later in this book, which is the point where the story begins to come together.

The story is told by alternating between the first person point of view of Felix and Mildmay. The changes in perspective are abrupt, but it did not bother me at all. If you do not like one of the characters, it will not be too long before you get to read about the other, and if you love them both, it will not matter which one you are reading about.

The characters are certainly the highlight of this book and Monette did a fantastic job of giving both Felix and Mildmay very distinct voices and personalities. Mildmay’s heavy use of incorrect grammar and invented lower class slang annoyed me a bit at first, but eventually I got used to it and it’s hard not to love his character’s sense of humor and honest bluntness. Very little is seen of Felix in this book when he is not out of his mind, but his insane perspective was handled quite well and I enjoyed reading his sections, too.

This is dark fantasy at its best – gritty without being bloody and more about the characters themselves and the world around them than violence and swordfights. The suffering of the characters is heartfelt without being overwhelmingly depressing. Mildmay’s way of looking at the world around him can lighten up even the darkest of situations.

Those who would be offended to read a story containing bad language, rape, and/or sexual content should avoid this book, however, since all those elements are included. It’s handled so naturally, like its a part of everyday life and that’s just the way things happen sometimes and does not feel like it is intended for shock value.

I highly recommend Melusine to anyone with a penchant for character-driven, non-cliche dark fantasy that comes alive off the pages. It certainly contains some flaws but the characters are so realistically written that it does not really matter.


Warning: The following is not a coherent review. It is just the ramblings of someone who has discovered a new series to add to the favorites list. (However, it is spoiler-free.)

Although I will be reviewing each book in the Doctrine of Labyrinth series individually when I get a chance, I finished The Mirador last night and just want to babble about it since I have no one to talk to who has read it. This is exactly the type of series I love and has moved Sarah Monette into my list of top 5 favorite authors.

This was not a fast-paced, action-packed series – it was more about the world and the characters, especially the characters. About two thirds of the way through The Mirador I realized not much had actually happened when thinking about how to sum up the story, but I hadn’t even noticed (and didn’t care) because the characters were so fascinating. Each book developed them further and delved more into who they were. They were very realistic and sympathetic yet rather flawed.

I may be so enamored of the characters because I could relate to them so well, especially Mildmay, whose personality is very similar to mine other than the whole assassin/thief thing. The more I read about him in The Virtu and The Mirador, the more I realized I’ve never been able to relate to a character as well because I’ve never read about a character who reminded me so much of myself.

Limiting the points of view to just 2 or 3 characters was a fantastic way for writing the series. Most of the books I’ve read with good characters either have one really good main character or are doorstoppers with so many characters that it is hard to keep them all straight sometimes. Monette did an amazing job of giving each character a very distinct voice, and reading their thoughts on the world and others was great fun.

I’m very glad I got the impression I would love these books from the reviews I read and bought them all in hardcover. The next book is supposed to be out sometime next year, and I can’t wait for it! I haven’t been this excited about a new series since I discovered Wraeththu about a year ago.