Published by Ace on June 27th 2006
Mélusine — a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption — and destinies lost and found.
Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But his aristocratic peers don't know his dark past — how his abusive former master enslaved him, body and soul, and trained him to pass as a nobleman. Within the walls of the Mirador — Melusine's citadel of power and wizardry — Felix believed he was safe. He was wrong. Now, the horrors of his previous life have found him and threaten to destroy all he has since become.
Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. Raised as a kept-thief and trained as an assassin, he escaped his Keeper long ago and lives on his own as a cat burglar. But now he has been caught by a mysterious foreign wizard using a powerful calling charm. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay — but for Felix Harrowgate." Thrown together by fate, the broken wizard Felix and the wanted killer Mildmay journey far from Melusine through lands thick with strange magics and terrible demons of darkness. But it is the shocking secret from their pasts, linking them inexorably together, that will either save them, or destroy them.
Mélusine, Mélusine, Mélusine. What to say about Mélusine? Well, first of all, Mélusineis the first book in a series called The Doctrine of Labyrinths. I started reading the book a while ago but took a while to get captured by it. I’d read in other reviews about how the story comes on fire when Mildmay and Felix meet but that doesn’t happen until over half way through. I had to get rid of this urge to see them together to better appreciate their individual stories in the first half of the novel. I did read the first half rather slowly but after I hit the 59% mark I got more interested and I found myself tearing through the pages. I even drew a picture of one of my favourite sections, that’s how into the story I got.
The narrative is split between Felix and Mildmay’s first person points of view. They use language in different ways so there can be no mistaking whose side of the story your reading at any given time. Felix is a wizard at court and he is rather strict about grammar. Mildmay, in contrast, is a common thief who has a much rawer dialect. Language becomes particularly important when you’re trying to read Felix’s character and state of mind as the book goes on because he has unwanted ties to Mildmay’s dialect that peak through in his speech occasionally.
For the vast majority of the book Felix is a mentally, emotionally and magically broken person who is being used as a scapegoat for a massive crime committed by a wizard called Malkar. Malkar, once Felix’s master, basically harnesses Felix’s extraordinary magical powers to break the Virtu. The Virtu is a very important piece of the Mirador’s power as it maintains the status quo in magical terms by holding up seals, uniting the wizards that inhabit the Mirador, and so forth. Without the Virtu order starts to break down. The process Malkar uses to harness Felix’s power involves raping him. It totally destroys Felix’s mind and this happens very early on. We only get a snapshot of who sane-Felix is before his mind is torn open. You barely get the chance to know him or develop any kind of attachment before this happens so it kind of comes as a shock. As a result of his madness Felix sees colours around people that relate to their emotions and he sees animal heads where he should see people. The reader gains quite a raw look into Felix’s fractured mental state because of Monette’s use of first person narration. The impact Felix’s madness has on his perception of the world is very interesting.
On the otherhand we have Mildmay. Mildmay, or Milly-Fox as I prefer to call him, is a cat burglar (and ex-assassin…) who lives on the periphery of the magical drama surrounding Felix. But he is gradually pulled closer and closer to the wizard. He has a coarse personality due to the very rough upbringing he experienced at the hands of a thief-keeper. Milly has a very distinct way of talking. He swears a lot, for one thing. Where his narration really shines is in the very expressive and engaging way he tells his story, which is a contrast to the way he closes himself off from other characters. Mildmay’s narrative was my favourite part. I really grew to care for him a lot. Well, actually that is an understatement. A look at my reading updates on booklikes might give you a sample of the intensity of my feelings towards Mildmay. He is now one of my favourite literary characters ever. When we first meet Milly he has broken free of his keeper. He works his own jobs and gets on with his life in the Lower City, from falling in love to meeting up with good friends to catch up on gossip, but Felix’s story-line tears his familiar world apart.
The relationship Felix and Mildmay develop is another key part of what I love about this book. A wizard that deals in divination through cards feels that they are destined to meet and it does indeed come to pass. What touches me about the relationship Milly-Fox and Felix develop is that, despite being broken when they first meet, Felix saves Mildmay from a torturous curse and in return Mildmay immediately decides to stand-by Felix, no matter what. To say more would be to ruin the story but I hope to touch on this aspect of the story again in my review of The Virtu (the sequel).
Half-way through Mélusine gripped me by the shoulders and dragged me into its story and I’m still not free. I have embarked on a start to finish read through of the whole series and I’m now on book three. I’m very attached to the characters and emotionally invested in their story, especially Mildmay’s. I picked up this book because The Goblin Emperor is my top book in the world right now so I just had to search for other books by Katherine Addison. I found out Addison was a pen name for Sarah Monette, then I found Mélusineand read about the Doctrine of Labyrinths series. The rest is history.
Some advice: if you start reading this and enjoy it make sure you get a hold of the second book, The Virtu, as quickly as possible because the story the two make together is more immersive than the ones they tell individually. Mélusine and The Virtu are , for me, one solid story split between two volumes. In some way I actually like The Virtu better than Mélusine because I got more into the magic used in this world, but also because it concludes a big chunk of the overall story that begins in Mélusine. That’s not to say Mélusine doesn’t have any resolution in its self, but the two books are two distinct halves of the same journey, the journey ‘there’ and the journey home. But I’ll talk a lot more about The Virtu in a separate review. In summary: I both books as a pair.
Note: I dropped it down one quarter from the full five stars only because I think I need to rate The Virtu higher.
Extra Note: I advise against the eBook editon of this book because it has (at the time of writing this review) lots of typographical errors in it, especially in the first half. If you can find a hardback or paperback go for it.