Published by Ace Hardcover on June 27th 2006
Felix Harrowgate was a dashing and powerful wizard until his former master wrenched Felix’s magic from him and used it to shatter the Virtu—the orb that is the keystone for the protection and magic of the wizards of the city. Felix has painfully clawed his way back to sanity, and his only chance to reclaim the life he once knew is to repair the seemingly irreparable—to restore the Virtu.
Mildmay the Fox was an assassin and a cat-burglar—until a curse caught up with him and his life changed forever. Haunted by death, his leg damaged by the curse that should have killed him, he does not know what awaits him in Mélusine, but for good or ill, his fate is tied to Felix’s, by blood…and by magic.
On their journey, Felix and Mildmay will encounter friends and enemies old and new, vengeful spirits and ancient goddesses. They will uncover secrets better left buried. But nothing can prepare them for what awaits their return: Felix’s former master, the cruel and decadent wizard Malker Gennadion…
Fate, magic, labyrinths: Felix and Mildmay are back and ready to return home to deal with some unfinished business. The Virtu is the second book in Sarah Monette’s The Doctrine of Labyrinths series. When we last saw them Felix and Mildmay had finally made physical contact with the learned (if a bit stuck-up on occasion) inhabitants of the Gardens of Nephele who then manage to heal Felix’s mind. Mildmay, meanwhile, remains crippled and looked down on by the Troians. But of course two things were broken in Mélusine: Felix and the Virtu. Mélusine saw Felix fixed, The Virtu is about trying to fix the remaining item.
When we meet the brothers again in The Virtu their relationship remains fractious despite them at least talking to each other from time to time. In many ways they hardly know each other at all but they are all each other have. A significant portion of The Virtu is spent travelling as Felix and Mildmay head for home. The travels in this book contrast against the travels seen in Mélusine, despite both journeys covering much the same distance and places. The biggest difference is that Felix this time is his overtly charming and sadistic self the whole way through.
The brotherly dynamic between Felix and Mildmay has several layers of depth and Monette has a play with all of them on their trip home. There is the dynamic of older brother romantically inclined towards little brother, older brother who sometimes forgets his younger brother is intelligent, and both brothers reminding each other of a past they would rather forget. There is some beautiful symmetry in Felix and Mildmay’s relationship. Milly-Fox can see Malkar, Felix’s old master, in Felix’s habits and Felix can see Milly-Fox’s habits in Madame Kolkhis, Milly’s former Keeper. Whatever monsters people may accuse Felix and Milly of being I would argue they are merely what they were made to be by their masters. The biggest thing I love about the relationship between the brothers is that no matter how complicated things get between them they still find comfort in each other. In Mélusine they were an unlikely pair but here we see more than ever how deeply chained they are too each other.
I still love Mildmay the most. He’s a very skilled individual and a master-storyteller. I’m team Milly-Fox all the way. Even Felix is team Milly-Fox, he just has a weird way of showing it. I have a strong fondness for Felix. It’s quite interesting to get a fuller taste of who Felix really is now the madness is gone. He’s very charismatic, intelligent, powerful and sexual. He likes attention and the idea of being desired. Milly describes Felix’s attitude best when he tells him “it’s like you got to have everybody’s heart, and if they don’t give it, you rip it out and watch it bleed.”
Along with meeting Milly and Felix again some more old friends from Mélusine make an appearance. But there are also new characters, the biggest of which is probably Mehitabel. I really appreciated how Mehitabel doesn’t make fun of Mildmay, which makes her the balance to Felix’s barbed conversations. She tries to be a proper friend towards Mildmay and notices the subtle changes that occur between Felix and Mildmay on the way home in ways others don’t. Mildmay definitely needed a friend like her that worries about him and doesn’t want to see him trod on by other people. She respects Mildmay more than he respects himself. Mehitabel is a new favourite of mine. She’s a good person with awesome skills and she’s not afraid to stand on an even footing with strong characters like Felix.
The characters are what make Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series shine but credit should also be given to the situations Monette places her unlikely heroes into. There are at least two strong episodes where Monette plays with trope storylines and twists them to great effect. At times side characters seem to try to forcefully form the plot around them as they try and change the novel they inhabit into something more straight-laced in terms of typical plot lines and characters. These little episodes were the parts that made me think ‘this book is special’. The ending, however, was the best bit of the whole book because it played out the foretold finale of the string of events that began so violently in Mélusine in a very satisfactory way. Well, there was a lot of pain and death involved but all in all it was a fitting tying up of this part of Felix and Mildmay’s story.
Another aspect of the book that makes it brilliant is the magic system. Since Mélusine Monette has been crafting a world where there are several groups of wizards who follow different theories of magic in a very scholarly way. I loved reading about these theories as Felix inevitably tries to get a grasp on each new concept of magic he comes across. Felix truly is an extraordinary wizard. We saw his raw power break the Virtu in Mélusine but in this book we get a real insight into the quickness of his mind and the depths of his power.
Overall The Virtu made me want to laugh and it made me want to cry. I love it to pieces and will most definitely be rereading it for years to come. The one complaint I have is about the lack of maps. The whole series could do with having a map printed in the front. Just a thought if a publisher wishes to pick it up these books for a reprint.