May. 1st, 2010

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A quick recap: I'm giving away 2 books for [community profile] three_weeks_for_dw (aka 3W4D). 2 winning participants will get to choose from a selection of books that I'll be analyzing over the course of the 3 weeks (though really now it's closer to 2 weeks... oops). Chosen books will range from romance to fantasy to YA. Here is the introductory post and giveaway rules, and all giveaway-related posts will be filed under the book giveaway and three weeks for dreamwidth tags.

First up: The Drowning City by Amanda Downum.

Genre: Political fantasy
Release date: September 2009

Downum has a lush writing style full of description. Her setting draws on South Asian culture, placing The Drowning City, and the quickly flooding city of Symir, apart from other European/Victorian political fantasies. I'll admit up front that as a White American still working on deconstructing my own privilege, the finer points that distinguish between what is the appropriation of a culture and what is not still elude me at times. I've scoured the web trying to find reviews that mention any form of cultural appropriation within the book and found none. If there is, it is beyond my current ability to identify. If anyone who has read the book feels comfortable chiming in, I would appreciate it. I suppose you could say this is my "I think it's okay, but I acknowledge that I may not be seeing everything I should be" warning flag.

While courts and royalty are mentioned, they do not seem to play a primary role; the focus is on lower-class characters, the mercenaries, activists, and of course Isyllt, a necromancy/spy sent to fund Symir's revolutionaries. What I like about TDC is its use of subterfuge as a plot device and the edgier character archetypes. Isyllt knows she's being sent to secretly topple a city as well as its government to the advantage of her own benefactor and she doesn't shy away from that. She also doesn't hold any illusions that a revolution will occur without a high price, but at the same time is willing to do what needs to be done. I think this mental neutrality comes in part from her personality and her role as a necromancer (which I suppose could interconnected). The closer she gets to the revolutionaries, the more she feels the conflict and the consequences, illustrating a form of character growth that challenges her previous ways of thinking. 
I get the feeling that she's a little jaded, and while her reasons for being so are fleshed out, they are explained in a seemingly random infodump and then for the most part dropped. This made her seem a little whiny in the beginning, which is a startling trait to see in a necromancer.

I also wish she would use her necromancy skills more frequently, but the fact that she doesn't renders it all that more significant when she does. Her reluctance also forces her to base her choices on what she can and can't do without the aid of magic--choices that she sometimes, with bitter humor, later regrets. Her flaws are apparent, and she's far from perfect; you could perhaps even say that she's a little fucked up. There's a brief sex scene with a character who may or may not be on her side (but it's consensual, so woohoo!). I appreciated their casual simplicity, a no-strings approach that's outlawed in romances and doesn't make frequent appearances in fantasy. Downum didn't try to force an emotional relationship that wasn't there while still making it relevant and meaningful.

Two secondary characters and Isyllt's bodyguards, Adam and Xinai, have some of my favorite moments. Xinai is decidely badass, a competent, merciless assassin. But she is also a native to Symir, and when she comes home, she's welcomed by a bloody reunion that shakes her world up again. It takes all her strength to confront her past and her future, to sacrifice parts of herself to support her family and the survival of her culture. Adam and Xinai have some of the sexiest, endearing interactions in the book, and I really hope they show up again in the forthcoming sequel, The Bone Palace.

Want to win The Drowning City? Hang around until May 13th, when I open a post for entries (and don't forget to read the rules!).


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