Melusine Hardcover – Aug 2 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Set in the wondrous city of Mélusine, Monette's extraordinary first fantasy novel focuses on two captivating characters from two very different worlds: Felix Harrowgate, a powerful magician at the court of Lord Steven Teverius, and Mildmay the Fox, a cat burglar who has been trained as an assassin. When Felix falls prey to the unscrupulous machinations of a man who's plotting to destroy Mélusine, he's left nearly mad, unable to clear his name or explain his actions. Mildmay, on the other hand, undertakes a simple burglary, thinking it will lead to a bit of extra flash that will keep him going for more than a few days. Instead, the burglary opens the way to a series of unfortunate events that force Felix and Mildmay into a partnership neither of them could have anticipated or desired. Jacqueline Carey provides a blurb, but those readers expecting a knock-off of that author's Kushiel series will be happily surprised. Monette resembles Carey only insofar as she, too, is a highly original writer with her own unique voice.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–Mélusine is a city both sordid and splendid, rich in history and layered with corruption. Monette shows readers this fantastical place through the eyes of two characters: Felix, a member of an elite society of wizards, and Mildmay, a thief and former assassin. After his past as a whore is revealed, Felix returns to the man who trained him to pass as a noble. His malicious mentor uses a sexual ritual and Felix's magic to shatter the Virtu, a crystal that stabilizes magic. Felix goes mad, is imprisoned, and is sent to an asylum. Mildmay's precarious existence becomes more and more difficult. When he hits rock bottom, he is hired by another wizard, whose card divination says Mildmay will lead him to Felix. Monette has created an interesting world, leaving enough unexplained to intrigue patient readers. Profane Mildmay and insane Felix have distinctive narrative voices. Side plots and secondary characters are dropped soon after the two meet, so any resolution of the many issues raised will have to wait until the sequel.–Susan Salpini, TASIS–The American School in England
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top Customer Reviews
While the world and the characters were interesting and vibrant, the writing was hard to appreciate. I have to say though, I was completely pulled in by the 'brothers' premise, and I loved Mildmay very very much.
...I became very invested in the characters right away, though Mildmay quicker than Felix I must say. They do not so much grow as get squeezed and beaten into shape as their desperation for survival pushes them to do terrible things...
...The action really spun down ten-fold from the beginning of the second half to the end. I felt like I was reading the beginning of a sequel attached to the end of the first book...If you like this first book, I recommend having the second book handy so you can continue reading right away because I for one could not just stop there.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The real triumph of _Melusine_ is in its language and voice. Monette tells the story in three separate voices -- Felix's haughty sanity, Felix's insane delirium, and Mildmay's slangy thieves' cant -- and she handles them brilliantly, never losing her grasp for an instant or letting the reader be confused about who's narrating. Along with the narrative voices, the language is simply lush and vivid, utterly suitable to the richness of the setting; the city of Melusine is particularly well described in Mildmay's sections of the narrative.
As far as the characters go, I preferred Mildmay's narrative to some extent, as he's the more immediately sympathetic character, with unsuspected depths of feeling. Felix falls into madness so quickly that it was a little difficult for me truly to enpathize with the change in his circumstances, as there had been so little time to get to know him before his fall. Still, the vivid, present-tense passages where he's delirious and mad are emotionally compelling, simply for the horror of what he endures.
I should say here that I think the publishers of _Melusine_ did the book a terrible disservice by failing to mention anywhere in the book (even on the last page) that it is the first of two books; there is an upcoming sequel, due out next summer, currently titled _The Virtu_. If I hadn't known before I started _Melusine_ that there would be another book, I would have been very disappointed in the lack of any real resolution to the plot. As it is, I was able to revel in the rich setting, languages, and characters, and now I can look forward to rereading _Melusine_ when _The Virtu_ is published.
That aside, this is a fantastic book. Monette is ace at world building and mythology, at crafting religion and schools of magic, at setting up different ethnicities of people with different socio-political structures. We skim the surface of a fully realized world, never quite dipping all the way into it (God save me from ever having to figure out the calendrical system Mildmay uses. Yes, I can figure it out in the context of the book, but using it every single day? Man.), but catching glimpses of just how rich and real that world is.
Monette is also fabulous at capturing two very different voices. "Melusine" is told from the point of view of two extremely different characters, Mildmay and Felix. Mildmay is a Second Story Man, a "kept thief" as he puts it. He is ignorant, although not stupid, and fairly coarse. He is, to put it bluntly, common. He's also fairly kind and surprisingly compassionate, a gifted storyteller, and an all around cool guy. Felix, on the other hand, is clever and well educated, bitingly sarcastic, not very likeable, and very very fancy. He is selfish and egotistical and much more fragile than Mildmay. And it only takes a few sentences to convey this information about them.
"Melusine" is one of those books that are almost infinitely re-readable, and also one of those books that I loan out to people. "Melusine" (and its sequel, "The Virtu") is a fantastic, poetic read. It's extremely flavorful and highly recomended.
Yes, it begins in the middle of the story, which is a pretty common technique used by other authors for hundreds of years. Yes, it has its own slang and an intense inner knowledge of the world given out in little bits throughout the narrative and from two differently educated first-person POVs. Yes, the wizard character is pretty unlikable, but so what? So was Dostoyevsky's Underground Man and nobody denies "Notes From the Underground" was a good book.
This book respects the reader and expects the reader to be smart enough to put a grand vision of the world together from the clues they're given. It assumes you have some basic background knowledge of language, so that you'll be able to make the not very hard translation from words like "nelly" to "molly" or notice that many of the terms being thrown up have giant cluephone base words in them so you can clearly tell what the term means within the world of the book despite nobody handing you a travel dictionary.
If you want a book where you've seen everything before and everything is spelled out for you in very plain English and don't want to have to think about it, this isn't the book for you. But your expectations as a reader aren't the fault of the book or an indication of poor world-building, language use or confusing plotting as several of the reviewers have implied. "Melusine" requires the same sort of attention as Tolkein, though with far fewer characters, it's less confusing than that.
And, like in real life, some characters are important for a short time and then wander off to do their own thing or, as somebody said, "are discarded" by the author. So, do you still know every detail about every person you've ever met in your life? Or do some of them wander in and out of your life at different times? Why would an author who is giving us a first-person story follow minor characters beyond the knowledge of the POV characters? First-person POV is limited POV. It is the style of the narrative. A good author keeps the book knowlege limited to what characters could possibly know. A sloppy author tells the reader all kinds of information the POV character wouldn't have access to.
Clearly some reviewers here just wanted to be reading some other kind of book than the one they bought. Again, it's not the fault of the author nor does it indicate lack of skill or a new author's oversight.
I'm fairly shocked at several people remarking that they disliked Mildmay as well as Felix. Mildmay is one of the most compelling and likable characters I've seen in a novel in a good long time. He seems very real and very much a decent guy in a bad situation trying to make his best decision among not very promising options. Melusine is a dark world, and there's nobody in it that isn't marked by the darkness, but the mark of a character is what he chooses to do. And Mildmay's choices are very interesting. Even Felix, unlikable as he is, has an interesting story. Interesting things happen to him. You don't have to like a guy to find his story compelling.
If you want a shining hero on a white horse fighting guys in black hats, read a different book. If you want superior and challenging storytelling, this would be a great choice.
Monette's descriptions of her created city were wonderful. She had an innovative system of nobility, and interesting thief circles. I loved the the thief Mildmay, who was very complex and believable.
The main character, Felix Harrowgate, ruined the book for me.
In the first scene, as he runs off blindly into the night because someone called him a lowly prostitute, I thought "Here is a character I'm going to hate." I was right; I did hate Felix. He was a flat mixture of passive agression, self-loathing, and stubborness. Through the entire book, all he did was get himself into stupid situations and then whine about them. The author justified his behavior by saying that he was abused in childhood. Sure, wonderful plot device, except for one thing: so was Mildmay, and he never crawled off to go whine about it. Even in Felix's insanity- another shallow plea for pity- I didn't sympathize with him at all. I also hated his treatment of Shannon, his lover.
The ending, when Felix regained his sanity, was worse. He turned into an arrogant brat.
It's worth reading this book for the city and nobility, but don't expect to love it unless you can sympathize with a whiny, submissive protagonist.
Set (at the beginning) in the titular dark fantasy city, Mélusine is the story of two people, wizard Felix Harrowgate, and cat burglar Mildmay the fox, who at a first glance probably have no links or ties in common, and yet turn out to have a bond that neither guess at. Events push them, unknowingly toward each other, and then depending on each other as they flee the aftermath of the ill use of Felix's powers.
Dark themes involving rape and forced sex with magic, two protagonists who are difficult to sympathize with and get a handle on, and an often depressing atmosphere work against the novel, as does the unpolished feel of the book. Plotlines and story threads early in the book violate Chekov's Law, since they don't go off in the third act, and are in fact, dropped. Felix's fall from grace was a little too precipitous, for my taste, even if it was necessary to put him into a position where he could be manipulated by the book's main antagonist. The fact that Mélusine is clearly a piece, perhaps a half of a book, and is not advertised as such works against the book, too.
On the other hand, there are things to enjoy, here. The city is a dark, gritty world that Monette brings to life convincingly. Sure, its not Sanctuary, or Lankhmar, but Monette does pretty well by any reasonable standard, and a lot better than some other fantasy city settings that I've encountered. Monette also does a good job in describing, using the alternating first person viewpoints, just what madness looks like both from the outside, and the inside. Irregardless of the dark issues involving some of the use of the magic, I was interested in the magic systems, and the various types of practitioners that we see. And, although they are difficult to like protagonists, Felix and Mildmay are interesting protagonists, much more than cardboard cutouts. They have complex, interesting pasts which are slowly revealed throughout the novel which are useful lens on their actions, reactions and feelings in the present.
People who have read and enjoyed the likes of Anne Bishop and Jacqueline Carey probably will like Mélusine. Others, as I warned above, might be turned off by the content. A couple of years ago, I probably wouldn't have liked this book and wouldn't have finished it, but my friends have broadened my horizons and allowed my tastes to evolve, and I am glad, because it would have been a shame for me not to read this. I wouldn't recommend this book as a broadening agent, though, this book is firmly within its sub genre, and that's all right, it plays that octave quite well.