McGarry and Ravipinto (The Fall of Ventaris, 2013, etc.) return to the turbulent city of Rodaas in this third installment of a series.
In gang- and guild-dominated Rodaas, affiliation means everything. Wearing the cloak of the Grey Highway—a society of thieves with influence in all corners of the fantastic city—is perhaps the most desirable association of them all. So thinks Darley, the privileged aristocrat’s daughter, who approaches Grey member Duchess in an attempt to gain an invitation to the order. Darley knows of Duchess’ past—that she, too, was the daughter of an aristocrat, though she has turned her back on that life—and hopes to use their former acquaintance to bend Duchess to her will. Duchess has her own plans, though. Darley’s connections to the city’s scholars may be of benefit to Duchess’ work as well as provide some insight into the recurring dreams from which she has been suffering. But why, wonders Duchess, does a particular scholar, Cecilia Payne—the only female one in the city—want to meet with her? And what is the origin of these rumors swirling through the streets that Duchess is a murderer for hire? Tensions are building in Rodaas: the city’s cults are on the verge of an all-out war, and the empress’ control of the throne is not assured. In a place where so much is based on hearsay and anecdote, Duchess must be very careful what she says—and what she allows to be said about her. “Each is a story,” her mentor warns her while discussing whispered rumors that affected two powerful men. “Each has a tale behind it. Sometimes we know them, and sometimes we only wish we did.” In Rodaas, McGarry and Ravipinto have created a world of profound complexity and intrigue (At one point, Duchess recalls: “Someone once told me of a theory that Rodaas passes through periods of long stagnation punctuated by spasms of change, sometimes violent change”). Readers unfamiliar with the earlier works in the Grey City series will likely feel over their heads, as the nuances of the various castes and factions are deep and difficult to suss out. Those willing to commit themselves to the installments, however, will find their investment paying dividends. This third volume of Duchess’ story is the most knotty, absorbing, and satisfying yet.
A compelling addition to an impressive fantasy series with a strong heroine.