First novel from the author of the collection The Library of Forgotten Books (2011), which contained several stories in the same setting.
Three rival Houses—Technis, Arbor and Marin—dominate the vast, rotting city of Caeli-Amur by means of their scientist-magician thaumaturgists, deadly Furies and other strange creatures warped by the magic or technology they employ. Five years after the Houses fought a ruinous war, they now compete through trade, espionage and murder, employing the services of mercenary philosopher-assassins. The mysterious, insectlike, decadent Elo-Talern lurk in the background. But now the downtrodden workers, crippled by neglect, incompetence and misapplied thaumaturgy, plot rebellion. Some believe that if they can understand and reanimate the huge decaying machines found in the city’s lower reaches, or truly understand the principles of thaumaturgy, they can overthrow the Houses; others consider these approaches hopelessly slow or impractical and advocate direct action via strikes, demonstrations and assassinations. Ambitious administrator Boris Autec betrays his former colleagues as he rises through the ranks of Technis, metamorphosing into one of the ruthless bosses he once hated and feared. Boris offers philosopher-assassin Kata her heart’s desires—freedom from slavery, a villa by the sea—in order to spy on the seditionist movement. Here, she meets thaumaturgist and revolutionary Maximilian, who plans to learn the ancient secrets hidden in the Great Library of the fabled city Caeli-Enas, once home to godlike beings, now drowned beneath the waves and guarded by monsters. Impressively imagined and densely detailed, then, though an underlying logic never materializes. Long descriptive passages embellish the narrative without vitalizing it. Deliberate plotting and coldly unsympathetic characters do little to lift the gloomy atmosphere.
A yarn that’s easy to admire but hard to warm to, although readers who enjoyed the related stories will certainly wish to investigate.