Donnelly blends romance and tragedy, evoking gilded-age glamour and the thrill of a spy adventure, in this impressive debut. In an imagined multinational setting that owes much to pre-WWII Europe but has its own complicated politics, Cyril DePaul is a young man of privilege who’s gotten in over his head as an agent for the Amberlough government. Cordelia Lehane is content to scrape out a living any way she can, whether by fabulous stage performances or black market dealings. Cyril is comfortable as a dilettante until a mission goes badly, putting his lover, burlesque performer Aristide Makricosta, at risk under a rising conservative regime that aims to consolidate the four diverse nation-states of Gedda into “one tightly controlled entity.” Aristide recruits Cordelia’s help without knowing the mortal danger Cyril has accepted in his effort to protect them both. Donnelly’s masterly creation is richly imagined and moves at an unchecked pace, painting a layer of sumptuous indulgence over a society of corruption, vice, and oppression. The romance between Cyril and Aristide is presented matter-of-factly; the flaws, roughness, and sincerity are organic to the relationship rather than being the tropes of gay narratives. Cordelia is a singular character, beholden to nobody and far more capable than the supposedly stronger people who are enchanted by her beauty and hope to command her elusive loyalty. When goodness and virtue cannot endure, the characters are drawn inexorably to their limits in a conclusion that is as heartbreaking as it is satisfying. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/12/2016 Release date: 02/07/2017 Genre: Fiction
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