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Reviewed by Peggy Hailey, © 2009

Format: Book
By:   Jeff VanderMeer
Genre:   Fantasy
Review Date:   October 10, 2009
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

When I first visited Ambergris, I didn't realize the hold this city would retain on my heart and imagination. I discovered the many faces of Ambergris in the pages of City of Saints and Madmen and I've been unable to stay away ever since.

I've studied the King Squid and followed the discourses of a disgraced historian. I've witnessed murders and acts of grace and redemption. I've deciphered stories written in code and read monographs that revealed family secrets. I've attended the Festival of the Freshwater Squid and survived to tell the tale. I've seen the War between the Houses, and the Rising of the Gray Caps to reclaim their Cinsorium. I've explored the city in the company of its marvelous and sometimes horrifying inhabitants, seeing it in times of peace and prosperity and in war and turmoil.

And now with Finch we've reached the end of the line, and terrible wonders await.

The eponymous Finch is a detective working for the Gray Caps in a time after the Rising described in Shriek: An Afterword. He's given the assignment of figuring out what happened to two bodies, one Gray Cap, one human, and as in all good noir thrillers, everyone seems to know more about it than he does.

Finch is trying to find answers in a world where the questions no longer make sense to him, and no one is exactly what they seem.

As the Ambergris stories VanderMeer wanted to tell grew more complex, his framework has become simpler. Finch is as straightforward and linear a story as "The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris" or Shriek: An Afterword is complex. His choice of the noir detective style to tell this story works particularly well: the jaded, cynical detective with the incorruptible heart, the world of corruption, in this case both literal and figurative, the betrayals, the sense of some larger story that we can only see pieces of is all there.

Readers returning to the city are in the same position as our world-weary detective, watching the city we love crumble and change before our eyes. It adds poignancy and a sense of urgency to the reading experience.

Many long-running storylines, some from as far back as "The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris," are brought to fruition here, most times in unexpected ways. VanderMeer has built his world well, and the city is magnificent and terrible in its decline. We discover along with Finch the depths of corruption, both physical and metaphorically, that we're dealing with, and the end, while unexpected, makes perfect sense.

The saga of Ambergris comes to a close with memory bulbs, narcotic mushrooms, and a cat named Feral. Ambergris as we knew it may be gone, but the City lives on, as all great cities do, in the hearts and minds of those who've come to love it.

Win These

RevolutionSF Contest: Win all three Ambergris books and their soundtracks.

Read This

Here's a free chapter of Finch.

The Baker's Dozen interview with Ambergris writer Jeff Vandermeer.

Obligatory disclaimer: I got an advance reading copy of this book for free (all ARCs are free. Duh. ) Now back off before I hit you with a spore attack.

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