Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Drowning City The Drowning City
by Amanda Downum

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Mel Duncan

The Drowning City by Amanda Downum promised to be exactly the kind of book I enjoy – strong fantasy setting, likable protagonist, intelligent plot. And by and large, it delivered, although not always in the ways I expected.

Our nominal protagonist Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy for the next kingdom over, has arrived in Symir The Drowning City to cause trouble. She's capable, powerful, attractive, genuinely good hearted, but with a self-destructive streak that makes her hard to sympathise with. A well rounded character.

It's a pity, then, that she sort of stops being the protagonist about half way through the book, and spends the third act frantically trying to find her feet as two strong B characters take over the plot entirely. They're not as well rounded as Isyllt, but they are embedded in their environment, and either would have made a fine protagonist of a much larger book. It is their decisions that decide the fate of Symir, while Isyllt becomes an observer in her own story.

The story itself is dominated by the environment of Symir – a rather trope-infested cross between New Orleans and Venice. Out back, with the bayou and the volcano, are the native tribes and the ghosts of their ancestors, struggling for freedom and prepared to do anything to achieve it. In the city, among the Masquerade balls and the canals, are the collaborators and the foreign politicians, getting rich off the land. Somewhere in the middle, the river maidens work their own magic to keep the city safe from the creatures of the water. With such a set-up, conflict is never far from the surface, and Isyllt barely has a chance to do anything before the fuse is lit. But the explosion is perfectly paced, and finale is long and intense enough to be satisfying.

Amanda Downum's writing tends towards the purple, and displays an over-fondness for certain turns of phrase. But it's never unreadable, and helps develop the environment in ways that a more spartan writing style wouldn't. The C characters are introduced too quickly, and there are too many to keep track of, which lead to some backtracking to figure out who this now pivotal character is.

The Drowning City is a strong fantasy read, The plot, the characters and the environment, both physical and political, support and develop each other. Good enough that I picked up the sequel immediately.

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