Amberlough takes place in an fantasy world roughly equivalent to Weimar era Germany. It’s part John le Carre, part Cabaret. A fascist candidate who isn’t doing well in the polls fixes an election to beat the female candidate who should have won by a landslide. The inhabitants of Amberlough are worried about this since the Ospies intend to outlaw homosexuality, crack down on drug smuggling, and keep anybody from criticizing them, and they’re willing to use violence to get their way. Sure, Amberlough isn’t perfect. There is a lot of corruption on the police force and there’s certain parts of town you don’t want to visit after night, but the Ospies’ solution for this entails eliminating undesirables and taking away everybody’s freedom, so the cure is worse than the disease.
Our main characters are a spy, a stripper, and a smuggler, each with their own set of secrets. They sometimes do bad things because they think they have no other choice. The characters are flawed and sometimes make mistakes as they struggle to get by. I like that this isn’t a straight up good versus evil story. Although, come to think of it, we only really see the Ospies being evil, so I guess it’s more of a neutral versus evil story. Perhaps we’ll see a more human side to the Ospies in a sequel.
I noticed that the beginning of Chapter 1 describes windows freckled with rain (a turn of phrase I really like), and Chapter 2 begins with a description of a freckled arm. This may have been a coincidence since I didn’t notice any other echoes like this elsewhere in the book. However, I may have missed them since I got so wrapped up in the story. It’s a very detailed novel with street names, descriptions of food and clothing and different clubs and apartments. You really feel like it’s a real place.
I wondered briefly why Lara Elena Donnelly didn’t just write this as a historical novel that took place during Hitler’s rise to power. Then I realized the advantage of writing fantasy is the reader won’t know what’s going to happen next. I really hope there’s a sequel, because you just can’t end a story like that.