Amberlough is the first book in The Amberlough Dossier. It follows three main PoVs: Aristide, smuggler and emcee at the Bee Cabaret, Cyril, his lover and double agent who is spying on him, and Cordelia, a stripper at the Bee.
I had a lot of feelings, because this was painful. And fun, but mostly painful.
The beginning isn’t exactly easy to get into – there’s a lot information about politics, because this novel is about the rise of a fascist government – but after I understood what was happening I started loving the book, mostly because of the characters.
I didn’t like Cordelia that much at first, as I didn’t care about her two jealous lovers, but when she started to get involved into all the spy schemes, I liked her a lot more. She is the character who has the most development.
I can’t say the same about Cyril, because the only thing he does better than spying is making all the worst decisions at the wrong moment and never growing a spine for the right reasons, but I liked him anyway. And even if I didn’t always love him, I loved the relationship between him and Aristide, because it was a mess. I’m always here for that – even before the actual conflict started, these two were spying on each other, having sex and going through each other’s things while they thought the other was sleeping.
Also, I loved Aristide, because I love intentionally overdramatic characters. They’re my favorites.
Amberlough is worth the read just for how queer it is. It depicts the rise of a fascist government from the point of view of the people who are going to be affected the most by it – queer people, people of color, sex workers – and it is of course heartbreaking, but it manages to have really funny moments at the same time (it makes everything even more painful! Great!).
I also loved the atmosphere. If I’m going to read a book about everything going on fire, I want to care about the world, and beautiful aesthetics – this book has some really pretty descriptions – will do that.
I’ve seen some reviews say that they didn’t understand why this was set in an imaginary world when there’s no actual magic and Amberlough’s situation mirrors what was happening in Europe in the 1920s-1930s. But that’s where the similarities end: Amberlough is not, from both a cultural and political point of view, fascist Italy or nazi Germany, and the story would have been totally different if set there.
However, I think that Amberlough’s economy should have been more damaged for this story to actually work. Yes, there are mentions of a past war that cost a lot to Gedda, but it wasn’t explored enough, and extremisms do not rise out of nowhere.
(Also, there shouldn’t be Afghans – the shawls – when your world has no Afghanistan, but this is nitpicking).
This novel is evil, and I’m glad I have the sequel, because it has one of the most cruel endings I’ve read in a while. I knew it wasn’t going to end well, and that’s why it took me a while to finish this. I didn’t want to get there.
My rating: ★★★★¾
Content Warnings, because this book needs them: murder, death of a gay character, torture, death of a disabled character, explicit sex scenes (at least three of them), blackmail, all the bad stuff that comes with fascism.