The OF Blog: Review of Sarah Monette's The Virtu

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Review of Sarah Monette's The Virtu

After reading and enjoying Sarah Monette's first novel, Mélusine, in March 2006 (review here), I wanted to read her second of four novels set in this universe, The Virtu, when it came out, but due to some personal life issues, that had to await until this summer before I was able to purchase a copy.

Despite the wait, I found that the book more than lived up to the high expectations that I had for it. Continuing the dual first-person perspectives of Felix Harrowgate, ex-hocus (wizard) of the Mirador and his half brother, Mildmay the Fox, The Virtu broadens the story and scope of Mélusine without losing any of the richness of language or the vividness of characterization that made that first novel enjoyable for me.

The story revolves around Felix's search for how to patch up the damage wrought through him by the cruel and domineering Malkar. However, there are hints and signs throughout this story that Malkar's influence on Felix has been more subtle than what we saw in Mélusine. Indeed, there is one scene that affects Felix and Mildmay for the remaining part of the novel to such an extent that I cannot help but question if this might in turn be a recurring point in the upcoming third volume, The Mirador. The way both characters portray this "heretical" event is very true to their quite diverse characters and may foretell quite a few hidden tensions that were slowly working their way to the surface in The Virtu.

The writing here is better than in Mélusine, as there wasn't that sense of too much being described and not enough occurring. The pacing was nicer, and the two main leads' interactions with other characters was more crisp in execution. Events and characters introduced in the first volume come to have a greater significance towards the end of The Virtu, as both Felix and Mildmay have grown so much in the intervening months as to make their former relationships with others appear in a new light.

At the end, I was left curious as to how events will develop from here. There were no cliffhangers, however, just merely the knowledge that there is more to be done in order to bring the Mirador and its inhabitants into a better sort of balance.

Summary: The Virtu is the second of four planned volumes that rotate around the characters of the half-brothers Felix Harrowgate and Mildmay the Fox. Told in dual first-person narratives that alternate within chapters, The Virtu is an improvement upon the solid foundation of Mélusine. A character-driven novel, this novel (and series) will appeal to readers who prefer to see more of the conflict within people rather than conflict between peoples. Highly recommended.

Release Date: June 27, 2006 (Hardcover), July 31, 2007 (Paperback)

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