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

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Review of Sarah Monette's The Mirador

Ghosts are very prominent in our lives. Whether one believes in the paranormal or not, most people do accept the notion that past events can reappear frequently in various guises to haunt us. Some of the more interesting character-driven stories involve people who are haunted by aspects of their pasts that they would rather others not see or understand. Shakespeare's Hamlet in part is as much about past deeds haunting others as it is of an actual ghost seeking his living son to exact vengeance upon his murderer. In Sarah Monette's third novel, The Mirador, the two half-brother main characters, the Cabelline wizard Felix Harrowgate and his one-time assassin sibling, Mildmay the Fox, experience ghosts both literal and metaphorical.

The action begins roughly two years after the final sequence of events in The Virtu. Both brothers have paid a heavy toll in vanquishing (so it seems) their mortal enemy. But each has been affected deeply by traumas inflicted upon them by Melkar and much of the action of The Mirador revolves around the exploration of just how much Felix and Mildmay have changed in those intervening two years.

Instead of using Felix and Mildmay as the only two first-person point of view references, Monette introduces a third, almost equally conflicted character, the actress Mehitabel Parr to the PoV procession. Haunted by her own past and having agents of the rival Bastion wizardry school blackmailing her, Mehitabel finds her entangled even more in the vicious courtly intrigues of Mélusine, entanglements that force her to interact even more with the two half-brothers.

Unlike Mélusine or The Virtu, which featured some travel sequences (not to mention external conflicts against a deadly foe), most of the action of The Mirador revolves around internal conflict. How will Felix and Mildmay deal with their pasts and new revelations from new characters that might threaten the fragile balances they have achieved at great cost within themselves? How are their many real and metaphorical ghosts going to be exorcised? How are their inner conflicts shown in their actions to those closest to them, including Mehitabel and Gideon, Felix's paramour and one-time associate of the Bastion? These questions take up the vast majority of The Mirador's pages.

Some will find this almost exclusive devotion to the exploration of Felix and Mildmay's inner conflicts to be boring or that they detract from what arguably could be called a rather hasty end to the novel. I, however, will not make that argument, merely just note what some might consider to be a weakness (a relative lack of external plot action until the final three chapters) I believe to be a deeper and necessary exploration of the Felix and Mildmay characters.

Monette recently revealed to me in an interview that the overarching title (which does not appear inside the book itself) for the series is The Doctrine of Labyrinths. This is very apt, especially for the labyrinthine twists of past deeds and guilt that have caused the characters to feel their way, almost virtually blind to themselves and to each other, for most of this novel. It is a natural outgrowth of the mazes of Mélusine and The Virtu that are as much metaphorical as they were virtual in those earlier scenes. I suspect that this maze of conflicted feelings and guilt will resolve itself in some powerful fashion in the final volume due next year (previously called Summerdown, now apparently untitled). For this to occur, however, it seems that a novel such as The Mirador had to devote its energy to the internal rather than to the external.

That is not to excuse every lapse of pace, however. There were a few times in the middle where it seemed that the pace dragged a bit, as the arguments and mistrust of earlier chapters appeared to be repeating themselves in slightly different forms, but this I consider to be minor to the overall effect of establishing two haunted, traumatized people set to hit the road for a virtual and metaphorical journey that might just possibly bring them some semblance of resolution.

Summary: The Mirador is the third of four planned volumes that detail the adventures and conflicts of two half-brothers, Felix Harrowgate and Mildmay the Fox. Using alternating first-person PoVs (a third is added for this volume), Monette depicts in great detail the conflicts, fears, and desires of both Felix and Mildmay in three fashions: 1) How each sees the other, 2) How each perceives himself, and 3) How an outsider close to them sees each brother. The culminative effect is to create a 3D composite image of each character, allowing the reader to see beyond the façades into the tortured souls of both Felix and Mildmay. Highly recommended for fans of Monette's series and for others who prefer internal conflict stories to those that revolve around external quests.

Release Date: August 7 (US) Hardcover

Publisher: Ace Books

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