Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review of Corambis

Corambis is the fourth and final book in Sarah Monette's character-driven fantasy series, The Doctrine of Labyrinth. The first three books are Melusine, The Virtu, and The Mirador, respectively, and should definitely be read in that order. This is one of my favorite series of all time so Corambis was the 2009 release I was most looking forward to. While I enjoyed Corambis very much and thought it a satisfying end to the series, it did not linger with me after I finished reading it to the same extent as the first three books. The quality of writing and characterization were still excellent, so I think this one just didn't have as many elements that appeal to me personally as the rest of the series.

For this particular novel, I have decided to skip a plot summary because I cannot think of a way of writing even a short one with any substance that does not give away too much. This is a book largely about one character's internal journey and not a whole lot happens in the part of the novel that I consider early enough not to be part of spoiler territory. Also, some of what does happen is not anything I would want to know before reading this book. This is the fourth book in a series so I imagine most people who would be reading this one have read enough to know what the story is about and whether or not they would like to read this one anyway.

Like The Mirador before it, Corambis is told from the viewpoint of both Felix and Mildmay plus one new perspective, belonging to a warrior involved in a rebellion by the name of Kay. Unlike the character Mehitabel, who narrated part of The Mirador, Kay is a completely new character who is never introduced in the series until his narration begins on page one of Corambis. Although I understand the inclusion of some new perspectives, I still found myself impatient to read about Mildmay and Felix since they have the strongest voices and I became very attached to both of them in the first two books. However, I did find Kay to be a lot more interesting than Mehitabel, particularly since he did seem more important.

Unfortunately for those who despise Felix, this is his story. Of course, he is the central character to the series, but The Mirador did have more scenes about Mildmay and he was the one to undergo some major development in that novel. However, Felix does grow a lot as a person in Corambis. He still has his issues and past torments and he's still no angel but he's not a stagnant character either. Personally, Mildmay is my favorite but I still love Felix, too, and was disappointed that his sections in the previous book were overwhelmed by more space dedicated to Mehitabel and Mildmay (mostly Mehitabel). Felix gets plenty of time in this book but this time Mildmay's narratives are few and far between. Part of the reason this installment was not as compelling to me as the others was the lack of Mildmay. Felix is much more serious in his thoughts, and Mildmay's straightforward way of telling it like it is is very refreshing and adds some humor. Plus Mildmay's personality is so similar to mine that I have more empathy for him than any other character in fiction and could very much relate to him. Since he was not present as much, I did not have those moments where I could have sworn Mildmay was just like I would have been were I an assassin/kept thief growing up in the streets of Melusine.

Overall, Corambis was not as dark as the other novels in the series (and I'm sure you all know by now that I have a masochistic streak when it comes to my reading - the darker, the better). There were definitely still parts that qualified as plenty dark, but it seemed to have less of that tone overall.

Other than Felix and Mildmay, none of the characters from Melusine were in this book. I was not particularly attached to any of the minor characters, but I did miss the petty wizards of the Mirador and the city itself. Corambis was an interesting setting, but it didn't have the same flair as Melusine for me. It was a more stifling atmosphere.

In spite of the fact that I didn't have the urge to devote a shrine to this book, I still loved reading about Mildmay and Felix and the way they contrast each other. Felix is so educated and book smart but completely lacking in common sense. Mildmay lacks formal education and constantly annoys Felix with his bad grammar but tends to make all the intelligent observations and connections. His comments and way of thinking about the world around him often made me stop and snicker. As always, Monette excelled at writing the perspectives of both characters and making me care about them.

Although my thoughts didn't return to it as often as I expected after reading the last sentence, Corambis was well worth reading for more on Felix and Mildmay, two of my favorite characters ever created. It still makes me sad to think this is the last new novel I'll read about them.


Other reviews of Corambis:
Other reviews of books in The Doctrine of Labyrinth series:


orannia said...

Great review Kristen! *SIGH* I can't wait to read this book!

I have to admit to being being a huge fan of Felix...although I get the feeling I'm not in the majority, but that's OK :) The one thing that came across so well in the book, and in your review, was how well Felix and Mildmay fit...like two halves of a coin.

And thank you for avoiding spoilers. I for one am very grateful :)

ediFanoB said...

First of all, well done Kristen!
Melusine, The Virtu, and The Mirador are all on my shelf but unread. My pile of unread books i increasing. I have a kind of reading order but I change it very often depending on my mood, available time, blog discussions and events.
Maybe you know The David Gemmell Legend Award.
Now you can vote for a book on the short list. So far I read only two of the five books. But I want to change this. I stopped my current reads and started to read The Final Empire trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. That will take some time.
That means I don't know when I will read The Doctrine of Labyrinth series. But I know that I will buy Corambis before I start.

Kristen said...

Orannia - Thanks! Huge Felix fans are a minority (most people hate him) but that's ok. Just because I love Mildmay more doesn't mean I'm not also a big fan of Felix so I'm in the minority along with you. They do complement each other very well. I'm sad that the series has ended. :(

ediFanoB - You have some great reading ahead of you. I know what you mean about the unread books. My pile is always increasing too and I usually just read whatever I'm in the mood for instead of having a set reading order.

orannia said...

YAH! It's nice to find another Felix fan. That scene right in the beginning of Melusine, when he goes down into the Lower City...and then turns away to find Malkar...that was the scene. Am not saying I don't love Mildmay mind, because I do :)

I'm so glad that I have two books to go! Now I just have to hunt down my keeper copies :)

ThRiNiDiR said...

I'd really need to get to "Melusine"...I've been intrigued to read it eve since you wrote the review, and each subsequent review has been reminding me of S.Monette and that I should really pick her up. Great review Kristen.

Kristen said...

Orannia - I'm envious that you still have two books left! This was one of the few series where I read all the books that were out one right after the other. Normally I take a break and read something else after one book in a series but with this one I couldn't stop. It's kind of sad to have all the books read, though. I hope Monette gets another writing contract soon.

Felix was actually my favorite for at least most of the first book. It was the second and third books that made me decide I loved Mildmay much more.

Thrinidir - Thanks! I hope you like the series.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying not to finish Corambis too fast... it's too good (but I can't help myself). I'm definitely in love with Felix more than is reasonable, although I actually enjoy Mildmay's narratives more for the deadpan humour.

For those who love the dark and seedy side of fantasy like this: what else compares? Where do I go next?

Kristen said...

Anonymous - I love both characters too - Mildmay is my favorite for his humor and being eerily similar to my own personality but I do adore Felix too.

If you want to read other darker fantasy, I would recommend Wraeththu by Storm Constantine. That and this series are my two favorites.

Have you tried the Song of Ice and Fire series, Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books, or Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman? Those are all fantasy books on the darker side that I also enjoyed.