The Virtu (2006) by Sarah Monette is dark fantasy at its best. It is the second book in a series of three total so far. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and I didn’t want this story to end. I was just fully engaged from start to finish. No matter how much I may gush and gush I will since I loved this story, the premise and the characters just won’t appeal to the masses.
The Virtu starts just where Mélusine ends, with Mildmay getting his half-brother, Felix Harrowgate, to the Gardens of Nephele for healing. In the previous entry, Felix was used as a vessel for his nemesis to destroy the Virtu. The Virtu, as I understand it, is a crystal that is used to protect the magic of the city of Mélusine. The destruction of the Virtu made Felix go mad and thus he was cast out as a heretic and stripped of all his magic.
In the interim, the magic of the city has become unstable. The story continues to use dual narratives of Felix and Mildmay and each character has their own distinct voice and personality. Here is a quick introduction of the characters. First, there’s Felix Harrowgate who is a bourgeoisie wizard of the Mirador who is best described as selfish, quick-tempered, arrogant and gay. He is a very powerful wizard. His former master, lover and torturer, Malkar Gennadion, used him in a plot to undermine the power and stability of the city to destroy him.
His half-brother, Mildmay the Fox or “Milly-Fox” or “Mildmay” is an ex-cat burglar, ex-kept-thief and ex-assassin who is now lame due to a curse that was put on him for killing a powerful blood witch. Miildmay’s character stole the show for me in the last book. There aren’t enough words for me to describe his character to you. He’s just a fascinating and sympathetic hero.
The story picks up with the journey back to Mélusine. Felix feels that he is able to restore The Virtu to stabilize the magic in the city. However, it’s a dangerous trek back for Felix since the tattoos on his arms mark him as a Cabaline wizard and a potential rival of The Bastion which is home to the Eusebian wizards who would kill him if they were to cross paths. Their journey is fraught with danger but boy, does this author know how to keep readers on the edge of their seat!
What I loved most about the book is the author’s world building, her characters and her authorial voice. The story is laced with plenty of action and adventure. Felix and Mildmay’s journey is plenty dangerous with labyrinths, evil blood witches and some well placed heroic adventures. The story moves quickly and presents us with one adventure after another. I loved it.
There’s plenty of suspense laced with a sustained atmosphere of danger and fear. I’ve seen this series described as non-cliched fantasy. I’d have to agree. The best part of this novel for me is the characters and the episodic telling of the story. There is an overarching theme but like I said, the story is mainly built on one adventure after another. This is the kind of dark fantasy that I love. Fans of Jacqueline Carey would get a kick out of this as this is the audience Monette is aiming to attract.
Of course I must warn you that the story thus far has been gritty and leaves nothing to the imagine. It is at times erotic, offensive and decadent. The city of Mélusine is full of places that one’s dark desires and twisted sexual appetites are satiated. It is a city rife with sin and indulgent of it, too. If you can’t handle bad language, homosexuality and sexual deviation that borders on the offensive then you should certainly give this story a pass. It is not for the weak at heart or for those who offend easily.
If you find yourself curious about The Doctrine of the Labyrinth series, you should start with Mélusine first and move on to The Virtu. Together they complete one single story and they do not stand alone well. Another thing about the stories is the use of language: it is different but it didn’t take long to adapt and it’s intuitive.
I have The Mirador waiting to be read and will get to it soon. For some odd reason when I started it last year, I just couldn’t finish it. The fourth book of the series is titled, Corambis, that is due out sometime in 2009. Yes, this review was originally posted back in 2006 but I am reposting it again because I love her work. I think Ms. Monette is a great writer of dark fantasy and her authorial voice is just amazing. My grade for The Virtu is a solid A and that’s withstanding any flaws or weakness within the construct of this story (if one were to find them.)
*This is a repost of an earlier review