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City of Saints and Madmen (Ambergris #1)

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3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  4,007 Ratings  ·  343 Reviews
In City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff VanderMeer has reinvented the literature of the fantastic. You hold in your hands an invitation to a place unlike any you’ve ever visited–an invitation delivered by one of our most audacious and astonishing literary magicians.

City of elegance and squalor. Of religious fervor and wanton lusts. And everywhere, on the walls of courtyards an
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Paperback, 704 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Bantam (first published May 1st 2002)
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Ian "Marvin" Graye
Nov 13, 2012 Ian "Marvin" Graye rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Ian by: Traveller
Some Fantastic Metafiction

“City of Saints and Madmen” (“COSAM”) not only explores a world of New Weird author’s Jeff VanderMeer’s creation, it gives a detailed insight into the method of his creativity.

It’s not just a fantasy novel, but a highly accessible and rewarding exercise in metafiction.

It’s a composite of works: short stories or perhaps novellas, fictional notes, fragments of drafts, reminders, observations, word sketches, drawings, illustrations, doodles, dream diary entries, the histor
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Traveller

Jeff VanderMeer is a self-proclaimed "New-Weird" writer.

The New Weird genre as we see it in Vandermeer, started off with the works of authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.
A more modern example of another New-Weird author, would be China Miéville.

Most people may know the first two authors mentioned as horror writers, and it is true that Vandermeer's stories contain a flavor of horror, though many of them are too humorous to be classed as horror. The stories also contain a whiff of
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J.G. Keely
Sometimes it doesn't matter what you hear about a book, all the promise described in glowing reviews--it doesn't matter who suggests it, on what authority or with what arguments. Sometimes, you're still going to come out the other side disappointed, confused how this could possibly be the book you had heard about, trying to reconcile the words of friends and fellow reviewers with what you have found on the page.

I'm there again. There's something in it reminiscent of the moment after a car accide
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Helen 2.0
Apr 21, 2016 Helen 2.0 rated it liked it
You know Mary Bennett in Pride & Prejudice, who tries too hard to come up with profound or abstract things to say? I was reminded of her while reading VanderMeer's writing style in City of Saints and Madmen. I didn't read the whole book - I have to admit I was too lazy to read the massive appendix.

My favorite story within CoSaM was the Early History of Ambergris. The historian who writes/narrates the pamphlet (Duncan Shriek) added footnotes almost every other line; the footnotes take up near
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Brad
Jan 24, 2009 Brad rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Ruzz
*WARNING: This is not really a review, but City of Saints and Madmen requires something else entirely, and there may be a spoiler or two, but considering the book's form I doubt that will matter.*

Dradin, In Love
As Dradin experiences the rain, I am straining with the brightness of our first sunny day reflecting off the silky pages of City of Saints and Madmen, and I am struck by the sensuality of the experience a mere forty pages into VanderMeer’s opus. The weight of the book is comfortable in my
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David Katzman
Sep 01, 2008 David Katzman rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of literary speculative fiction or just odd, fantastical literature
If Proust had been a hella Dungeon Master and then dropped all the monsters and sword play…you might end up with something like City of Saints and Madmen.

For several years now, I’ve almost exclusively read books as research for my second novel. With few exceptions (when the books were short), I’ve been committed to that focus religiously. (As religiously as an atheist-buddhist-jew can be.) Not all the books I’ve read were chosen for concrete research, per se—such as, “I’ve invented a character w
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Ivan
I was thinking to give it 5 stars.Ambergris is fascinating place, one that is very dark and puzzling but at the end I had to make distinction.This book is great but I have given 5 stars to Perdido street station and City of stairs ( 2 books that also have unique world where city is main star of the show) and I felt this book is more than slightly bellow them and I think it should show in rating.
Lindsay
May 28, 2016 Lindsay rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
DNF at 26%

I can appreciate the obvious beauty of the writing but there is absolutely nothing making me want to keep turning the page. I find the characters repulsive, the setting baroque and the writing overly concerned with it's own "trickiness".
Ruby  Tombstone [With A Vengeance]
The Tombstone Guide to City of Saints & Madmen
The book lay on the weathered coffee table, pages spilling loosely from its tattered, well-worn binding, a suggestion of mould dotting the cardboard of the inside jacket, close to the spine. The following elements were (barely) contained within:


• A beautifully written fantasy/horror novel, complete with intricate world-building, playful (indeed masterful), use of the English language, inexorable creeping dread and a strong sense of whimsy. Compar
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Dan Schwent
Feb 04, 2008 Dan Schwent rated it really liked it
Shelves: new-weird
I was in a New Weird mood about a month ago and this is one of the books I read. I liked most of the stories in it and enjoyed the use of framed narration. I'd rank it somewhere between Perdido Street Station and The Scar.
Michael
Jan 30, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it
Jeff VanderMeer's first book of Ambergris is a complex, humorous, awesome, inspired, boring, redundant, over-foot-notey, groundbreaking, self-absorbed and very pretty book. I can't quite call it a novel, nor a book of short stories: it's more of a patchwork, novellas and fake historical pamphlets and short stories and other bizarro little experiments that succeed at times with flying colors. At other times, they crash and burn.

City of Saints and Madmen is a collection of tales set in Ambergris,
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Peggy
Aug 14, 2007 Peggy rated it it was amazing
City Of Saints and Madmen is made up of a series of stories connected by their setting. There’s a depth to Ambergris, a heft that only comes from a fully-realized world. Middle-Earth has it, as does Arrakis: a sense that the craziest things make perfect sense because you’re so grounded in the world the author has created.

Before we reach the "beautiful cruelty" of the book’s end, we’ve gotten a tour of various parts of the city, we’ve met the mysterious original inhabitants of Ambergris, the gra
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Sandi
Mar 17, 2009 Sandi rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, 2009
GoodReads definition of two stars is "it was ok". That pretty much sums up what I thought of "City of Saints and Madmen" by Jeff VanderMeer. Some of the stories were really good, like "The Cage", "The Transformation of Martin Lake" and "The Strange Case of X". If all the stories had been that caliber, I might have given this book four stars. Unfortunately, VanderMeer gets too into his conceit of the book being the story of the city of Ambergris. The section that was an early history of Ambergris ...more
Charlie George
Mar 10, 2009 Charlie George rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: China Mieville fans and anyone seeking new, unique fantasy and horror
Recommended to Charlie by: Sandi Kallas
This book took me, what, two months to read (!) The fault lay not in the book but my current facebook gaming addiction.

It was exceptionally good, but words fail me to describe why or how. The praise on the jacket and front 3 pages say it much better than I could, and is all entirely warranted and apropos. It knocked me flat, which is why I'm off my game and this is the sorriest review ever.

Ambergris is a bewildering, heady, terrifying city of... well you guessed it, saints and madmen. And squid
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Amy (Other Amy)
The River Moth was wide and deep, the traveler in his boat a speck of speck of light in the darkness. Five crewmen manned the boat, which ferried visitors to the legendary city of Ambergris. The traveler knelt near the prow, staring toward his destination. Such a smell came across the water from the city. It excited him for reasons he did no[LIBRARY STICKER]mell of water-stained paper, an invisible watermark all-encom[LIBRARY STICKER]was the smell of wet clothing left to molder. It was the smell ...more
Brooke
Mar 02, 2008 Brooke rated it liked it
I'm struggling with how to think about this book. 3 stars is inadequate to express how I felt about many of the individual stories contained in the collection. By themselves, they were very good - atmospheric, creepy, well-written, well-imagined, etc.

As a whole however, I'm not sure it worked for me. It's supposed to be a collection of stories about the city of Ambergris. It's a city filled with mysterious mushroom people, artists, a festival that involves squids and slaughter, and mystery. Abou
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Drew
May 01, 2008 Drew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is excellent stuff. Jeff VanderMeer takes influence from the baroque, surreal fantasists of yesteryear, such as Mervyn Peake, Lord Dunsany, or even H.P. Lovecraft (in his less horrific moments), and combines this influence with the more modern elements of steampunk and urban fantasy that can be seen in authors like China Mieville. Out of this mix, he has created his own world, which mostly focuses on the city of Ambergris, a sprawling riverside land that has fallen into functional anarchy a ...more
Metaphorosis
Aug 04, 2013 Metaphorosis rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, 2013-rev
I ordered this book purely on the basis of reviews. I'd never heard of Jeff VanderMeer, but the book sounded quirky, unconventional, and interesting. On two out of three, I definitely got my money's worth.

This is essentially a fully immersive, highly self-referential collection of stories about the city Ambergris, the Freshwater Squid in the river that passes by, the mushroom people that are its original inhabitants, and the humans that try to make the city their own. There are glossaries, bibli
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Matthew Gatheringwater
I once read that a group of mystery writers including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and G.K. Chesterton formed a detection club and swore to abide by a code of authorial ethics to ensure fair play for their readers. This seems like such a good idea that I wish writers in other genres would consider forming a similar club and that Jeff VanderMeer, in particular, would be a member.

Many reviews of this book mention its "puzzle-like" quality, but if this book is a puzzle, it is one in which th
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Rob
Jan 27, 2008 Rob rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Rob by: Creighton
If given the space of 50 words, Jeff VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen would be a tough book to describe. I shall attempt to do so anyway:

Part novel, part anthology; part traditional narrative, part "found document"; part vaguely alternate history fantasy, part subliminal existential horror; City of Saints and Madmen is a queer beast that starts out innocuously enough but soon morphs into... well, not quite House of Leaves -- but that is the closest comparison.

...at least, "closest compar
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Amy (Other Amy)
This 700 page book took me a day and a half to read. The penultimate story in this novel was the last thing I read last night and the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning. Driving home from errands, I found myself thinking about it again, along with thoughts of David Foster Wallace, and tearing up. This review might take awhile. In the meantime, this book is awesome, and you should probably read it.
Monica
Nov 16, 2016 Monica rated it really liked it
This one is very strange, like most of VanderMeer's work, but I really enjoyed it. More detailed review to come.
Nathanimal
Nov 24, 2007 Nathanimal rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book, and fantastic things did happen, as promised. I really liked the ritual murder with the bird masks (though the main character's untrue emotions and reactions during that part kept un-riveting me). I liked the story about the writer who lived in two worlds (though the gotchya ending was kind of an eye-roller). And I liked the mushroom people and the king squid material. I think this novel was supposed to be a marriage between fantasy and meta-po-mo writing like ...more
Andrew
Jul 13, 2007 Andrew rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who have finished China Mieville's superior works
I picked this up after reading breathless reviews, and while I like what Vandermeer's doing, this book is so ridiculously indebted to China Mieville that it should seriously just be called "Loser Street Station." It's not a bad collection by any means, but I can't help but compare it to Mieville's vastly, ridiculously superior Bas Lag books because both authors are doing the exact same thing.

Vandermeer also has a jokey, Pratchett'y streak that comes through from time to time that feels incredib
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Melinda Jane Harrison
REREADING 2016 Challenge

This is a masterpiece of modern New Weird Fiction and the first story, Dradin in Love was awesome storytelling and some of the best prose I've ever read, PERIOD.

I just re-read that particular story and it's 5 times now!

However, the New Weird is not for everyone and I'll admit, I am NOT a fan of it, even when I know it's good. But this is the one book of New Weird that I am taking into my new writing room. But it's the only one I am taking. Well, maybe China Mieville will
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Kathryn
I enjoyed this book from the start. Beautiful writing, consistently. I was interested but began to feel slightly detached, which I would normally consider to be a negative quality. I was not big on what some would think to be the more creative aspects/sections of the book.

Additionally, I just found out that there are different editions of this book floating around. Do not pick up the first edition, it is missing way too much. I read the second edition and consequently am missing 2 stories that a
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Magdelanye
Sep 05, 2015 Magdelanye rated it it was ok
this may be just a case of poor timing, but as many times as I picked this up, I found no patience, no curiosity, no resonance in the skillfully arranged content. Ambergris simply failed to lure me in, Even the one story I read, which was quite clever, I had to force my way through the florid prose.
I do sense some genius at work here, I can comprehend how my fellows on the path have found it praiseworthy, but I closed the pages for now unwilling to inhabit the dank atmosphere.
must remember this
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Pixelina
Jan 11, 2013 Pixelina rated it it was amazing
This book is an adventure in the house of mirrors where stories and people touch and slightly distort and echo back.

I struggled a bit with parts of it (mainly the rather boring religious elements) but the rest of it was just so interesting. I especially loved the last story about the copywriter in search of the perfect sentence while being haunted by dwarfs.

Oh I hear there is another Ambergris book too!
Karissa
Oct 05, 2015 Karissa rated it really liked it
I have had this book on my to be read pile for quite a while and was excited to finally pick it up to read. While it wasn’t the easiest book to read; Vandermeer does an amazing job creating an imaginative city that ends up seeming incredibly real to the reader.

The book is a collection of a number of stories which I have written in more detail about below. The book’s climax occurs once you get to The Strange Case of X in which you find out more about the author of Dradin, In Love and the Transfor
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Jeremy
Jun 18, 2010 Jeremy rated it liked it
Recommends it for: The brave and the bold
Recommended to Jeremy by: Mieville. The bastard.
What a bizarre book.

After reading Finch first, and only later finding that it was part of a series/cycle/shared universe thing, I was of course intrigued, and opted to start at the apparent beginning. City of Saints and Madmen started off well enough, vacillating from poetic to hilarious, hitting every note it aimed for perfectly.

And then. Then came the Strange Case of X. That story and its consequences, I feel fairly certain, are responsible for my lack of enthusiasm for this book, and a bit of
...more
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  • The New Weird
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  • The Best of Michael Swanwick
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  • The Divinity Student
  • Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology
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  • The Light Ages (The Aether Universe, #1)
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  • Palimpsest
  • Conjunctions #39: The New Wave Fabulists
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Jeff VanderMeer's new novel is Borne, set for publication in late April of 2017. His most recent fiction is the NYT-bestselling Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance), all released in 2014. The series won the Shirley Jackson Award and the Nebula Award, was shortlisted for several others, and has been acquired by publishers in 32 other countries. Paramount Pictures/Scott R ...more
More about Jeff VanderMeer...

Other Books in the Series

Ambergris (3 books)
  • Shriek: An Afterword (Ambergris, #2)
  • Finch (Ambergris, #3)

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“Ten years ago, we would have been writing perfect stories, but people's attention spans have become more limited in these, the last days of literacy.” 11 likes
“Perhaps [he had] persevered for too long, in the face of too many obstacles, his hair proof of his tenacity - the stark black streaked with white or, in certain light, stark white shot through with black, each strand of white attributable to the jungle fever (so cold it burned, his skin glacial), each strand of black a testament to being alive afterwards.” 4 likes
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