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City of Saints and Madmen (Ambergris #1)

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3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  2,922 ratings  ·  242 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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ebook, 704 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Spectra (first published May 1st 2002)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Ian Heidin[+]Fisch
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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Brad
May 07, 2009 Brad rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 29, 2013 David Katzman rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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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Sandi
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
Peggy
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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Ruby  Tombstone [Uncensored or Else]
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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Michael
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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Andrew
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
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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Brooke
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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Charlie George
Jul 21, 2009 Charlie George rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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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Dan Schwent
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.
Metaphorosis
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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Rob
Jul 15, 2014 Rob rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 compari
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Nathanimal
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
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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Jeanette (jema)
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!
Jeremy
Oct 14, 2010 Jeremy rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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Slap Happy
I have the Prime hardcover edition where even the book cover has a story written on it. A man rows toward the horizon, the city of Ambergris looms heavy in the distance, and has a mysterious encounter with a mythical King Squid. Vandermeer runs all the way home with this idea of his City of Saints and Madmen as a tangible, real life artifact from the world of Ambergris, which might not be as imaginary as the author had once thought it to be. His creation has got legs, like the King Squid, it can ...more
Nikki
Confession: I didn't actually read all of the appendix of this. I intend to finish it some day, but it's not the kind of book I feel like I can sit down and just blitz on through. The... bittiness annoys me: I do like short stories/novellas, but this isn't the easiest collection to read.

The comparisons between Perdido Street Station and this book are obvious. I felt the cities were characters in both books -- more clearly so in this book, where there's no single recurring, central character. It'
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Janet
The major nemesis to my reading is "sameness". There's so many books that I just go, oh, another near future dystopia, another generic technothriller, another coming of age fantasy novel. If you're in that rut, City of Saints and Madmen is the cure. A bizarre collection of short stories, travel brochures, encyclopedias, drawings, and more, all set in the fascinating world of Ambergris. I love the subtle connectivity throughout the books, they frequently reference the same stores, street corners, ...more
Andrew
Feb 09, 2010 Andrew rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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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Stefan
This is one of the most fascinating and infuriating books I've ever read. I would have given it 5 stars, but some of the author's experiments went a little too far for my taste, straying from very clever to very annoying. Parts of it are genius, others didn't work for me, but ultimately it all pulls together. I will need to chew on this one some more (or maybe re-read it) before I can write something more meaningful. I guess the fact that I'm already thinking about re-reading it means it struck ...more
Kaila
I guess I never wrote a review of this? Strange. You could almost say...WEIRRRRD.

Ok it's a stretch.

But this was my first foray into "weird fiction." I loved it. I want more. I also really want to use Ambergris as a D&D setting, or at least the mushroom dudes, cause they are so creepy. What is it about fungus that seems so benign and yet insidious?

Also, Portland people on my friend's list - Jeff VanderMeer is going to be at Powell's in Beaverton on February 4th. Come! Say hi! Mock my love of
...more
Jason
I did not know that this was a book of short stories that themed on the city of Ambergis. I should have read some reviews before hand. I often lose interest in short stories and subsequently did with this book. I made it through the first 3 stories, the first being the best of the three and started into the fourth. I can see some similarities between Jeff VanderMeer and China Mieville but I feel that they are definitely of a lesser quality. I liked the setting but had no character bonding to hol ...more
Mjhancock
Call it a 3.5. The loose way of describing this book is that it's a book of short stories that are a blend between Terry Pratchett and H. P. Lovecraft. The comparison isn't entirely accurate. What it shares with Pratchett is a focus on a sort of fantasy "ur-city," with Ambergris being a vague equivalent to Ankh-Morpork; what it also shares is a sense of humor about its world. What it takes from Lovecraft is the uneasy relationship the people of the city have with other beings they share it with, ...more
Chris
This book was.... weird. Sort of.

Imagine a city, the city of Ambergris. An old city, with a strange and bloody history. Imagine the people who populate that city - an idolized composer, a dilettante politician, a mad writer, a steadfast merchant and so forth. Imagine a city built on genocide and violence. And squid.

Such a city would have a thousand, no, ten thousand stories to tell. It's as rich a fantasy city as Iest, or Tar Valon or Ankh-Morpork, and any writer could spend his life writing sto
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Loren
From ISawLightningFall.com

Poor J.R.R. Tolkien. Sure, it's great to have a genre-defining work as your legacy, but since John Ronald Reuel shuffled off this mortal coil, no one has come close to replicating the feat of his masterwork. Attempts to create (or, in his particular verbiage, sub-create) as thoroughly as Tolkien did have resulted in either poorly realized or hopelessly artsy imitations. It's lonely at the top. But if I had to name one work that has shimmied a good way up the peak, it wo
...more
Sarah
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Jeff VanderMeer's most recent fiction is the NYT-bestselling Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance), all released in 2014. The series has been acquired by publishers in 15 other countries and Paramount Pictures/Scott Rudin Productions have acquired the movie rights. His Wonderbook (Abrams Image), the world's first fully illustrated, full-color creative writing guide, won ...more
More about Jeff VanderMeer...
Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy, #1) Authority (Southern Reach Trilogy, #2) Acceptance (Southern Reach Trilogy, #3) Finch (Ambergris, #3) The Steampunk Bible

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