Brad's Reviews > City Of Saints And Madmen: The Book Of Ambergris

City Of Saints And Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
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's review
Apr 26, 2011

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Read in April, 2011

I suppose all fantasy worlds are collages of some sort. Your standard derivative Tolkien stuff, your D&D and high fantasy, is all a vaguely medieval Western Europe, with some drastically altered Eastern Europe folk tale stuff added (I'm thinking trolls and elves and whatnot), with an altered form of Greek deities added. But that format has become so widely used that it seems homogeneous and normal.

VanderMeer's Ambergris is certainly different, if not vividly so; his fantasy city isn't medieval, but roughly Victorian, or even early 20th century. He's as likely to look to other novels for inspiration over old folk tales or mythologies. It, too, is a collage of different historical periods, different cultures, and different books, all served up with a self-conscious postmodernism (if that isn't redundant) that proves VanderMeer ain't Delany. Mostly, it's the urban setting that turns VanderMeer's tales away from heroic quests and into the realm of the personal and interpersonal. And that strikes me as the right direction for fantasy to be going in.

This edition of City of Saints and Madmen is four novellas; two of them, "Dradin, in Love" and "The Transformation of Martin Lake" are quite good; the annotated history of Ambergris is all right, though I found that I didn't actually want to know the history of the city, and that the format (multiple lengthy footnotes, a long appendix) detracted from the overall narrative; the final story, "The Strange Case of X," is fucking terrible. Still, the strengths of the good stories were such that I'm interested in reading the extended edition of the collection, and perhaps some other works by VanderMeer.

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Reading Progress

04/18/2011 page 112
50.0% "I'm just claiming that I'm halfway through this because I've read two of the four short stories in this version of the text. I'm pretty impressed and may buy the 2006 edition, which is like 700 pages or something stupid." 2 comments

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Mjhancock Have you read any china mieville? Similar urban-based fantasy world, with slightly less obvious influences than Vandermeer's Terry Pratchett/lovecraft mix.

Brad I've just read The City and The City, I think. I never got into Perdido Street Station, though maybe I should give it another go.

Mjhancock If it didn't grab you, there's not a lot of reason to go back; it's a lot more of the same, really. I liked his other book, The Kraken, which was more a straight urban fantasy thing, wherein the world is saved by the magic of taxonomy.

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