Peggy's Reviews > City of Saints and Madmen

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
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Aug 14, 07

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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 gray caps, we’ve taken a peek at religion in the city, and we’ve seen the Festival of the Freshwater Squid, which is beyond anything you can imagine. We’ve met cantankerous academics, slumming in tour guide footnotes. We’ve been treated to a scientific monograph where a whole ‘nother story emerges if you read all of the notes. We’ve seen a story entirely in code. And we’ve met X, an author with a history very like VanderMeer’s, who is being held in a psychiatric ward because he thinks he has actually seen the fantasy land (called Ambergris) that he writes about (the ending is a delightfully vicious little thing).

The detail in the stories is lush and rich and entirely believable, and amazingly, it doesn’t get in the way of the main action.

Together, the stories add up to more than the sum of their parts. The specific and abundant details combined with the poetic and dreamlike images paint a compelling picture. It’s very easy fall into the same trap as the ubiquitous "X"; how can you not believe in Ambergris? I’ve physically visited cities that have not had as much of an impact as VanderMeer’s stellar creation, and memories of Ambergris have been creeping into my dreams. VanderMeer may well be the best fantasist working today. He slips past your defenses and seeds the hidden recesses of your imagination with spores that fruit in unexpected ways
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message 2: by Cassie (new) - added it

Cassie Thanks for this. Yesterday I'm not sure I knew the name, but today I am extremely intrigued by VanderMeer. Must have a taste soon!


James Webster 1 comment


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