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City of Saints and Madmen

(Ambergris #1)

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3.86  ·  Rating details ·  5,114 ratings  ·  457 reviews

From the author of Annihilation, now a major motion picture on Netflix

In the city of Ambergris, a would-be suitor discovers a sunlit street can become a killing ground in the blink of an eye. An artist receives an invitation to a beheading and finds himself enchanted. And a patient in a mental institution is convinced he’s imagined a city called Ambergris, invented its

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Kindle Edition, 704 pages
Published May 8th 2014 by Tor (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Ian "Marvin" Graye
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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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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Bradley
I would love to say this novel defies description, but it doesn't. :) In fact, thanks to the existence of a number of really quite fabulous works that came after it, some from VanderMeer's own hand, we can now properly place this work in its proper context.

New Weird.

Yeah, yeah, but WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

In this case? I'd call this a tightly interwoven series of stories and faux academic papers surrounding the fictional city of Abergris. Expect strange mushrooms that range from hallucinogenic to
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Helen 2.0
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
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Gabrielle
Jeff VanderMeer is a very clever, very talented guy. But I feel that sometimes, he lets his cleverness get in the way of a good story.

“City of Saints and Madmen” is his first visit to the city of Ambergris; a city unlike anything I can think of in the modern world, that plays mix and match with references of geographical locations and eras that should have logically never met each other, and yet blend together artfully in this strange place. The book is constructed as a collection of stories of
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Brad
Jan 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Sep 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  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
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Dan Schwent
Feb 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Lindsay
May 28, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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".
wanderer (Para)
I delight in books that piss on convention and pull it off. The plotless, the strange, the experimental. City of Saints and Madmen makes all that I read so far sound perfectly ordinary and reasonable. Of all the books I’ve ever read it is, by far, the oddest and the most experimental of them all. It very slightly resembles The Gray House in the sense of slowly discovering a world while reading (and that was the recommendation that made me pick it up), its use of unreliable narrator, and ...more
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.
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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.
Michael
Jan 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Sandi
Mar 17, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  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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Scott Rhee
O Ambergris, city of a thousand mushrooms, land of rape and money, home of the Festival of the Freshwater Squid, the town that never attenuates temporally nor adequately, a vision of pure hallucinogenic wonders, the city of saints and madmen!

In all the world, Ambergris stands as a beacon of hope and mystical wonder; built on the ruins of an ancient conquered paradise by the first of the great Cappan John Manzikerts, whose lineage would rule Ambergris for generations.

Yes, the history of
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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
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.
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Drew
May 01, 2008 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 ...more
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,
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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
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Rob
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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agata
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: weggegeben
A difficult one.

Worldbuilding: excellent, honestly. I could walk you through Ambergris right now.
Language and style: ah, what a wonder.

I'm not really sure what I enjoyed more. The writing or the world.

Storytelling: Well... You know, a bright new world is a good thing and painting that world with all those magnificent words an even better one. But there has to be a story somewhere in a book of several hundred pages.
There has to be at least one likeable person, flawed like everyone of us mortals,
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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.
Leo Robertson
If you want metafictional/autobiographical dark fantasy, read "Lanark" by Alasdair Gray instead. (I know you could probably read both, but don't.)

After I finished the first novella in this collection, I was so excited by the prospect of a full book of novellas like it. Even though I thought this was one big novel in its own right—it's actually a loosely linked collection of novellas in the city of Ambergris. Okay fine, so I couldn't lose myself in the world like I thought I'd be able to, but a
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Pixelina
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!
Monica
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one is very strange, like most of VanderMeer's work, but I really enjoyed it. More detailed review to come.
Oliver
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
I really, really, REALLY wish this book was good. Unfortunately, it sucks.

The structure of this book is fascinating, and I haven’t really seen something like it: I saw a Goodreads review of the next book in the series describe this one as “patchwork,” if I recall correctly, and that’s an absolutely apt word to use. It’s a portrait of a fictional city—Ambergris— that has been Frankensteined together using alternate history, alternative biology, short story, letters, and magazine articles. At one
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8,243 followers
NYT bestselling writer Jeff VanderMeer has been called “the weird Thoreau” by the New Yorker for his engagement with ecological issues. His most recent novel, the national bestseller Borne, received wide-spread critical acclaim and his prior novels include the Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). Annihilation won the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Awards, has been ...more

Other books in the series

Ambergris (3 books)
  • Shriek: An Afterword (Ambergris, #2)
  • Finch (Ambergris, #3)
“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.” 14 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.” 5 likes
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