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(Doctrine of Labyrinths #1)

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  4,153 ratings  ·  412 reviews
Mélusine — a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption — and destinies lost and found.

Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But his aristocratic peers don't know his dark past — how his abusive former master enslaved him, body and soul, and trained him to pass as a nobleman. Within the walls of the Mirador — Melusine's citadel of
Mass Market Paperback, 477 pages
Published June 27th 2006 by Ace (first published June 27th 2005)
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George What do you mean "but"? If sex scenes are appropriate--e.g., illuminating character, funny, romantic, suspenseful, disgusting, frightening--that's as …moreWhat do you mean "but"? If sex scenes are appropriate--e.g., illuminating character, funny, romantic, suspenseful, disgusting, frightening--that's as literarily valid as any other kind of scene that achieves the same desired effect.

If you don't agree, or if your personal taste or history prevents you appreciating such work, then this tetralogy, and many other current novels, are emphatically not for you. In which case I seriously--i.e., not sarcastically--recommend your looking into "cozy" mysteries. (Your local public librarian and/or the Net can provide you a list you'll never be able to exhaust, even if you insist on good quality.)

The sex that matters in this tetralogy is largely gay, and I believe the more specifically described occasions mostly evoke the darker emotions. Felix was a very young hustler, a "martyr" to other men's "tarquins", before being pulled from the streets in what was definitely not a true rescue by a thorough-going bastard who not only uses him as a catspaw but eventually <spoiler>gets to damage Felix's half-brother Mildmay in different ways</spoiler>. All of which is integral to this story.(less)

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Kara Babcock
May 12, 2009 rated it did not like it
Mélusine suffers from two narrators: Felix Harrowgate and Mildmay the Fox. I say “suffers” because Monette switches between the two perspectives more frequently than Bill Nye drops mad science truth. Each chapter is about thirty or fifty pages in this paperback edition, but perspective can happen as often as once every page. Sometimes the characters barely get a few paragraphs in before Monette switches to the other narrator. Consequently, instead of feeling like I’m watching two separate storie ...more
Alexis Hall
Oh God, struggled. Probably another case of not for me?

Amazing world-building, stunning writing. Kept reading basically for that, I think.

Just … nrghgh. Felix, submissive gay wizard? Kicks off the book by having a tiff with his pouty bf and running back to his abusive former master. Who, uh, then drugs and assaults him as part of a magical ritual that also drives Felix insane.

Basically, that’s a lot of queer vulnerability and a lot of queer suffering.

And I’m not going to get into the psychologi
Jun 26, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
Hrm. A hundred pages into this novel, I had to come back here to see if my friend's review was really is as glowing as I remembered it to be. I'm baffled.

I'm struggling to keep interested in this book. This is a poorly-explained world, where magical and social elements are introduced in passing, but not fleshed out; the book itself is structured with a bizarrely flip-flopping POV, reminiscent of a soap opera, which changes so frequently as to prevent me from getting interesting in either of the
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: biob
Rating: 3.5 stars

Melusine is a very difficult book to review, especially for a M/M book blog. As a high fantasy adventure, I would say this book is top-notch. As a M/M romance, I would give it a two thumbs…down. But regardless of how one would tag this story, my recommendation is this: patience.

Taking place in a fantasy world, the book follows two different characters in their own respective and separate yet slowly intertwining, plots. Felix is a powerful wizard of Melusine, with a past that he
Aug 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up on a recommendation from one of my favorite authors - Charlaine Harris - and I wasn't disappointed. Sarah Monette does a marvelous job pulling us into this new world. For instance, if the names she gives to months sound oddly familiar, it's because they are borrowed from the French Revolution's republican calendar system. This deft touch, in addition to many other captivating details, creates an alternate universe with a historical past that is both familiar and exotic. Hal ...more
This review seems full of nothing but criticism, so I'll frame it by saying that I didn't hate it, I actually enjoyed it, though you might not figure out why. Monette's involvement in recent blog affairs, plus her online present and most peeps in my environs feeling they have to read this book, made me hesitant to list it at all.

Lots of the genre-usual invented names right from the start, perhaps not overly much compared to other fantasy books, but still more than I think necessary, ever. The sp
Charlotte Kersten
CW for rape, sex trafficking, torture and abuse.

“I wonder what stories they have invented, to explain me when I cannot explain myself.”

So What’s It About?

Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But his aristocratic peers don't know his dark past — how his abusive former master enslaved him, body and soul, and trained him to pass as a nobleman. Within the walls of the Mirador — Melusine's citadel of power and wizardry — Felix believed he was safe. He was wrong. Now, the horrors
Jul 23, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: queer, fantasy
Fantasy. Something's rotten in Melusine and the Virtu, a collection of spells that protects the city's wizards, has been destroyed, sending the city into disorder. The story's told by two narrators: Felix -- wizard, drama queen, perpetual victim -- and Mildmay -- thief for hire, regular guy, and a hundred times less whiny than Felix. I hated Felix. I spent most of the book wishing he'd shut up and go away. He's a big wet blanket, cowardly and useless, and would be perfectly at home in a bad piec ...more
Mélusine is a fabulous debut fantasy novel, about a pair of unlikely heroes in a richly imagined world. Felix Harrowgate is a wizard of the Mirador, powerful and respected until a long-held secret is divulged which drives him back to his evil master, Malkar, and into insanity. Meanwhile, the thief Mildmay the Fox is drawn into intrigue when he meets Ginevra, a beautiful shopgirl who wants him to steal back some items from her former lover. Eventually, the separate stories of Felix and Mildmay co ...more
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was a beautiful, unexpected love. I have bumpy relationship with fantasy. Some of my all-time favorite books are fantasy, but at the same time I DNF'd more fantasy books than probably in any other genre. And I don't want to say that ah ha, 'Melusine' was a better book than all those I tossed away. It's just that it was a book that clicked with me. In every possible way. I saw in some other reviews the things that didn't work for people, and I understand it, but I think they were exactl ...more
Nov 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
MELUSINE is so unlike the usual fantasies that it deserves its own genre. With lyrical prose, Monette immerses us in the labyrinthine, often perilous, and class-divided titular city, where the wizards of the Mirador hold tyrannical sway. Magic is regulated here, deemed a privilege; and we experience the devastating consequences through the eyes of Felix Harrowgate, one of the two lead characters who tell the story in first person. Debonair and charming, with scathing wit, Felix is willowy, flame ...more
Mar 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
While reading this book, I started to think of it as a whimsical runner in a marathon. Sometimes it jogged, sometimes it sprinted, sometimes it stopped to chase butterflies in the field, but surprisingly, it never fell on its face, and when it frolicked gaily (fear my puniness) across the finish line, it still managed to look fabulous, so it gets four stars.

Metaphors aside, I know this book is part of a four-book series, but I agree with others reviewers on this site in that it felt like a lot o
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
3.5 rounded up to 4, because I liked the whole a great deal more than the individual parts. This introductory book to the series is definitely about character and world building, and I'm very curious to see where it goes next. ...more
I am reviewing a DTB version.

Wow! That was the longest prologue I've ever read!
Now I can go back to page 1 and start enjoying the book.
Many reviews that mention re-reads make sense now.


Few thoughts on the book, the writing, the characters, the shenanigans. No spoilers, just want to keep my outrage contained in the spoiler tags.

(view spoiler)
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of the book is flawless, but the second half is really a different story altogether, and it's really not quite as good. Still, I'll definitely be following Monette! (Melusine was her first book; she's already published two sequels, which I'm on the lookout for.)

Set in the dark-fantasy city of Melusine, which of course is full of decadence, crime, romance, wealth & glamour and dire poverty - not to mention magic and danger - the main character is Mildmay, a young, scarred, dangerou
The first in a series called the Doctrine of Labyrinths, I can confirm that the series is well named. The plot meanders in parts, gets dead-ended in others and whole sections of interesting areas and characters get split off indiscriminately, while the actual resolution of the book is in the narrowest terms possible.

Felix Harrowgate is an arrogant fop of a wizard whose life in the wizard's castle of Mirador in the country of Mélusine quickly takes a dramatic turn for the worse due to the machina
Jamie Collins
Mar 03, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Read again in 2016 (part of my annual holiday wallowing in re-reads) and I'm still in agreement with my original review, with perhaps more emphasis on the extreme angst, particularly at the end, good grief.

March 2012 review:
So Felix is a wizard who’s driven mad when his evil master uses him to destroy a powerful magical thingamajig. Mildmay is a thief/assassin who gets hired by another wizard to track down Felix, for complicate
Oct 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I struggled with this one some. I liked the two characters, and I particularly liked the way the author used Felix's POV once he was insane, but holy crap it needed a plot. Where were they going? What were they doing? How were they going to meet each other? Was the book description EVER going to happen? There were things that were happening along the way and each time we got a little more insight into the characters but there just didn't seem to be any point to the story. Ironically, about 250 p ...more
First Second Books
I’m finding this book especially interesting because the main character gets driven insane in the first quarter – and then remains one of the narrators for the rest of the book. But even though he’s insane, he’s still understandable – it’s like reading the world at a slant. I find it fascinating when you can get that across through writing style and description.
Aug 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2010
I haven't been reading nearly as much Fantasy as I used to (there was a time when it was ALL I'd read, excluding books for school or uni), but I have quite a few (understatement) on my shelves, unread. This one was recommended by a friend who had several sleepless nights in a row while she tore through all four books. Hard to ignore a rec like that! I know people have complaints about this book, but I felt like my faith in Fantasy was rekindled after reading this.

In the city of Mélusine, in Mara
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
After reading a very mixed bag of reviews, I've come to the conclusion that Melusine (and the whole Doctrine of Labyrinths) are books you either love or hate, with very little room in the middle. I confess I personally tend towards the former. The terminology is difficult to grapple with at first, because the style of narration leaves little room for explanation of the plethora of colloquialisms peppered throughout the novel. However, if you bear with it, it does become much easier to understand ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fab-16
There was a certain amount of clumsiness here. It took way too long to begin to care about what was happening to the protagonists, and way too long to develop the plot, there was way too much name dropping of irrelevant characters from ancient history, and way too many dropped characters and story-lines; but in the end it did manage to pull itself together into a book I wanted to keep reading (although from an agonizingly slow beginning the ending was almost rushed!). Yet now she finally got my ...more
Aug 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Dark, tortured fantasy fans, rejoice! Sarah Monette is here for you with a stellar new world, a wonderfully academic vision of magic (lots of different schools of thought, all of which think the others are nuts), obnoxious aristocrats, thieves, and two compelling protagonists who are destined to have a long, volatile, satisfying relationship.

Felix Harrowgate was plucked from the slums by Malkar, a powerful wizard (and an incredible bastard) and trained to pass as an aristocrat. On the night his
Kaje Harper
Apr 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fantasy
This is a wonderfully imaginative fantasy, beautifully written and realized. Although one main character is gay, the other is not, and this is not a romance. That doesn't mean it isn't infused with a stubborn, heartfelt, irritated, immovable commitment on Mildmay's part. And a flashy, extravagant, mind-damaged, egotistical, painfully-undermined caring on Felix's part. The relationship between these two men, as much as the progression of the plot and their individual characters, keep the reader g ...more
What a fantastic book! It took me at least a couple of hundred pages to get into the story and start to care for Felix and Mildmay, but then all of a sudden I couldn't put it down and desperately wanted things to get easier for the both of them. I've just started book 2, The Virtu, and also bought the other 2 books in the series, I can't wait to get stuck in! ...more
Nov 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(re-posted from http://theturnedbrain.blogspot.com/)

How is it fair that books like, well, I don’t think I need to name any names, I’m sure we can all think of at least one book that defies all laws of good writing and yet still has a huge fanbase. So how is it that books like that, with their sparkling vampires and their last suppers get printed and reprinted and reprinted again, while excellent books like Sarah Monette’s Melusine go out of print?

I had one hell of a time tracking this book down,
Jan 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: gay, gay-fantasy
This review should probably have accompanied a 5 star rating but it does not, intentionally so.

Had this been an entertainment-only attempt, I could write line after line with praises about the clever plotting, the fine, elegant writing, the accurate characterization, the originality of the setting, etc. etc. etc. This IS a good book, after all, a quality fantasy you might want to cherish (and read only when you are in the right mood: to enjoy it you need more than the standard attention).

Read while traveling. I didn't have a good reading environment for enjoying this until midway through, and then I was hooked. I need to reread the first half at least, though. I have a feeling I missed some important details.


Okay, I've reread enough to write a coherent review.

Mélusine was a much more intense, disturbing, and violent book than I was prepared for, and so reading it was in some places extremely disturbing. But if you don't get squicked by rape, torture, mindfucks, or insanity, t
Jul 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
This book is one part terrific novel, and one part huh? I definitely recommend you have the sequel, The Virtu on hand when you read it, because this is one of those books that feels like it was arbitrarily split in half. Although, honestly, there are ends left hanging even when you read both books, and now that I'm reading the third one, I'm still not certain they will be tied off. I found the world of Melusine to be gorgeously conceived and complex to the point of utter confusion---the calendri ...more
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My pseudonym is Katherine Addison. Katherine reviews nonfiction. Sarah reviews fiction. Fair warning: I read very little fiction these days.

I was born and raised in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the secret cities of the Manhattan Project. I studied English and Classics in college, and have gone on to get my M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature. My first four novels were published by Ace Books. I h

Other books in the series

Doctrine of Labyrinths (4 books)
  • The Virtu (Doctrine of Labyrinths, #2)
  • The Mirador (Doctrine of Labyrinths, #3)
  • Corambis (Doctrine of Labyrinths, #4)

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