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The Drowning City

(The Necromancer Chronicles #1)

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  2,437 ratings  ·  242 reviews
Symir -- the Drowning City. home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers. And violent revolutionaries who will stop at nothing to overthrow the corrupt Imperial government.

For Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, the brewing revolution is a chance to prove herself to her crown. All she has to do is find and finance the revolutionaries, and help topple the palaces
Paperback, 351 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Orbit
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Average rating 3.41  · 
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 ·  2,437 ratings  ·  242 reviews

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Apr 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, fantasy
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths.

The Drowning City by Amanda Downing is an ambitious book with a penchant for compelling prose and a gray characters, centered in a beautifully rendered city with a Southeast Asian flavor. While it did not fully realize its potential, I must give credit to the author for aiming high and nearly reaching her lofty goals.

Symir. The Drowning City. A trading metropolis filled with pirates, revolutionaries, and spies, constantly in fear of being washed away by the mi
May 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rbrs, babble-added
Pre-RBRS #12

This is a serviceable fantasy. There was nothing I can point to that was awful or wrong, but it was just...plain. If I'd read it a few years back, I probably would've liked it quite a bit. I'm just not wild about multi-volume epics just because they're multi-volume epics anymore.

The author renames cultures for her world, mostly Filipinos and Egyptians, but there were also Romans and I think Russians (maybe that one popped up in the 2nd book?). I can't remember the new names so I'll u
mark monday
May 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy-modern
well, it started okay. this review will be rather short and lame because honestly the good parts of the novel were fairly short and the rest was rather lame. the first third starts out well and i was willing to suspend any criticism of the surprisingly weepy protagonist because the atmosphere was wonderfully evoked and the protagonist's profession - a necromancer who is also a rebellion-fomenting spy! - is fascinating. "The Drowning City" itself is an absorbing place and the frequent use of magi ...more
May 19, 2011 added it
Shelves: fantasy, i-quit
I can´t read this. It sounded great, so great I spent (wasted) one of my precious 2011 book buying slots on it (don´t ask. Or do, if you want a long explanation). The setting is interesting, seems like there is a political intrigue plot, and the tone of the story overall reminded me a bit of early Flewelling. All of these are good things for me. But the writing was driving me mad till I finally decided to just quit and go read something else.

Probably it´s me, not the author, lots of people seem
Apr 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Two things make this book for me: 1) interesting worldbuilding and 2) oh my god the female characters. They're everywhere! Doing everything! With, like, complexity! And depth! And differing motivations!

In fact, I think this book fails the reverse Bechdel test (I don't think there are two male characters who have conversations about anything other than the women in this book), and I find the change so unexpected and delightful, I'm beside myself.

Extra bonus of all the women but one (who is the m
Sep 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I forgot exactly how I first came across _The Drowning City_ by Amanda Downum, but I’m sure it was from browsing online rather than in a brick & mortar bookstore. I might have been checking out Orbit’s (the publisher) website. Either way, the cover art was attractive, and what immediately grabbed me was that it promised an Eastern setting. No offense to the 90% of fantasy that isn’t of the urban subgenre, but I tire of stories taking place in medieval Europe (no offense to Europe either). The pr ...more
Apr 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Again, I wish Goodreads had a slightly more granular rating system, because this novel is a very solid 3.5.

Amanada Downum's debut is more of everything than I was honestly expecting-- more strongly executed, more vividly described, more willing to blow anything and everything sky-high in a startling climax. Not many first-time novelists are willing to smash an intricate setting, but Downum fuses confidence with unpredictability and goes for the gusto in her last act. The Drowning City is an intr
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
I first read this ages ago, and quickly followed it up with the second book, but then didn’t get onto reading the third book. So I felt like I needed to refresh my memory. The first book wasn’t my favourite, and I still think the second is probably stronger, but the idea of a spy necromancer running around fomenting rebellion remains pretty darn cool. The cultures are a little bit… umm. They feel like very obvious analogues. But I give Guy Gavriel Kay a pass for that, so Amanda Downum can have i ...more
Dec 15, 2009 rated it liked it
I would say 3 1/2 stars; and the reason I am being generous this was the writers first novel. There was definitely room for improvement. My biggest complain was the lack of a glossary so I found myself a bit twisted around by the names and words she used in her story. If you are going to create a world with as much culture, as she did, WRITE A GLOSSARY. Seriously. It was frustrating.

I like the main characters because she doesn't sit around feeling sorry for herself; however I felt, that there co
Sep 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Isyllt Iskaldur. Necromancer and, not to put too fine a point on it, spy, sent to the city of Symir with a couple of bodyguards to stir up trouble and incite the locals to rebellion against the rival government that rules the area. (Because that always works out so well.) Naturally, complications ensue ... There are wheels within wheels, factions within factions, ghosts rebel and otherwise, and all manner of unexpected challenges.

This was one I've had my eye on for a while. I'm glad I finally to
Dec 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
The Drowning City is a book with a terrific premise and marvelous world-building, and a promising start to a new fantasy series. I was particularly pleased to encounter a fantasy with an Asian flavor rather than the tired old pseudo-European feel; Downum lived in Southeast Asia for many years, and this experience no doubt brings an authenticity to the setting. Isyllt Iskaldur is a necromancer and a spy, who was sent to the city of Symir to stir up political unrest. Symir is in the land of Sivahr ...more
2.5 stars. This was an ambitious first novel at best. Downum clearly has a beautiful way with words. Passages like the following really resonated with me:

Excitement hummed in her blood, dizzied her worse than any wine. And that was the true reason she was here, the reason she would go where she was sent, no matter how ugly the mission. Not for king and country, not even for Kiril, but because danger sang to her like a siren, and after the first giddy brush with death, the rush of knowing that
May 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011, 2012-recreated, 2015
I don’t often have a sense of loss after finishing fiction—I shelve the world and move on to another. After reading this and its sequel I wandered around with the unsettling feeling that some large and well-written component of my life had disappeared.

The magic is complex and well-thought-out, the politics are dense and entertaining, and the cultures are analogous to the real world but dissimilar enough that it doesn’t feel lazy. Some surprising subcultures and customs make appearances, most not
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sf-fantasy
I picked up this novel from the library shelf on impulse.

But I can't finish it. It's not that the writing is bad, which is why I've given it two stars. Usually, if I can't finish a book, it gets one star. But there's nothing here that's engaging me on any level, and I don't want to waste my time with it when I have so much on my shelf that promises to be more interesting.

Obviously, I'm not recommending The Drowning City but I wouldn't want to deter anyone from reading it. It may be just the thin
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
The reason why I gave it two stars was because I found Amanda Downum's style of writing to be a bit confusing. It's been a long time since I've had to do so much re-reading. Even with the provided map, I found it hard to place characters and places. At one point, I was positive the "Khas" was a country.. but then later thought it was an ethnic group.. but then got the impression that it was a city or fortress? I definitely think Downum could have better described characters and places better. Al ...more
Jared Shurin
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amusingly, the copyright page of my ebook says:
Copyright (c) 2009 Amanda Downum
Copyright (c) 2008 Brent Weeks

A copy/paste typo, clearly, but, for a moment, I was pretty impressed by Weeks. Entertainment I knew he could do, but progressive, political, multilayered, post-colonial espionage? That seemed a little out of his wheelhouse.

This is definitely for those who enjoyed Seth Dickinson's Baru Cormorant, Daniel Abraham's Long Price, Mark Charan Newton's Drakenfeld or even Douglas Hulick's snea
Jul 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I picked up The Drowning City somewhat on a whim, this morning. A couple of my friends loved it, a couple didn't like it so much but loved the second book, so I thought I would be reasonably likely to enjoy it, but wasn't in a hurry to pick it up. I read it in one day, though (six sessions altogether, taking only two and a half hours in total), and while I wasn't utterly compelled to keep reading -- I was fine with stopping and playing Persona PSP for a good chunk of the day -- I wasn't forcing ...more
Sep 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, fantasy
Extremely recent debut. A second world southeast Asian-ish fantasy. Forensic necromancer comes south to the drowning city to secretly foment revolt. Cue a lot of spy back-and-forth, dueling strategies of violence and nonviolence, imperial politics, elemental magic, and a demon.

An interesting book that I wasn't all that interested in. It happens that way sometimes – you're reading, and you think things like hey, that's a nice image, and this is more complicated than I was expecting, and ooh, volc
Sep 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book frustrated me quite a bit. In theory it sounded great, the summary was interesting, the plot seemed fun and I loved the idea of a necromancer spy. In reality it fell flat. The story was slow going, the writing style felt clunky, and the characters annoyed me. Especially the main character. The necromancer part was cool, but as for the spy part... well for someone who was supposed to be amazing she seemed to be decidedly bad at spying. She was constantly crying, tripping over things, an ...more
This was a book tailor made for my taste; I struggled to get into it several times and finally fast read it and nothing improved; naming conventions that are jarring and wooden prose with no narrative flow; no more books in this series for me
Fantasy Review Barn

Three people aboard a trade ship enter the city of Symir. The purpose of their journey is not benign; finding and funding the terrorist organizations that could take down the city. Isyllt is a necromancer from the north looking to slow Symir’s expansionist ways. She is joined by two body guards, Adam and Xinai, the latter being a native with very bad memories of the city. Even early on she realizes the horror of what she is working for, for success will mean death of innocents
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a decent escapist fantasy, if you’re looking for a setting that hasn’t been done to death. If you’re looking for memorable characters, though, best look elsewhere.

Over the last several years there’s been a push for more diversity of characters and settings in fantasy, and it looks like Downum was listening. The Drowning City is populated mostly by non-white characters from a South-Asian-inspired culture – with a fantasy twist, including ghosts and spirits. The setting is this book’s big
Yolanda Sfetsos
Jan 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
This is the first book of The Necromancer Chronicles. When this cover first caught my eye, I decided to read a little more about the story. And once I found out the main character was a necromancer, I just had to read it.

The story is set in the city of Symir and features Isyllt Iskaldur, a necromancer and spy sent on a secret mission to find and finance the revolutionaries. But as soon as she gets to Symir things start to happen. Bad things. So much that the book is told in three different point
Feb 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: paper, reviewed, fantasy
It took me until about 2/3ds of the way through the book to really get to the gotta-read feeling. The last third moved along pretty well.

I was really convinced through most of the book that it was going to end up being "What These People Need is a Honky", but it veered away from that, thank googly. At least mostly.

I also have to give props for "good and bad are complicated". It's so easy to get sort of essentialist, especially when you are writing about guerilla warfare. Ends, means, and motive
Dec 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy-high, fantasy
This is quite possibly the best piece of original high fantasy I've read in...just about forever. Rich, detailed worldbuilding, an intricate plot, characters with complex motivations, and, rarest of all in fantasy literature, more strong, capable women than you can shake a stick at. The only downside I could really see is that there are so many characters that it was hard to keep track of them at first. I think I'll want to reread the book so I have a better grasp of who's doing what at the begi ...more
Jan 25, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fantasy
I've tried to read this book so many times because it seems like it would be amazing. It looks great, the summary is great, yet it falls flat on it's face. The characters are not special, the pace is off, the names are horrible, and the way the author describes things makes it even harder to read. It took me awhile to get into this book, and it felt like I had to physically force myself to read it. Calling it a struggle wouldn't even begin to describe the experience. I wanted to like it, which i ...more
T. K. Elliott (Tiffany)
The Good
The world in which the delta city of Symir is set was definitely one of the better parts of this book. It's beautiful and potentially fascinating - to be honest, I would have liked more detail. There was just enough to make me curious about the history and geography of Downum's creation.

As for characters, while some people didn't take to Isyllt Iskaldur, I liked her straight off. Interestingly, though, she's not the incredibly kick-ass heroine fashionable that the moment. To be honest,
Mar 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Isyllt, a spy and necromancer, is sent to Symir, capital of a sort of pseudo-Asian fantasy nation currently under the rule of the same Empire that her own nation narrowly escaped from generations ago. Her duty is to destabilize the colonial government, thus distracting the Empire from invading elsewhere. She has various allies in this mission, among them Zhirin, the young apprentice of an old friend, who has joined the rebellion against the Empire. But also has many foes, among them the Empire's ...more
You know that Big Summer Action Movie, the one with lots of fun ideas and things blowing up and zombies and spaceships and stuff? The one where about a third of the way through it, you get up to get a drink refill, figuring you won't miss much. Then a short while later, you get up to use the restroom, figuring you won't miss much. Then a short while after that, you need more popcorn...and on the way back to theatre #5, you decide to see what's happening in theatre #4 instead.(not that I endorse ...more
Aug 02, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-books, 2009-reads
I bought the book because I liked the cover AND the blurb.

I finished the book with very mixed feelings. The depiction of the world was above-average. I liked the prose too. But I totally failed to connect with the characters and the story. It was like sitting on a cloud and look what people are doing without any emotion. A thing which happens very seldom to me.
And I must admit that I'm not curious to read the next book in the series.

I would have given two and a half stars but that is not possibl
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“The daughter prays; the mother listens.” 5 likes
“Jodiya's shoulders shook in a silent laugh. Slowly, she lowered her pistol.
And flung the grenade she held in her other hand.
The fuse kindled in midair, burning unnaturally fast. No chance to outrun the explosion.
Instead, Isyllt caught it. She hissed at the pain in her left hand, at the precious fraction of fuse being consumed. As soon as iron touched her skin, he magic began to work. Rust bloomed across damp metal, corroding at preternatural speed. Within heartbeats the iron shell crumbled in her hands, black powder hissing to the ground. She turned her head just in time as the fuse caught the last of the gunpowder and sprayed her with sparks.
Her hand twisted with the pain of it, but she bared her teeth at Jodiya. "Again?"
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