Sarah Monette,
The Virtu
(Ace, 2006)

When we left them at the end of Mélusine, Mildmay the Fox and his half-brother Felix Harrowgate had reached the Gardens of Nephele. Felix's spell-induced madness had been cured, though Mildmay had sustained permanent damage to his leg. Now, Felix has decided that he must return to the city of Mélusine in order to repair the Virtu, the city's magical defense, broken by his magic -- though not his will. To do so, he and Mildmay must travel back across the width of the Kekropian Empire, a rather unappealing prospect.

This time, Felix is in control of the journey, and Mildmay finally gets to see what his brother is like when he's sane. The closer they get to home, the more Mildmay comes to realize that Mélusine and the Mirador are not going to be safe for him. With his damaged leg, he cannot return to his life as a cat burglar and he does not wish to leave his newly discovered brother in any case. But to step foot inside the Mirador would eventually mean his death.

Felix and Mildmay's journey plays out against a background of labyrinths, from the labyrinth they drew in the grass at Nera in the first novel to the underground labyrinth of Kekropia and the labyrinth of the Mirador itself. Greater powers than themselves -- including a death goddess -- seem to be stirring.

Like its predecessor, this novel is narrated by Felix and Mildmay in turns, but there is never any confusion as to which character is speaking. Both men are reprehensible, and yet totally engaging and sympathetic to the reader. This takes a great gift, which shines through on every page of The Virtu (and Mélusine, for that matter).

Nor is characterization the only talent on display here. Carefully detailed worldbuilding, right down to two differing -- but synchronized -- calendar systems, also helps to keep the reader enthralled.

According to her weblog, which can be accessed via her website, Monette has sent the next book in the series, The Mirador, to her editor. Unfortunately, it will be some months yet before readers can return to this brilliantly illuminated world.

by Laurie Thayer
2 September 2006

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