Doctrine of Labyrinths: Book III
We’re back in the Mirador, two years after the events of The Virtu, and things have settled into a routine for our characters, though to call it a ‘comfortable’ routine might be pushing things. Felix is thoroughly enjoying being back in the limelight, casually tormenting his old enemies and wallowing in the adoration of the more impressionable members of the court. Behind closed doors, however, he’s having a considerably less enjoyable time: his lover Gideon is unable to accept Felix’s constitutional inability to be faithful, and Felix himself continues to be haunted by thoughts of his thwarted former master Malkar, as well as tormented by needs that he can’t admit to anyone within the Mirador and which keep clawing him back to the Lower City.
Mildmay silently chafes at his self-inflicted role as Felix’s silent, unnoticed, unappreciated shadow, forced to watch his half-brother psychologically disintegrating in front of his eyes. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Mildmay’s own dreams are troubled by memories of his murdered girlfriend Ginevra. His current girlfriend isn’t making life any better, and we understand that twice over because, in a departure from the last book in the series, we get to hear from Mehitabel Parr herself as well as Felix and Mildmay. She has found her feet as a successful actress in one of the city’s theatre troupes, a job that opens up many more romantic options than Mildmay, despite the latter’s undeniable appeal (yes, ladies, it turns out that, as well as being generally awesome, Mildmay is also a selfless lover: how far that can be called characterisation, and how much wishful thinking, I’m not sure). And one of Mehitabel’s options in particular is the kind of offer that even an experienced actress can’t refuse.
But she, like all our characters, has her demons. In her case these take the form of the Bastion’s spy Lieutenant Vulpes, who has found her out and is compelling her to stay true to her former profession as an informer. For his own part, Vulpes isn’t having the best time of it either. His bosses have ordered him, regardless of his own wishes, to seduce Felix Harrowgate in an effort to find out more about the workings of the Mirador, and exactly how crucial Felix is to its stability, but Vulpes is finding to his cost that Felix is several steps ahead in the game.
It sounds confusing and, to be honest, it is a little. There were so many storylines flying around all over the place that they didn’t always seem to fit logically together and what I was expecting to be the main plot – what the Bastion was planning, and how they were going to try to take Felix out, and what was going to come of that – seemed to be half-forgotten until the end. This did mean that we had the luxury of exploring lots of other pathways, such as the rivalries within Mehitabel’s acting troupe, or finding out more about what exactly Felix does like (which isn’t all that heart-warming), and watching Mildmay’s inevitable and much dreaded reunion with his Keeper. For me, though, it meant that the book didn’t really grip me in the same way as the first two volumes, when I was completely engaged in the story at hand. Perhaps the sudden proliferation of avenues was making a subtle stylistic comment on the importance of labyrinths in the plot, of course. But, if so, that was a clever idea that didn’t quite come off.
Thus, for me, this was a bit of a weak link in the series. Even Mildmay and Felix seemed a bit trapped in repetitive cycles of angst and I never felt quite as engaged with either of them as I did in the first two books, though the frequent feeling of wanting to hit Felix hasn’t gone away. Having said that (small spoiler ahead), I did want to give them both a big hug at one point: the prison scene at the end, where Felix’s armour finally crumbles and Mildmay is completely adorable in trying to comfort him even though Felix has spent most of the book being a complete swine.
I’m quite pleased that we’re going to be heading off for further adventures beyond the Mirador in the next book, and hopefully things will settle down again once we get back out on the road. I don’t know whether Mehitabel’s narration will continue or not; I can’t say I’ll miss it hugely if it doesn’t, but we’ll see.
And so… onto the next.
Last in this series: The Virtu
Next in this series: Corambis