Title: Armistice (Amberlough Dossier 2)
Author: Lara Elena Donnelly
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: May 15th, 2018
Page Count: 400 (paperback)
Lara Elena Donnelly’s debut Amberlough was a dazzling story of decadence, sex, and the embrace of art in the face of authoritarianism. But readers who dive into Armistice expecting more of the same thing–strippers, cabaret dancers, forbidden passions–may end up being a little disappointed. This sequel is wholly focused on characters–some old, some new–as they try to deal with the fallout of the ending of the first book. So we don’t get the “let’s-rip-our-clothes-off” brand of sexiness, but what we do (eventually) get is some open communication between the characters. Which, frankly, is even sexier–both in real-life and in fiction.
In Armistice, the setting has been moved from Gedda to Porachis, a warm tropical country reminiscent of India. Three years have passed since the fascist Ospie Party have taken control of Amberlough and the rest of Gedda. Cordelia, once a performer at the Bumble Bee Cabaret, has now become the leader of the infamous resistance/anarchist group known as the “Catwalk.” Aristide, once an emcee and secret smuggler, has turned refugee and film director at a studio in Porachis. Lillian is the last of our protagonists and unlike the other two, we’ve only known her by name in the first book. She’s the sister of Cyril DePaul (Aristide’s lover) and she’s been taken under the thumb of the Ospies as a diplomat. Circumstances draw these people to one another and their past and present agendas tangle together into an unruly mess.
We’re immediately introduced a slew of new and old characters, and there are many connections (social, political, personal) that you have to keep track of, which can get a little overwhelming. It doesn’t help that it’s been over a year since I’ve read Amberlough; it took me a while to remember who some of the side characters were.
As with the first book, the main characters are fantastically well-written. I came into the story feeling ambivalent about Lillian, but Donnelly has written her with so much care that it’s hard not to be intrigued by her. Yes, she’s working for the enemy. But she’s also a mother whose son has effectively been hostage to elicit good behaviour from her. Like Cyril, her loyalties are being pulled at both ends, and you can’t help but feel for her. Cordelia and Aristide are not the same people that they were three years ago. With Aristide, it felt like I was getting to know him for the first time. He’s shed his stage persona and has become more serious and gruff. And we see depths to him–grief, anger, love–that we never really got a chance to see in Amberlough, and I loved every bit of it. I did, however, find myself missing the Cordelia and Aristide of the old. And this isn’t a criticism of the book, but a praise, because we’re meant to miss them. Lament the fact that a fascist government has smothered so much of their vitality.
I did feel that the first half of the story was a little slow–much of it is spent getting all the characters together in the same place. And we also never really get a good sense of what Porachis as a country looks like. As with the characters, I found myself pining for the vibrant atmosphere of the Bumble Bee (really, fascists ruin everything).
All in all, this is a different but great sequel to one of last year’s best debuts. Whereas in Amberlough things spiraled down to ruin and disaster, in Armistice, things steadily climb towards hope. It sets up the necessary groundworks for a potentially pulse-pounding, ulcer-inducing third book, and I can’t wait.
Thank you to Netgalley and Tor for providing a review copy.