At the end of the day, this has been one hell of a series. Each instalment has had such a distinct tone and vibe to it, from the seedy glamour of Amberlough to tropical exile in Armistice to, here, where our lead characters return to Amberlough and find it such a different, worn-down, bleaker city than it had been almost a decade ago in the first novel. The Ospies are gone, at last, but the violent resistance that toppled them has left the economy crippled. In the lead-up to fresh elections, the population is divided between a left-wing candidate who was involved in the resistance, and a right-wing candidate whose priority is “business”. The breakaway region of Tatié has broken away. And of the characters we’ve come to know over the series, not all of them are still with us, and of those who are still with us, they’ve been changed by the harshness of the years: traumatised, more dependent on others, yet also more inward-looking.
I thought this was a really strong conclusion to the trilogy, and enjoyed it just as much – for different reasons – as the first instalment. The big theme, I guess, is that now the dictatorship has risen and fallen, what next? A lot of the narrative revolves around Cyril DePaul, the double agent we last saw in the first book before he was presumed dead for many years. In the new post-Ospie Gedda, there is a popular clamouring for him to go to the gallows for his crimes. Cyril himself, guilt catching up to him, is prepared to go. But neither his sister, Lillian, nor his former lover, Aristide, are prepared for him to go, and so each of them starts working – manipulating the political figures who’ve emerged from the dust of the dictatorship and civil war – to try to get him free.
For me it was a compelling story. There were also a number of subplots I enjoyed – Cyril bonding with his nephew, for example – which helped enhance the story further. And like in the first part, Donnelly has done a wonderful job describing the city of Amberlough itself, with the focus this time being on how the city has changed – intersections blocked by construction work, the former nightlife district where the Bee used to be now being full of cinemas and restaurants, and all the bars cropping up on premises that used to be other things: strip clubs, “boring” restaurants, laundromats… Plus other changes too, like Aristide lacking all the contacts he’d had in the first book after years away from the city, or Lillian reclaiming her old family houses which have been pilfered of most of their furniture by the Ospie-era occupiers. The cast of this novel is definitely less “impoverished entertainers” and more “embarrassed old money” than the first book, but it’s still good even so.
This is a series that deserves to be much better known than it is, and I have to wonder if it’s the overt politics that’s kept it from getting the promotion it deserves. For my part I will say this: if you are even remotely interested in the rise and fall of fascism and you like thriller novels, you need to read this series if you haven’t already. It is fantastic.