In this alternate history which is reminiscent of the 1920s, the glamorous city of Amberlough is home to underground agent Cyril DePaul and his lover, Aristide, club owner and cabaret dancer, along with a political tangle that threatens them all if the “Ospies” win election. Cyril is determined to keep Aristide (and his smuggling) from the eyes of the law, but when a mission goes awry, Cyril turns to an unlikely ally—Cordelia Lehane, dancer at the Bumble Bee Cabaret. The three band together for survival in a city that’s quickly falling to fascism, but in Amberlough, no one is to be trusted.
Donnelly sets the stage with bright lights, flashy dancing, and quirky slang, but more than the glitz and the show, this is a book full of political intrigue and corruption. The characters are delightfully gray in their ambitions and morals, so they certainly keep you guessing as their stories unfold. The dialogue is sharp and beautiful, though at times weighed down by slang without a reference as to what it might mean. A good portion of the plot moves forward solely with dialogue, so I had a hard time connecting with the city itself and wished we saw a bit more outside of the Bumble Bee Club. Gedda, the country in which Amberlough rests, is large, and the geography is a bit confusing at first, as are the politics, but once settled in, names and places become familiar as we follow Cyril into the fantastical yet darkened world of Amberlough. Overall, a rich debut with an incredible cast of characters.