Amnesty: Book 1 in the Amberlough Dossier

Written by Lara Elena Donnelly
Review by Kristen McDermott

The intriguing world of The Amberlough Dossier trilogy that Donnelly has built in her historical fantasy novels fades into the background as she brings the personal journeys of her main three characters to a close. There are advantages and disadvantages to this—the thrilling spy/noir atmosphere that made the first two novels so enjoyable is less present, shifting the focus to the first novel’s protagonist, Cyril St. Paul, and his efforts to make amends for the way his choices as a triple agent have resulted in numerous betrayals.

Readers of this volume will need to have read the first two to be familiar with these betrayals and the complex world they take place in. Amberlough is a version of the United Kingdom in the early 20th century (only free of conventional gender roles), which has just thrown off a fascist takeover by the One State Party, or Ospies. The three narrators of Amnesty—Cyril, his sister Lillian, and his erstwhile lover, bohemian impresario/smuggler Aristide Makricosta—are all struggling to find a meaningful role in peacetime.

The Ospies’ defeat has taken place “offstage,” as has the death of a major character from the first two novels, in the five years since the conclusion of Armistice, which may also frustrate some fans. Readers who are looking for political complexity may be disappointed, but Donnelly creates real emotional depth as the characters deal with the problem of loyalty, the nature of sacrifice, and the aftermath of loss—of loved ones, of nation, of self-respect. It’s a well-written novel even though somewhat lacking in incident, but fans of the first two volumes will welcome the chance to learn whether Cyril and Aristide can make their way back to one another across a wasteland of trauma and disappointed hopes.