Christmas, Freshman year… I got a book from my mom called City of Saints & Madmen. I’d heard plenty of things about it – and then I read it. Ambergris simply enveloped me. The quirky style of the stories just brought the place to life for me – The Festival of the Freshwater Squid, Albumuth Blvd, Hoegbotton & Sons… these places all just became real. I felt like I was walking down Albumuth as I sat in my greenhouse. I wanted more.
Then came Shriek. A very different style, a very different Ambergris – things were starting to get darker. The grey caps were terrifying and becoming more so by the page. The Shriek siblings seemed important though and threads from City started to pull together.
Now Finch. Vandermeer has said that this is the final part of the Ambergris Cycle, with the outside possibility of another novella down the line. I got the “Heretic” Limited Edition for Christmas – fun gold cover, a quote and signature from Jeff, some other fun little cuna treats. I was a little leery of getting into it – not for fear, it has gotten GREAT reviews – because I knew this would be my last visit. Sure, I can go back and re-read, but this is the last time I’d move forward with the city. Sad, considering the place is one of my absolute favorite fictional locales.
The novel is as dissimilar to the other two as they are two each other. John Finch, the main character, is a detective and the novel reads like a bizzaro Raymond Chandler novel. There’s a mysterious dame, a cynical and mistrustful force, and a main character who doggedly pursues the truth even at the risk of his own life. There are also grey caps – the mysterious frightening mushroom dwellers, now Risen and in control of the city – and mushroom guns and a mysterious rebel leader named The Lady in Blue. A fortress in the desert that we visit so briefly that makes me so desperate to see the rest of this world (the Kalif’s territories, the other cities, etc).
I loved this book. The punchy dialogue, the way that the pace just TAKES OFF like a shot. The framing of the interrogation was a little unnecessary in my mind, but when it gets folded into real time near the end, it was a rather rewarding moment. Shit has gotten bad in Ambergris and it wasn’t the city that I remembered. Just as Finch reflects on his past and how the city used to be, so too did I reflect on how I remembered it.
SPOILERS: The return of Duncan Shriek (that name, every time, it GETS ME) was the thing that pulled all three books together. It was kind of confusing and even now I still don’t quite get all of it. But regardless – his return was something of a weapon for the rebels and it made for a brilliant ending. Finch, sitting in a boat (reminding me of “Children of Men”), watching the rebels stream through the gate that the towers created… such a moment. Everything that happened, the jumping through “doors” and the gun fights, the transformation of Wyte… all of it. It was brilliant. I just wish that there was more – we were kept, like Finch, without the whole picture. This made for a more rewarding novel, for sure, and my objection comes simply from the fact that I want more!
Should this be the end of the Ambergris Cycle… well, it goes out on a brilliant note. Vandermeer is one of the smartest and most talented writers working today – GO READ HIS BOOKS.