I’m sure we can find a map: Sarah Monette’s The Mirador

The Mirador adds a third narrator to the two who have carried the story thus far: the actress Mehitabel Parr, or Tabby for short. She is, fortunately, another likeable character.

The first two books were about journeys and quests, this third book is set entirely within the city of  Melusine and largely within the Mirador, and almost entirely concerned with intrigue.

This is only the second time I’ve read this book. It’s hard to judge whether it would make sense without having read the preceding volumes—I think it probably would, though there’s a lot of backstory.

The Mirador is a really convoluted book with a lot of plots going on, some of them in realtime and some of them historical. I remember the first time I read it thinking that I’d understand it all when I read it again. Well, maybe next time. I’m not sure the plot with Kolkhis entirely makes sense. I mean Mildmay finds out what she’s doing only because she sets him on to it. Without that nothing would have been known about it until perhaps Septimus killed Stephen. I also find Mildmay’s investigations too unnecessarily hard until they suddenly become too easy. Can someone explain this to me?

What I do like is, well, Mehitabel and the theatre. I love all the mentions of plays, and I love the plays she performs in, and the whole theatre ambiance thing. I also find the way she’s trapped into working for the Bastion convincingly awful, and the way she becomes Stephen’s official mistress with her own suite in the Mirador works very well. I like seeing Stephen and Shannon through her perspective.

I also continue to like this baroque world and the depth and complexity of it. I like the names of the districts and the architecture. I like the academic magic and the way Felix fiddles about with it. I like the way the minor characters from the earlier books have time here to really develop.

Mildmay spends a lot of this volume trying not to think about things, and distracting himself from what’s important. His relationship with Felix continues to flare and splutter. I continue to enjoy his point of view.

And then there’s Felix, who angsts around in this volume being annoying even more than he does in The Virtu. In the earkier thread, Diatryma said:

The problem is not that he is unlikeable, it’s that this is not examined. Why do we not like him? He’s self-centered, angsty, mean, and not nearly as interesting as Mildmay… and because the story was built around him at first (I think Monette has said that Felix came first) it still centers on him uncritically. The story doesn’t examine whether his tragic angsty past excuses his present actions. I feel like he’s a character no one likes but everyone is supposed to like.

“Supposed to” here is difficult to answer. The text does seem to assume that the reader will be engaged with Felix and care what happens to him. We, like Mildmay, come to know Felix first when he is mad and vulnerable, and I think that does give me more sympathy for him when he’s appalling and arrogant. However, he really does behave really unforgiveably here.

What’s also interesting is that Mildmay is the one nobody within the story likes. And I ought not to like him. He has this past as an assassin and a petty thief and it isn’t at all glamourized. Yet I like him, and that’s partly because he’s engaging and a good storyteller and partly because he’s consistently shown as being kind and considerate of others. Mildmay is kind, and Felix is unkind. Does this mean I’ll forgive a kind character anything? Maybe.

Which brings me to another nifty and unusual thing about this series, the treatment of sex. Sex in fantasy novels is usually Sir Not Appearing On The Page. It’s usually heterosexual but may be occasionally committedly homosexual, generally only villains are in any way promiscuous, sex that is shown is generally part of True Love, isn’t explicit, and leads to a statistically unlikely amount of conception.

Monette however is explicit about sex and uses it as characerisation. In The Mirador you have Mildmay, who is deeply considerate in bed, so much so that Mehitabel thinks at one point he “seemed to forget that he too had a right to climax.” There’s Mehitabel who enjoys sex but is using it as a tool. And there’s Felix who is deeply into sadism. In the terminology of the books he is a tarquin. Now this sexual enjoyment of pain and domination is shown as something arising psychologically out of Felix’s history and psychology. It’s a problem in his relationship with Gideon, who wants to have an equal and faithful relationship and isn’t into that stuff at all. But apart from that Felix is shown doing consensual sadism and the text doesn’t treat it as a problem, but just as the way he is. And as characterisation, that is true of him outside the bedroom too. Felix is cruel in other areas, every so often he notices this and is upset about it, but he never changes what he does. Felix couldn’t be described as happy with himself, but he doesn’t ever put any sustained effort into changing. And that’s why I don’t much like him.

I feel as if I’ve been complaining a lot about The Mirador, so I want to finish by saying that I really enjoyed reading it both times so far, and that the end gets so exciting that I really didn’t want to put it down, even knowing what was going to happen.

citation

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