Labyrinths inside your head: Sarah Monette’s Corambis

Corambis surprised me in a number of ways. It’s a good conclusion to the series though not at all what I was expecting. What I most want to say about it, without spoilers, is that it’s easy to lose sight of how well written these books are when gossiping about the characters. They are subtle and clever and funny and the magic is integrated with the world and I really enjoy reading them. There’s a third narrator in this book, blinded Kay, and there were times when I looking up from reading his sections and was almost surprised that I could see. The prose really is that absorbing.

So, Felix and Mildmay set off for Corambis at the end of The Mirador, and in this book they reach it. I really wasn’t expecting trains. I’m not sure I entirely believe that there are trains within walking distance of Melusine. I mean they’re magic steam trains, but they’re steam trains all the same, and they even have a metro system. I reminded myself that they have clockwork, but the fact that I had to keep reminding myself meant that they kept jarring me. Tech advances do not generally stop at political borders, even when you have an Alpine scale mountain range between. And the train is attacked by a giant robot, which I suppose is cool… and definitely another subversion of genre conventions, to have a steampunk country over the mountains.

Corambis and Caloxa gives us another nifty culture, and one much lighter in nature. As the magic in this world had noirant and clairant aspects, so do the cultures. Melusine and Kekropia are noirant, Troia and Corambis are clairant.

In this book, Felix learns better. I wasn’t entirely convinced by his change of heart, nor by the revelation that he was actually a martyr and not a tarquin, a masochist pretending to be a sadist. He defeats the fantome and the labyrinth machine by using forgiveness as a weapon, which I liked, and he finally got rid of Malkar’s rubies. I also really liked Mildmay being cross because Felix hadn’t told him Thamuris was alive and they were seeing each other in the Khloidanikos—though I was sorry that we didn’t ever find out what the Khloidanikos was for.

I was delighted to see the obligation d’ame broken and the way they continued to stay together. I liked seeing Mildmay learning to read. I liked all the detail of his story. And I cheered when I got to the line “This is the best story I know about hocuses, and it’s true.”

If there’s an overall plot to these books it’s the story of how Felix got over himself and how Mildmay learned to trust himself. That’s an unusual plot, not just in that it is in fact character development and not plot, but in that where the plot is character development it’s usually about how someone grew up. But this is really a story about people, not labyrinths, though there are certainly lots of labyrinths in it—the one under Summerdown being a particularly nasty example—unless they’re the labyrinths that are inside people’s heads. Maybe they are, and Felix and Mildmay find their way out of them and go off to be happy in a nice lighthouse, and that’s why this is the end of the story.

I’ll be watching with interest for whatever Monette does next in any genre than I will read.

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