I wasn’t totally convinced that I was going to enjoy this Fantastic romp. A female brothel owner cum ex-mercenary isn’t generally my sort of go-to character, but I’d fleetingly met Gaie at Fantasycon and was impressed with her friendly, solid advice, so gave the book a go. I’m mighty glad I did. It certainly brightened up a really dreary week in March.
Babylon Steel, ex-sword for hire, ex… other things, runs The Red Lantern, the best brothel in the city. She’s got elves using sex magic upstairs, S & M in the basement and a large green troll cooking breakfast in the kitchen, and she’d love you to visit, except… She’s not having a good week. The Vessels of Purity are protesting against brothels, girls are disappearing, and if she can’t pay her taxes, Babylon’s going to lose the Lantern. She’d given up the mercenary life, but when the mysterious Darask Fain pays her to find a missing heiress, she has to take the job. And then her past starts to catch up with her in other, more dangerous ways.
Well, reading through the reviews of this book, it seems something of a marmite number – folks either love it or hate it. I loved it. For starters, I thoroughly enjoyed the genre mash-up – the portals to various worlds happily rubbed shoulders with a medieval city/ancient Egyptian backdrop and there was a strong urban fantasy feel in the tone and writing. Great fun. Sebold also has the skill to pull off a dual narrative, one recounting Babylon’s past as an orphan serving girl who moves on to another, wholly different career – and the other plotline giving us the current slew of adventures that are engrossing our heroine. This structure worked perfectly and had me hooked from the first chapter. I also liked the variety of different races Sebold introduces and the quick-fire pace at which the book progresses.
Niggles? Well, I do think it a shame that Solaris saw fit to make Babylon white-skinned on the cover, when she is several times mentioned as being dark/copper skinned.
The world-building was enjoyable and unfolded through Babylon’s eyes with the fluid, pacy style that Sebold quickly established. This may be her debut novel, but she is clearly an experienced, skilful author, whose future work is firmly on my list of books to look out for. The ending had everything satisfyingly resolved – with a shock at who dies during the climactic action. I got to the final page with a real sense of regret that I’d finished the book and still wanting more. And if you are feeling grumpy and jaded with the current atrocious weather, search out this book and dive in.