Book Review by Mel: Amberlough by Lara Elena Donelly

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amberlough lara elena donelly

Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donelly
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: February 7, 2017

Rating: DNF @ 34%


From author Lara Elena Donnelly, a debut spy thriller as a gay double-agent schemes to protect his smuggler lover during the rise of a fascist government coup

Trust no one with anything – especially in Amberlough City.

Covert agent Cyril DePaul thinks he’s good at keeping secrets, especially from Aristide Makricosta. They suit each other: Aristide turns a blind eye to Cyril’s clandestine affairs, and Cyril keeps his lover’s moonlighting job as a smuggler under wraps.

Cyril participates on a mission that leads to disastrous results, leaving smoke from various political fires smoldering throughout the city. Shielding Aristide from the expected fallout isn’t easy, though, for he refuses to let anything – not the crooked city police or the mounting rage from radical conservatives – dictate his life.

Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, a top dancer at the Bumble Bee Cabaret and Aristide’s runner, who could be the key to Cyril’s plans—if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means — and people — necessary. Including each other.

Combining the espionage thrills of le Carré with the allure of an alternate vintage era, Amberlough will thoroughly seduce and enthrall you.


M/M Pairing
Gay Character
Bisexual Character
Heterosexual Character
Spy Thriller
Alternate Universe

Review by Mel

From the very beginning this book was a struggle for me. Places, names, parties, countries are dropped in every other sentence without any explanation whatsoever. Even whole paragraphs like this are not a rare thing:

“Be serious, DePaul. The Ospies want Amberlough knocked down—they think we’re impeding trade, sacrificing Gedda for the sake of state interest. Pinegrove and Moritz have already endorsed Acherby, and intelligence out of both capitals says they won’t stop there. They want to impeach Josiah.”

And I didn’t understand anymore than you just did… Whom are they talking about? It’s just names with no meaning. Nothing is explained and the way it is done, world building doesn’t happen because all I’m left with are question marks. I found the first 10% especially tiring because of this.

After the 120 and something pages that I have read, I still have no idea what the world is like. How is the climate, for example? How do the buildings and streets look? Is there any green or parks? How does it smell? What clothes do people wear and what’s the food like?

The same superficial treatment can be found in the creation of the characters. At least concerning their inner perspective. They have nearly to no history. I don’t know what motivates them and their actions. I can’t get a grasp on the relationship between Cyril and Ari, either. Cordelia, while a promising, take-no-shit female character, so far remains obscure as well.

Now, the plot. I hear this book is a thrilling spy novel. It is not. It is a bore. There is absolutely nothing thrilling about it, reason being that the reader doesn’t know enough of what is going on to actually care about anything. It seems there is some political intrigue going on, but whatever… There are maybe three short scenes here that kept me going because I could glimpse a little bit of spark between the characters and after 25% it seemed that finally something was happening, but, alas, promises, promises…

It’s been an ordeal, a struggle, and I simply cannot bring myself to pick this book up again.


LARA ELENA DONNELLY is a graduate of the Alpha and Clarion writing workshops. Her fiction won the Dell Magazine Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy and she has been published in IcarusStrange HorizonsGrim Corps, and Mythic Delirium. Donnelly has worked as professional fire performer, belly dancer, and is knowledgeable in aerial acrobatics and burlesque. Amberlough is her debut novel.

Lara Elena Donnelly Official Facebook Page
Lara Elena Donnelly Twitter

You can purchase Amberlough from:
Tor Books
Barnes & Noble

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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.