Books Worth Re-reading

“This is the worst story I know about hocuses. And it’s true.”

This is the first line of Sarah Monette’s Melusine, the first of four books [0] in her Labyrinth series, a decadent tale of magic, murder, betrayal, and unearned loyalty, all limned in exquisite pain.
Lois McMaster Bujold once remarked that she develops plots by imagining the worst thing that could happen to her characters, and then making it happen. Monette took that idea to another level, delivering us two brothers. Felix, a powerful wizard of the ruling class, and his younger half-brother Mildmay, the most notorious cat burglar in the city.

What draws me to this story is the way Monette reveals her characters to us not only through their actions and circumstances, but also through their flinches, their scars, their past traumas, and their vulnerabilities. Each backstory slowly unfolds through hints and subtle references. Each new scene is rich with symbolism and meaning for the characters, and through them, for us. The reader is drawn into each brother’s viewpoint in turn, until by the end of the first book you weep when they weep, despair when they despair, feel their shame and rages and relief as if is your own. Felix’s descent into madness and visions; Mildmay’s isolation from those around him; half understood motivations stemming from fully realized fears.

It sounds depressing, but it isn’t. Their journey isn’t so much to Fight the Bad Guy, although there is that, too, as it is to conquer their own heartbreaks. We’ve all been there, it’s part of being human. That raw, unfiltered, unbowed humanity is what makes the books compelling enough to read and re-read over again.

[0] The others are The Virtu, The Mirador, and Corambis.

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