The Drowning City (Necromancer Chronicles #1) by Amanda Downum
I picked this book up on impulse a while ago based on the excellent back blurb and a gorgeous cover, plus an endorsement from Jacqueline Carey, whose work I enjoy.
Isyllt Iskaldur is a necromancer and a spy sent to a neighbouring empire to stir a revolution, to keep the empire from turning its attention to her lands. She travels from her homeland to Symir with two companions: Adam and Xinai. They are traveling under the pretense that Isyllt is going to be training at the local mage haunt, the Kurun Tam. While at the Kurun Tam, she bumps heads with ghosts and Asheris, a mysterious and attractive fellow mage.
There are also several subplots: Xinai is from Symir and has to deal with returning to her homeland, a place she had to leave after her clan was killed. She reunites with old friends and gets drawn into one group of revolutionaries. Meanwhile, another group of revolutionaries, slightly less militant, are also stirring, aided by an apprentice at the Kurun Tam.
Amanda Downum has created a sumptuous fantasy world. I had to go over the first chapter a couple times because there was so much information and so many place names starting with S, and I started reading the book while I was sick, but it was well worth the effort. The world building is meticulous and rich and the characters all have unique personalities that emerge over the course of the novel. The storytelling is layered and takes lots of twists and turns, with an exciting ending.
There is a very real sense of cost in The Drowning City. Isyllt does not go through the novel unscathed, nor do other characters. There is a grittiness in Amanda Downum’s writing that makes everything feel quite present and true. I really loved it and can’t wait to read The Bone Palace.