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The Virtu by Sarah  Monette
Review by Mel Jacob
Ace Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0441014046
Date: 27 June, 2006 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The Virtu opens with Mildmay helping a wizard dying of consumption to divine the future. However, the attempt offers complications, including the near death of the diviner Thamuris. The danger to Mildmay worries Felix. He decides to leave their current haven and return to Mélusine. Both Mildmay and Felix have prices on their heads and enemies who will do anything to stop their return, but guilt drives Felix to repair that which he helped destroy.

In their adventures to restore the Virtu, Felix and Mildmay encounter old friends and enemies and find new allies. The complex and evolving relationship between the brothers drives a large portion of the conflict.

A wealthy family seeks their help when a young son disappears. During the search, a dark, dank labyrinth tests Mildmay's unerring sense of direction. Felix must face his fears of the Sim, the dark river that runs through Mélusine where as a child his Keeper immersed him as punishment. Other children died of such treatment, but Felix survived albeit with a life-long hate and fear of the Sim. With the help of Mehitabel Parr, the family's governess, they overcome ghosts, old memories, and hovering evil to rescue the boy.

Their travels take them to dangerous places where wizards are tortured and burned at the stake, and Felix must hide his identity. Discovering three old acquaintances among those awaiting execution in one city, Mildmay and Mehitabel rise to the occasion, but such efforts also exact a physical toll from both.

Felix and their growing band reach Mélusine safely. A death sentence awaits Mildmay in the city. He demands his brother cast a spell of obligation on him to avoid arrest and execution. However, the spell has unforeseen consequences.

Monette creates an interesting world with fascinating and complex characters. Mildmay is the most sympathetic character in the book. Some readers may find Felix's open homosexuality offensive while others might deplore his brother's constant use of the f-word. With so much interesting argot, it remains strange the author couldn't devise a better word, but it effectively shows Mildmay's lower class roots.

Despite Felix's arrogant nature, Monette makes the reader feel sympathy with him and to root for him in his struggle to mend the Virtu and punish his former mentor. The story moves along with enough action to hold reader interest. A few logical inconsistencies mar the ending, but otherwise a fun read.

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