In a tropical country where shadowy political affairs lurk behind-the-scenes of its glamorous film industry, three people maneuver inside a high stakes game of statecraft and espionage:
Lillian, a reluctant diplomat serving a fascist nation,
Aristide, an expatriate film director running from lost love and a criminal past,
and Cordelia, a former cabaret stripper turned legendary revolutionary.
Each one harbors dangerous knowledge that can upturn a nation. When their fates collide, machinations are put into play, unexpected alliances are built, and long-held secrets are exposed. All is barreling towards an international revolt…and only the wiliest ones will be prepared for what comes next.
If you’ve been unfortunate enough to interact with me for any length of time, you’ll know that one of the books that I adored in 2017 was deco-punk spy thriller Amberlough. I’ve reviewed Amberlough in the past, and I’ve yammered on about it at length on Twitter, Reddit, and everywhere else.
For those who don’t know, Amberlough was a debut novel that followed the stories of three individuals — a gay double-agent master-spy, a nightclub emcee/smuggler, and a cabaret dancer — as the eponymous Amberlough City is targeted by a radically-conservative and homophobic facist political party. Their struggle to survive in the wake of a facist uprising captured both my imagination and my fears, and this emotional response coupled with the underlying and all-too-realistic social and political metaphors meant that Amberlough was one of my favourite reads of 2017.
Armistice picks up a few years after the events of Amberlough (which I’m going to leave vague for spoiler reasons), and again features a cast of 3 main point-of-view characters. Aristide (the emcee) and Cordelia (the dancer) return, and Lillian DePaul steps into the role which her brother Cyril (the spy) had previously occupied.
Lillian is at the centre of the plot. She is a unwilling press attaché for the previously mentioned facist government, who are not above using her 8-year-old son as leverage. When her boss suspects that one of her workmates is selling weapons to a separatist movement, Lillian is forced to take up the role of a spy. The parallels to her brother run deeper, as certain things come to light which tempt her to turn double-agent herself.
Aristide and Cordelia are changed as a result of the events of the previous book, and the tone is also slightly different. This is a quieter and more introspective story. The focus is more on the exploration of character than the exploration of concept. Both of our returning characters are different. More deliberate. Damaged. We follow them as they struggle to put the pieces of their lives back together and move forward.
The story doesn’t take place in Amberlough City, which is a shame considering how lively and aesthetically-strong that setting was. Having said that, the absence of the city lends Armistice a strength of its own. The glitz and glam is no longer there, and that void hangs over the novel like a cloud, offering a contrast between what was and what is.
Our new setting is the tropical and royalist country of Porachis, which has a female-dominated culture. Porchasis is ruled by a queen, and it’s the women who go out to earn a living on the building sites, and the men who have to endure unwarranted glares and “casual” sexual harassment. These little twists and touches are where the author’s brilliance lies: small changes from our own world which cause you to think.
However, Porachis is only shown in glimpses. The majority of the story takes place within one of two buildings, something which I believe to be a thematic choice to emphasize the sense of confinement and oppression felt by the characters.
Armistice is a small and intimate story, fuelled by conversations and revelations. It doesn’t have the explosive plot of the first, but you get the feeling that it’s setting up for something bigger. I love these types of character-focused fantasy-of-manners stories, and if that sounds up your alley, you should definitely check out both Armistice and Amberlough as soon as you can.