This book has, I think, carved out a little piece of my soul.
This is partly because it caused me to have an epiphany that, even if it isn't particularly novel, was still needed. But it's mostly because of the characters.
They aren't Romantic heroes -- they take tumbles down passageways, and they get taken out by ignominous bumps on the head, and afterward they hurt for days or weeks, and that affects their moods and their abilities. Their lives are messy, and Isyllt admits "[I] had never set great store on honor -- it was transitory and subjective, and often directly opposed to practicality." But they live in a deeply Romantic world, where breaking an oath can literally cripple you, and the shadows are definitely filled with monsters. And so they love and they hate, they comfort and they hurt, they live and they die in epic fashion, every event a confluence of secret histories and dark magic and tangled politics.
They are exactly the sort of cast that should be the norm in fantasy, but is sadly rare: spanning three (human) races and a wider range of cultures, at least three generations, all social classes, quite a few sexual orientations (hetero-, homo-, and bisexual, plus polyamorous), the able-bodied and those with various disabilities, and three genders (male, female, and hijra, which includes androgynes, FTM, and MTF transgenders). Even the non-human race we see a decent amount of (the vampires) reflects this diversity. And while I'm sure that having more women than men as named characters was deliberate and pointed, for the most part this diversity is simply a reflection of how any city (including fantasy cities like Erisín) looks. It gives Downum's city a wonderfully organic feel, because it's clear that every person the viewpoint characters see has a history, a life outside the needs of the narrative.
And in this novel that wonderful, diverse, non-Romantic cast starts out investigating a couple of mysteries and ends up neck-deep in nefarious machinations against the kingdom -- a plot I always enjoy. The politics are delightfully twisty, and Downum makes it clear that the politics are always personal. There are no characters acting purely out of a lust for power or sheer evilness; all are doing what they think is right, based on the trauma in their past and their conflicting desires. It's not a perfect novel -- some readers will likely want more info about how the magic works, and I found some of the descriptions repetitive -- but right at the moment it feels like a great novel, one I will treasure.