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Literature / Amberlough

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Trust no one with anything

Welcome to Amberlough City, the illustrious but corrupt cosmopolitan beacon of Gedda. The radical One State Party—nicknamed the Ospies—is gaining popular support to unite Gedda's four municipal governments under an ironclad, socially conservative vision.

But not everyone agrees with the Ospies' philosophy, including master spy Cyril DePaul and his lover Aristide Makricosta, smuggler and emcee at the popular Bumble Bee Cabaret. When Cyril's cover is blown on a mission, however, he must become a turncoat in exchange for his life. Returning to Amberlough under the Ospies' watchful eye, Cyril enters a complex game of deception. One of his concerns is safeguarding Aristide, who refuses to let anyone—the crooked city police or the homophobic Ospies—dictate his life.

Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, top dancer at the Bee and Aristide’s runner, who could be the key to Cyril’s plans—if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means—and people—necessary. Including each other.


Often described as Cabaret meets James Bond, Amberlough is set in a world the is not unlike our own, closely mirroring the hedonistic paradise of 1930's Berlin. The debut novel by American author Lara Elena Donnelly, it is stuffed full of Art Deco style, deception, brutality, romance, intrigue, and the steadily creeping rise of fascism that will be all too familiar. Amberlough is both a fun and dazzling world, and a glimpse into the glittering and a terrifying world of spies, strippers, and government takeovers.

Amberlough is the first in a 3 part series, named 'The Amberlough Dossier'. Amberlough, the 1st in the series, was published February 7th 2017. The second book in the series, Armistice, was released on May 15th of 2018. The 3rd book, Amnesty, is expected to be published in 2019


Amberlough contains examples of:

  • Agent Peacock: Aristide is a perpetually glamorous lounge singer and stripper, but he is also the head of a large smuggling ring and not someone to be messed with.
  • The Alcoholic: Aristide has become this by the second book
  • All Women Are Lustful: Cordelia makes no apologies for enjoying a healthy and free sex life.
  • Am I Just a Toy to You?: No one in this book is very upfront about their feelings, leading to a-lot of misunderstanding, but special mention goes to Malcom discovering that Cordelia was not exclusively sleeping with him. He seems both heartbroken, but enraged.
  • Art Deco: From both the cover design to the content within, you can tell the book drawing heavily on the Art Deco period and style.
  • The Beard: Once Cyril is blackmailed into helping the Ospies, who are, among other things, homophobic, he needs a fake girlfriend to keep their goodwill. Ari helps him out by asking Cordelia to be his fake mistress, though she figures out the "fake" part pretty quickly.
  • Beneath Notice: As Pulans secretary, and as a man in Porachis, Daoud is this in spades. Cordelia even notes at one point that he probably has the most knowledge of the goings on in Hadharati of all of them.
    • Jinadh falls into this category too, as a Porachin man and a reporter. He even uses this to his benefit to spy for Lillian.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In Armistice, it turns out that the Catwalk is in trouble, but not as much as the Ospie reporters like to say; Lillian, Jinadh, and Stephen are successfully reunited; and Aristide and Daoud are off to find Cyril, who may actually be dead this time but more likely faked it again.
  • Black Site: The warehouses around the docks become this for the Ospies during the take over of Amberlough. Cordelia is tortured in one, and Cyril is taken to be executed in one in the finale.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Finn has shades of this. First introduced as just as coworker of Cyril's that he uses as cover to get around the city, as Aristide escapes and Cyril is arrested, Cyril quickly realises that Finn is the one person who has enough knowledge to lead the Ospies to Aristide. Finns presence and death is a lynchpin of the whole finale.
  • City of Spies: It seems that in Amberlough everyone has an agenda, everyone has allegiances, and no one is going to say what they are.
  • The Dandy: Both Aristide and Cyril qualify. Aristide as a slightly more gender fluid version, with Cyril being the more clean cut and suited up one.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: While all three characters have some murky origins, Cyril takes the cake. Raised in a wealthy family, He got into some trouble in his youth that derailed his schooling, and at some point before the book starts he was burned while working undercover for FOCIS. He was captured by enemy forces, and tortured until nearly dead. He still has the physical and mental scars from this event.
    • Aristide started life as the son of a poor northern farmer, running to way to Amberlough when he was still very young. We're not told the full details of how he got where he did, but its implied he had to murder, blackmail, and sleep his way to where he is. There are definitely some dark skeletons in his past.
  • Disappeared Dad: Jinadh is this for Stephan, though not by choice. His society (as a man and a widower, he's basically supposed to be celibate forever) and Lillian's own ambitions means he has never been allowed to claim Stephen as his, and in fact has only met him once.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A clear allegory for Europe's slide to fascism in the 1930's
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After the events of Amberlough and Cyril's supposed death, Aristide has spent the last 3 years drinking his pain away.
  • Downer Ending: The first book ends with Cyril apparently dead, Aristide having fled the country as a refugee, and Cordelia left in the now completely overtaken Amberlough City.
  • Drag Queen: Aristide frequently dons more classically feminine clothing, makeup, accessories, and behaviourisms. In the world of Amberlough though the gender binary is much blurrier, so whether or not he is seen as 'dressing like a woman' in world is unclear.
  • Face–Heel Turn: A couple
    • After Cyril is made while on assignment, he barters for his and freedom by pledging to help the Ospies take over Gedda
    • Quite a few minor characters are turned to the Ospies side through blackmail and threats
    • Memmediv is first introduced as a background character who is devoutly loyal to Culpepper. Once Cyril returns from Nuesklend though, he soon realises that the only person with enough access to be the mole for the Ospies would be Memmediv. By part 3 of the first book, Memmediv takes centre stage as one of the more dangerous and present faces of the Ospie revolution.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Gedda is much like Germany, while Porachis is reminiscent of Morocco with a Bollywoodesque film industry, Liso takes on elements of other parts of North Africa as well as France, and the Hellican Islands have elements of Britain.
    • The Chuli seem a little like the Romani people.
    • The different regions and parts of Gedda also have some elements of different European locations. Farbourgh has some eastern European leanings. The disputed border between Tatié and Tzieta takes the role of the Rhineland, and Nuesklend has stylistic elements of dreary England, and the narrative role of the overtaken Poland.
  • Fanservice with a Smile: Most of the servers at The Bee are 'blush boys' and the strippers from the acts. And more than a few of them are on the game.
  • Fiery Redhead: Cordelia has quite a short temper, and she dyes her hair a signature shade of violent red.
  • Fictional Country: Gedda is an entirely fictional country based heavily on interwar Germany.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Gedda for Germany
    • In Armistice Porchais closely mirrors Morocco, and more specifically, Casablanca.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Though not our own world, the world of Gedda is heavily based of Europe in the 1930's.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In Armistice, Memmediv starts working against the Ospies and with the main characters. Its less of a true turn, and more of an 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'.
  • Hegemonic Empire: The ultimate goal of the Ospies.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Well ex-hooker, current stripper, but buried deep underneath her Jerkass exterior Cordelia is a very caring person.
  • Law of Inverse Paternity: Played with by Lillian in-universe. As a member of the royal family of a matriarchal society, Jinadh being revealed as Stephans father would cause a lot of problems, so Lillian quickly sleeps with a college and claims he is the father.
  • Local Hangout: The Bumblebee cabaret, often referred to as The Bee. As the workplace for 2 of the main characters, and a frequent haunt of the 3rd, it definitely qualifies.
  • Lounge Singer: Aristide is a singer and stripper at The Bumble Bee Cabaret.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Sofie Keeler's mother is not happy to discover that her daughter is married to a foreign man and a Chuli woman (whose own parents aren't too happy she married outside the Chuli, for that matter). In fact, she's so unhappy she frames it as a kidnapping when they run away together, which causes some trouble for the young triad.
  • Matriarchy: Porachis (and possibly Liso) are firm gender flipped versions of midcentury western gender standards. The woman are the heads of households and state, and the men are caregivers who are sidelined as 'pretty ornamentation'.
  • My Girl Is a Slut: No one except Malcolm has a problem with Cordelia's promiscuity.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: We never find out what name Aristide used to conduct his criminal business, but when he whispers it in another characters ear to prove he is more than the pampered drunk he appears to be, said character reacts with a pretty healthy amount of fear.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The rhetoric and rise of the Ospies are clearly modeled after the Nazi Party, from their hatred of the ethnic minority the Chuli to their suspicion of "foreigners" to their homophobia.
  • Never Found the Body: For both of Cyril's 'deaths'. First he is pulled out to sea and written off as deceased, and then when we next get wind of him next, he has been working as a spy for Liso, but is again suspected dead after he disappeared and his home is found abandoned.
  • Outlaw Town: The entire of Amberlough City qualifies, though the Theatre district is particularly bad.
  • Polyamory: A subplot in the first book revolves around helping a rich Ospie's free-thinking daughter escape Gedda with her husband and wife.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: The Ospies are masquerading as this.
  • Police Are Useless: The police are so corrupt that it's common knowledge that they can be bought for the right price. This is literally Cyril's job as Master of the Hounds- to control and manipulate the police of Amberlough. It is also one of the first things the Ospies want to get under control.
  • Port Town: Amberlough is a massive port city sitting on the mouth of the Heyn river.
    • Its position on the Heyn makes it the subject of a lot of hatred from the other states, as it mean that Amberlough reaps most of the benefits of international trade, can heavily control the flow of goods and money into the rest of Gedda, and can slap large tariffs on trade.
    • Dastya is a port city caught as the central prize in a war between two of Gedda's states.
  • Red Light District: Temple Street, home of The Bee, is mentioned as being perhaps the racier part of town.
  • Setting as a Character: The world build of Amberlough City herself seems much more like a living place than just a setting.
    • It's what makes the eventual downfall and destruction that much worse. As the Amberlough we know disappears, its like a beloved character dying.
  • Sexy Secretary: Daoud is Pulan's secretary and is often described as being very effeminately pretty, which he really doesn't like.
  • Sir Swearsalot: Though all the characters have the moments, Cordelia in particular is fond of foul language.
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: The Kelly Club that Müller frequents is very much this, though its just as likely to be filled with cutthroat business women as it is men.
  • Spy Fiction: Starts out as Tuxedo and Martini style sexy glamour romp, before steeply descending into Multi-Layered Drink territory, and finally ending on a more Bleach and Ammonia note.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: In the world of Amberlough both gender norms and sexuality are very fluid, with homophobia and sexism existing only as fringe ideologies. Men are just as likely to be found wearing makeup and a ballgown as women are to be catcalling in bars while wearing 3 piece suits. Two of the main characters are LGBT, and one of them is very gender fluid. Once the Ospies take over this is no longer tolerated.
  • Tuxedo and Martini: Cyril DePaul works for the Federal Office of Central Intelligence Services in Amberlough city as the 'Master of the Hounds'. His first cover when he goes back to being a field agent is a rich womanising playboy whose goal is to wine and dine the rich Ospies of Nuesklend.
  • Vice City: Amberlough City is full of crime, sex, and corruption, and for the most part the residents like it that way.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: To protect her career and Jinadh's standing with his family, Lillian spends the first 8 years of Stephens life keeping his true parentage a secret.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Cordelia is mentioned multiple times as being from Eel Town, a region in Amberlough City that is little more than a fishing slum.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: Both Cordelia and Aristide make their living as successful strippers. Halfway through the book they have a rather tense choreographed strip off on stage, while Cyril sits in the crowd watching.

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