Lara Elena Donnelly's gay fantasy spy novel straddles a number of genres, but Amberlough is an audacious, hypnotic and completely compelling debut novel that never feels restrained by genre limitations or fractured by its reach. At nearly 400 pages, this is a hefty novel full of fascinating characters exploring oversized topics such as sexuality, music, culture, fascism, nationalism, class wars, revolution and love.

It opens with epigraphs from John le Carré and from Christopher Isherwood's fictional character Sally Bowles. So it's not surprising that the vaguely European city of Amberlough feels like noir-ish Berlin in the 1930s. The government is corrupt, the nightlife is decadent and a conservative, fascist organization called the One State Party (nicknamed the Ospies) is on the rise. Gay master spy Cyril DePaul works for the city's central intelligence and has been on desk duty since he was nearly killed on his last mission. Although shaken by the experience, he's convinced to go back into the field to infiltrate the Ospies. Complications arise when his cover is blown and he's blackmailed into working as a double agent to help sway the upcoming election to favor the Ospies. Amberlough is not a trustworthy city, but DePaul's only way out is to endanger the lives of two people he does trust: his lover Aristide Makricosta (the high-profile emcee at the very popular Bumble Bee Cabaret and a secret black market smuggler) and beautiful dancer Cordelia Lehane, who works with Makricosta.

Donnelly's exuberant and complicated espionage thriller is a delicious adventure that smoothly addresses timely topics such as diversity, nationalism, corruption and repression. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

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