I’ve had this book on my to-be-read pile ever since it came out but somehow never managed to read it. It turns out that it was my bad luck because it’s brilliant and now I have to go and read Ms Sebold’s other books: Shanghai Sparrow and Dangerous Gifts (another Babylon Steel novel).
Babylon Steel is a high-class brothel keeper in Scalentine, a place with many portals to other planes and a mixed population of humans and other races, furred, scaled and magical.. She’s a tough cookie, revelling in sex and always ready for a fight. She’s gathered about her a family of sorts: her cook, her guards and her prostitutes, plus there’s a police chief she can rely on for a good game of chess. She prides herself on running the best brothel in town, but she’s not having a good week. Her taxes are way overdue and sher’s not sure she can pay the bill. The Vessels of Purity, a strict religious order (of men) are protesting against brothels.
When the mysterious (and very attractive) Darask Fain offers her a job finding a missing girl, Babylon decides to take it, but there are complications. Neither Fain nor the missing girl are quite what they seem, but neither is Babylon, and Babylon’s secret past is about to catch up with her. Babylon’s past and present are told in alternating chapters, beautifully timed so that they both come together at exactly the right time. Babylon has a thing about young girls being taken advantage of and what she’ll do to help goes beyond money.
This book has a great cast of characters and there’s never a dull moment. Babylon has the knack of making friends and her contacts across the city are introduced both as characters and as part of the world-building. From lizard men and four-breasted hermaphrodites to Police Chief Bitternut who’s a were… but a were what… this is fascinating glimpse into the world of Scalentine as Twomoon approaches – a massive conjunction that echoes across all the planes of existence.
I particularly liked Babylon’s crew. Flower, the big green troll cook, Cruel and Unusual, a pair of siblings who cater for clients with ‘special tastes’, Laney the fae and Previous, the ex-mercenary who guards the door, but doesn’t do ‘upstairs’ work.. They don’t get much page time, but they are well drawn and sympathetic, particularly Previous.
What you think is going to be the main thrust of the story isn’t actually, but it looks as though it will re-emerge in Dangerous Gifts, which I’m looking forward to reading. In the meantime I thoroughly recommend this story. Don’t leave it as long to read it as I did.