City of Saints and Madmen : A Review

It often takes time to get used to a certain writer’s prose and style especially if this is the first time you’re reading something by him. Most readers get used to the author’s way of writing and can sometimes find it hard to shift to a different writer or a different genre for that matter. However, it’s a challenge for every book lover and voracious reader to consume as many books as they can even if it’s a genre they’ve not tried yet.

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer may not be for everybody. First, you have to consider the genre that it belongs to. They call it New Weird and the name may even turn people off immediately. It’s a genre that deals in fantasy, science fiction and surrealism, a genre that was also characteristic of the ghost and horror stories of earlier years. If you’re willing to immerse yourself in a totally new world and be drawn into the lives of the people and characters in that world, then by all means, pick up a copy of City of Saints and Madmen.

The second consideration is the style of the book. It is actually a compilation or an anthology of several novellas: “Dradin, In Love”, “An Early History of Ambergris”, “The Transformation of Martin Lake” and “The Strange Case of X”. You may have to get used to reading the novellas as longer versions of chapters in regular books, seemingly disconnected but contribute to the whole story when you finish reading all of them. It can take a while to get used to but once you get over the style and concentrate on the prose of Jeff Vandermeer, you won’t have a problem liking or even loving the books.

There may be a lot going on in these books, and if you also get the other editions and be introduced to additional new material that expands the world of Ambergris, you can certainly appreciate all the work that Vandermeer put into his project. Some people may not really “get it” or understand the complexities of the world but one thing is for certain. Ambergris, the world, is real for the reader and is so effectively written, described and formed that you really can believe that there is an Ambergris. That’s the force behind the success of the book and for that reason alone, you may just want to find out what you can imagine Ambergris to be.