Amnesty (The Amberlough Dossier #3)
by Lara Elena Donnelly
Published April, 2019, by Tor Books
Over the summer, Jackie at Death by Tsundoku and I did a buddy read of Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier trilogy, which includes Amberlough, Armistice, and Amnesty. We both loved the political intrigue and drama, as well as the complex characters Donnelly introduced throughout the books. We did discussions for the previous two books (which you can find if you click on the links above), and now we’re onto the last book, Amnesty.
Our full conversation included spoilers, which I’ve done my best to edit out, but be warned– there may be some series spoilers ahead. If you want to read the entire conversation, spoilers and all, check out Jackie’s discussion.
Jackie: The epigraph!!! This excites me sooo much for this book. The Graham Greene quote gives me hope that even we, the reader, might forgive Cyril. I have hope!
… but last time Donnelly turned this epigraph on me… so, maybe this is about Memmediv? Nope. Nope! I shall hold on to hope!!
Kim: I actually got excited when I saw that Graham Greene quote! I hope it holds true…
The book has skipped forward five years, and I wish we’d been able to see what happened between Armistice and Amnesty with the fight against the Ospies. It’s one thing to hear, “yeah, the war is ending, it’s great except where it’s not, and life is beginning to look like it might actually get back to normal”, and another thing to actually see it. I know the whole trilogy is about a specific handful of people who are often at the edges of the battle, but it would have been great to see Aristide roughing it while searching for Cyril.
Jackie: I’m actually quite glad we skipped ahead 5 years. I am not personally invested in the fight against the Opsies, except in broad strokes. I don’t think I would have enjoyed a Revolution-style story after the last two books. I cracked open this book wanting to know what’s been happening to Cyril and how this could possibly resolve itself well for him and Aristide.
Speaking of, Cyril and Ari’s reunion was not what I expected. What I love about it is that it’s been 8 years and it’s obvious both men have grown, changed, and seen things that will forever impact them. Donnelly never let us forget that. The adorably sweet, flirty, secretive couple that was Cyril and Ari is now trying to piece together whatever their relationship might have been and I love it. Who knows if they will succeed? But I’m aching to find out.
Kim: I mean I’m good with the time jump because this is a series about the characters, not about the war, but… Would have like to have seen at least a bit, seeing as how the end of Amnesty was gearing up to Aristide’s search.
Cyril and Ari’s reunion was not what I was expecting, either, but it was so realistic in light of what they’ve been through. Cyril’s obviously been through some trauma in addition to being a hated figure, so things aren’t going to go back to the way things were before.
I feel for Lillian, given Stephen’s behavior. He’s being such a teenager, and while I’d like to send him to his room, I see where he’s coming from, too. He’s in this school where he’s an outsider, money is an issue for the family, even though they’re living in this beautiful house, he doesn’t seem to have any friends, and puberty on top of all of that. Poor kid…
Jackie: Seconded. But to me, it’s not just Stephen I feel for– but the whole DePaul family. Lillian takes right after her mother. Wants a family but career first. It’s obvious that Lillian and Jinadh love each other. That was obvious in the previous book. But trying to make this relationship work full-time? I don’t think either of them was really ready to fully commit to becoming a real family. They haven’t seen each other in years and need to know how to exist together as adults. Plus, throw a teenaged boy into the mix with the entire backstory of both sides of his family and now we have a real stew. Stephen is actually in better shape than I expected. I see both Cyril and Lillian in him.
I greatly appreciate this representation of Family. Donnelly isn’t afraid to show us that the DePaul family isn’t perfect. They cannot magically make this all better, despite Lillian’s attempts to put up the physical facade at home. She and Jinadh are doing their best to recreate the pre-war DePaul family life, but look twice and you’ll see they are struggling just like everyone else. Lillian is putting up this facade personally, too, though I don’t think she realizes it yet.
Cyril is quite a puzzle. Even though we are spending quite a bit of time in his head, I cannot figure him out. It’s obvious that he’s experienced some extreme trauma. I greatly enjoy the little snippets we get from him occasionally in his inner monologue before he realizes he is reminiscing and shuts it down. Cyril is still such a mystery! I appreciate the regular comparisons to who he was as a child and in Amberlough, otherwise, I would have forgotten who he was as a person; who the original Cyril character truly was. Cyril has everyone walking on eggshells, and I dare say he is enjoying it. At least, when he’s mentally present.
Kim: Cyril… He’s still a bit of a puzzle for me. There’s childhood trauma at play (or teenagerhood? Is that a word?), but I don’t know if it accounts for the wilful self-destruction at work. It doesn’t seem like he’s bothered by the fact that basically everyone in Gedda wants him dead– not because they’re any better as humans, but because he serves as a convenient scapegoat, given that his actions helped tip the whole thing off.
Jackie: I see Cyril’s willful self-destruction as a manifestation of his PTSD. Most people associate PTSD with seeing terrible things in battle or physically harming others. I see Cyril as scarred eternally for how his actions destroyed a city. His teenage years made him a distant, cynical, indifferent man.
Because he is a DePaul, because of his family history and lineage, Cyril was expected to do great things. He went to a great school, he was more-or-less given a great job… As Garrick Ollivander says in Harry Potter, “After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things — terrible, yes, but great.” Cyril, without realizing it, fell into that trap. Hindsight is 20/20 and the man is carrying around ghosts without even seeing them. When we are in his head, we can tell those moments when Cyril starts to recognize the horrible things he has done and the damage he has caused, but he always immediately shuts it down.
Cyril’s characterization is masterfully portrayed, in my eyes. When we see Cyril from the outside, he is still cold and distant. Perhaps colder and more haunted, but we don’t get to see the churning of what’s in his mind. Seeing him through Lillian’s and Aristide’s eyes gives us a more holistic image of what’s happening to Cyril. Cyril is a most unreliable narrator, I think. But by coupling the external perspective with the internal, he is a more fully realized character. Still a puzzle, but fully realized.
Kim: Yes, definitely. He’s this character you go back and forth on– do you feel sympathy for him or not? It depends on who he’s with. He’s angry and snarly when he’s with Aristide (because of the guilt he feels for what he did to Amberlough for Ari’s sake?), but when with Stephen he sees a reflection of himself and tries to give Stephen the sort of attention that the boy needs and that he’s not necessarily getting from his parents, who are having troubles of their own. Cyril’s one of the most complex characters I think I’ve read for a long time, and I don’t think you’re meant to like him all the way through– or maybe even at all, depending on your own perspectives.
Cordelia’s presence in the story is fascinating, too. She’s presented as this saint– Cyril comments on it at one point– who is a complete contrast from Cyril. He folded and gave in to the Ospies, while Cordelia never did, even though she was an impoverished nightclub singer who never had the kind of training that Cyril had (or Aristide did, in his way). I guess it’s human nature, at the end of a major conflict, to find your saints and sinners, put the saints on pedestals and the sinners against the wall so the country can have their emotional release and begin to make some sense of it all.
Jackie: Agreed. I’d love to have more time with Cyril than we are given. He is highly complex and the jury is still out for Jackie as to whether or not she likes him. But regardless, he’s an astounding character.
I actually wish Cordelia’s presence-in-memory loomed a bit larger. For me, Donnelly missed the ability to really explore what a complete person both Cyril and Cordelia are, compare how different aspects of their characters have been cherry-picked to be brought into the fore, and how the world is using this for their own benefit. I would have liked Cordelia specifically to be more present. Often, I think we’re intended to assume Catwalk = Cordelia, but that never really clicked for me. By seeing more of Cordelia’s reputation in the eyes of Gedda, and comparing that to the memories of our protagonists, the concept of amnesty would have held more weight for me. In the end, I don’t feel like we get any amnesty at all in this book.
Kim: No, we don’t really get any real amnesty. There are plenty of loose ends at the end– just like there are in real life– so you get a sense of what’s going to happen and what the general opinion of Cyril will be in Amberlough’s future, but I wouldn’t call what’s happened in the end ‘amnesty’. But I don’t think it was mistitled at all. There’s some irony at work between the title and what ultimately happened by the end.
Jackie: You’re right. This whole book is about amnesty. While the true definition of the word focuses on the public view of forgiveness, this book also focuses on forgiving oneself and the forgiving of those who have wronged you. It also explores where people, campaigns, and governments can use amnesty as a tool to get what they want from the world. Forgiveness is powerful.