Babylon Steele, our eponymous heroine, is the owner of the best brothel in Scalentine, the Red Rose. Home to, and catering for, a variety of species and beings, both the residents and the clientèle are eclectic.
Scalentine sits at a crossroads between planes, three portals spilling out traders, tourists, diplomats and more besides. Babylon herself isn’t a native, having arrived as a mercenary with a past to run and hide from; a past that lots set to bring up trouble to her door.
And that’s not her only worry. Even brothel madams have taxes to pay, and Babylon is not exception, the only problem is finding the money, and tackling the pile of bills. And that makes her desperate. Pulled in to dubious circles to try and find a missing girl, the daughter of visiting diplomats, Babylon’s life only gets more complicated.
Babylon’s trouble is not just limited to the recovery of wayward daughters. In fact there’s trouble of an altogether darker sort, with the murder of working girls in the poor districts, and increased pressure on the Red Rose from the Vessels of Purity, waging a passive aggressive war against sin from behind masks and the protection of religion. The situation only becomes more fraught as Twomoon approaches and Scalentine is poised to become even odder than usual.
The book is brilliant, cover to cover (or in my case e-cover to e-cover), starting with the dedication. The myriad plots fit snugly together, without feeling overly manipulated. There’s an alternating narrative, with a flashback ever other chapter, which adds to the story nicely and builds tension. A particularly nice touch is the resolution of the story lines is staggered, avoiding the forced scene in the closing chapters where everything is concluded with one impressive denunciation with all the main characters gathered in a single room. I’m making allusions to crime stories because that’s one of the many layers of what is a multi genre piece. I hesitate to use the term chick lit, for fear of it being seen as a lazy pigeon hole for a genre books with a female lead, but it’s leaning that way, and hitting the high points of that bracketing.
Certainly the book is fantasy, although there’s little of the usual sword swinging brawls, the fights there are very nicely carried off. Magic is nicely rolled into the everyday, without a need to highlight it for spectacle. There is certainly a plethora of races, not all of which fall into the standard tropes. Elves, Weres, Lizardmen, Orcs (possibly) all make an appearance, along with some unique creations. The sex scenes are well written, and I’d not categorise the book as either erotica or smut, it manages to avoid those without falling into being cold or off-putting, quite a feat given the well advertised girl on lizard action.
The dialogue is good, keying in nicely to the characterisations. Each character remains nicely distinct and heroes and villains manage to be equally engaging. I’d be hard pressed to point at a wasted word, character or scene. The world building is impressive, and holds up very nicely. There’s certainly scope for much more of Babylon’s adventures.
I recommend Babylon Steel, not the typical fantasy by any stretch of the imagination, much like the lead, its covers hide more than a few pleasant surprises.