Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

It is a sunny evening in London, today. I’m sitting at my desk with the mini-fan cooling me down and, okay, a cup of tea in front of me. Rain or shine, somethings don’t change.

Amberlough. Here is a book I ought not to be talking about. It is the first novel of an author named Lara Elena Donnelly who is American, and who until February this year I had never heard of.

So, how did our paths – so’s to speak – cross? Well, those of you follow me on Twitter (@secondachilles since you ask) will know that I spend most of my time thinking and writing about Alexander the Great.

This aspect of my work is divided into amateur historian (see my Alexander blog here) and creative writing. The latter is covered by my imagining of what Alexander and his closest friends would tweet about if they had access to Twitter during his expedition. Hence, I write the @AlexanderIII account here.

One day in February, Donnelly kindly followed Alexander. I don’t know if she still does but that doesn’t matter; the point is that after I saw the initial notification, as I sometimes do, I had a look at her bio. This led me to her website. Once there, I saw that she had just published her first novel and was immediately taken by its description. I decided to take a punt and bought the book from Amazon. The reason I mention all this is because I’d like to say that if you are an author, why not follow someone on Twitter; they may like what you do and without you ever saying a word – boom; you have a sale, a reader, and a fan. At least, that is what has happened with me.


So, what about the book? Amberlough is a spy thriller set in the fictional city of the title. There are two leads – Cyril, a gay police office and Aristide, his cabaret star lover. Neither of them are as pure as the driven snow and their lives get decidedly darker when a fascist political party called the One State Party (nicknamed the Ospies) wins an election to take control of Amberlough. The second half of the book, and particularly its final portion, is a true Dark Night of the Soul and Body for Cyril, Aristide and those close to them as the Ospies tighten their grip on power.

Amberlough draws its inspiration from multiple sources. John le Carré and Christopher Isherwood are very obvious models – Donnelly begins the book with quotations from their books (in the case of Isherwood it may be from the film Cabaret but lets credit him, anyway) – and in the case of le Carre is probably the reason I decided to take my punt as I love his books so much.

Amberlough owes a certain debt to the fantasy genre as well in that Donnelly doesn’t just tell a story but builds a world, one that not only has its own political structure and geography but colloquialisms as well. More on them in a moment. I am convinced that Aristide owes a little of himself to Anthony Blanche (Brideshead Revisited).

I’m sure I could go on but there’s no need. What is important is this: no matter how many wells Lara Elena Donnelly has drunk from, she has created a convincing and compelling world. Amberlough was originally meant to be a standalone novel. It’s encouraging that her publisher has recognised its value and commissioned two more books in the series.

I have to admit, though, reading the book wasn’t all plain sailing for me. Amberlough is rich in character, plot and language, and sometimes this made it to hard to keep up with it. I found keeping up with the characters’ use of colloquial terms most difficult to keep track of.

What I should have done is made a note of them as I read the book. More than that, though, I should have read it more regularly so that I didn’t read – forget – read – forget. I know better for next time – and, deo volente – there will be later in the year. I would very much like to read the book again so that I might pick up the details that I missed the first time round.

Was there anything I didn’t like the book? I think only the intrusion of one or two very obviously real life contemporary terms grated with me. Actually, there was just one: reaching out. This ugly phrase is, for me, still too new and ugly to fit into a novel set in an alternative universe. I assume that it has a more settled position in American English. (At this point, I have to admit that I did like the one Britishism that I spotted: the reference to a character’s flat rather than apartment).

Amberlough is a fun, intense, happy and dark, crazy and tragic read. After finishing it, I gave it an easy 8.5 out of 10 and still rate it that highly now. I think it is only available in hardback at the moment, but is worth whatever the hardback price is. When it comes out in paperback Amberlough will be even more worth its price. For now, though, thank you to L. E. Donnelly for giving Alexander the time of day and I look forward to book two next year.

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The Last of Us Pt.7

Sunday, 14th May 2017

I am writing these words on Wednesday, 17th May. I have to admit, I am really enjoying reading my tweets back and remembering what happened in the gaming session last weekend. Even though the session was sometimes quite a difficult one. Joel had to escape from the basement of a hotel with Infected (they whom I usually call zombies) after him, including the strongest of that ‘breed’, a bloater, who is very bad news to Joel’s health.

I really wanted to stay and fight but my lack of familiarity with the lay-out of the basement and the presence of the bloater meant that it was wiser to run, and run fast. So that’s what Joel did.

Eventually, he and Ellie escaped the hotel, and at the end, Ellie proved herself a hero by killing a baddie who was seconds away from killing Joel and took on the role of a sniper. The girl is only 14 but she is growing up fast.

Read my tweets on Storify

Credit Where It’s Due
Ellie and Joel in the hotel bathroom: Last of Us Wikia

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The Last of Us Pt. 6

Saturday, 13th May 2017

According to the time stamp on the Storify tweets, I played The Last of Us today for an hour and a half. I thought it was just an hour. The time flew by.

The highlight of the session were definitely Ellie’s puns, closely followed by her reaction to Bill’s porn mag.

The session ended with Joel vs a gang of men who had holed out in a bookshop. That was a really tense fight as towards the end, Joel’s health went as low as it could without him dying. If I didn’t shoot the man hiding at the top of the stairs, Joel would be for it. Fortunately, I didn’t panic and managed to kill the enemy. Beardy Dude and Not Ellen Page lived for another session!

Read my tweets on Storify here

Credit Where It’s Due
Ellie and the porn mag: You Tube

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The Last of Us Pt. 5

Sunday, 7th May.

This session of tweeting n’ playing The Last of Us was really enjoyable – partly because Beardy Dude (AKA Joel) finally got a weapon he could really take the fight to the zombies with but mainly because of the little details of the game that make it so much more than just a kill-the-zombies slugfest.

Namely, the church building and Bill’s (and Ellie’s) sexuality. My tweet discussion about which church/denomination the church building belongs to is frivolous, really, but discovering Bill’s sexuality (and Ellie’s, although this happened when I watched John of thejhnfiles play the game) meant a lot to me personally because representation is important.

As I say in one tweet, it doesn’t need to be obvious and in your face, for me, it just being there is enough.

Visit Storify to read the tweets.

Credit Where It’s Due
Portrait of Bill: The Last of Us Wikia

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The Last of Us Pt.3 Top Drawer

Saturday, 6th May 2017

Part Three of my tweet n’ play Last of Us experience opens with the inevitable Twitter typo. When will they allow us to edit our tweets?

So far as the game was concerned, early on I made an unwelcome realisation about where it was heading (probably. probably not at all) and things went downhill or, as you can see form the picture, foot-over-head from there on).

Read my tweeted progress on Storify here.

Credit Where It’s Due
Joel hanging upside down Video Games Source (You Tube)

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The Last of Us Pt.2. Shhh!

Friday, 5th May 2017

This is not Ellen Page packing heat

Read my tweets as I played The Last of Us last night here.

As I write these words, I am listening to Lady Gaga sing ‘He ate my heart then he ate my brain’. She is speaking in metaphors (I hope) but the zombies in The Last of Us do this literally.

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The Last of Us Pt.1 A Tale of Beards and A Girl Who Isn’t Ellen Page

I have started playing The Last of Us. This game and I go back a long way; well, to the last year or two. It started when I watched a fellow named John live stream the game as he played it on Twitch. John has his own blog, by the way; it’s much better than this one so why not pay him a visit here.

Back to the live stream. I enjoyed watching John play the game so much that I decided that one day I would do so myself. The only problem was I owned an Xbox and The Last of Us was a Playstation exclusive.

That might have been that except that late last year I came into a little money and so decided to treat myself – to a Playstation. After that, buying the game was only a matter of time.

The inevitable happened last weekend. To celebrate it, I started a new Twitter account that will be dedicated to my comments while and about game playing. Follow me @gettinggamed.

But if Twitter is not for you, fear not! I will be putting all my game tweets on Storify. Thus, why not visit there now to read: The Last of Us Pt. 1?

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