In many ways, this is a typical fantasy novel, complete with the young protagonist who is destined for greatness. What sets Duchess apart, however, is the well-played mystery of just who she really is, and precisely how she fits into this new world into which she's trying to gain entry. The setting is typical too, a medieval-like city, separated by class, but there's a novelty to the overall cascading design, as well as to the elements within it. The mysterious fog that regularly rolls in, disguising and transforming the town, is a very nice touch, enhanced by Duchess and her connection to it.
The plot had me concerned at first, with things working out a little too conveniently - and coincidentally. Once the story gets going, and new elements begin to be layered upon the opening quest/task, however, McGarry and Ravipinto find their stride and seem to settle into a smarter, more comfortable plot. I quite liked the way the story developed, and the conclusion managed to play to my expectations while somehow managing to surprise me at the same time.
I think what really put it over the top, though, was the intelligence and creativity involved in the dealings, negotiations, and manoeuvrings. This is a world where nothing is free, and no good, no service, and no snippet of information is exchanged without wringing every ounce of value from it. Manipulation is the name of the game, and just about everyone is playing it.
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