Sarah Monette's The Virtu is a humdinger of a fantasy full of action, romance, intrigue, a library god, characters named Mehitabel and Zamyatin and, of course, wizardry. The Virtu is a sequel to Monette's debut, MŽlusine, but due to some skillful backfilling, can definitely be read on its own. Felix Harrogate is red-haired, handsome and somewhat less devilish than he used to be. He has been humbled by being used as a cat's paw to destroy the Virtu, a 200-year-old magical object which protected the city of Mirador by binding all the envious wizards to the city. Felix was driven insane in the process of the destruction and was exiled from Mirador. He left in the company of his half-brother, Mildmay the Fox, whose existence he has just discovered. Mildmay is a cat burglar who always knows where he is and has the enviable ability to find his way through any maze. His few words are alternately hilarious and blunt. When he thinks, I could do this. I'd been an assassin and a cat burglar, and I'd done harder things than get down a pillar with two arms, one leg, and a crippled hocus on my back, it is at once believable, nerve-racking, funny and horrifying. The brothers' relationship is deep yet mostly unspoken. After Felix heals and they journey back to Mirador, the brothers discover they share more than they would have suspected. Developments come thick and fast toward the end, leaving everything satisfyingly tied up. Monette loves language and is unafraid to delve into dark corners, which makes for a novel that is both poetic and suspenseful.

Gavin J. Grant is the co-editor of The Year's Best Fantasy &andamp; Horror: 2006 (St. Martin's).

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