Brothel owner and operator and former mercenary Babylon Steel has religious zealots, the Vessels of Purity, driving off her business, tax problems, and a secret past she'd rather keep hidden when casino owner Darask Fain pays her to find a missing girl. Only every step she takes brings her a little closer to her secret past. Can Steel find the missing girl before her past finally catches up to her?
Right off the bat, I'd like to say this book is a super nova of pure entertainment. Don't come in expecting to discover a lost work of Shakespeare.
Babylon Steel tells two stories, one of a brothel owner, the other of an orphan girl who eventually becomes the avatar of a goddess. I'm not going to come right out and say it but you can see where the tales will intersect. The story is largely a mystery. Without giving too much of the plot away, I like what Sebold has done with certain fantasy cliches like prophecies, chosen ones, and gods in this book.
Babylon is a fairly well-rounded character. She's tough but feminine. The fact that she's a prostitute that runs a brothel seems almost secondary. Actually, I didn't quite buy her as a prostitute until she had sex with the lizard man who had two penises. The supporting cast is fairly well done, from her staff at the Red Lantern to her uneasy relationship with Chief Bitternut, the head of the city watch. Scalentine, the setting, is one of the more interesting fantasy cities I've read about in recent years. It's located at the conjunction of multiple planar portals. It's no Bas Lag but few fantasy cities are.
Both the city and the writing style remind me of Simon Green's Nightside series quite a bit, only with less tedium and more smut. I'd say the writing is better than Green's.
Any complaints? Not really. Like I said earlier, this is a brain candy book. You probably won't find yourself quoting the prose to your friends while you're reading it. That being said, I think this will be a big hit with fantasy readers who also enjoy a bit of paranormal romance. Based on entertainment value alone, I'm caving in and giving it four stars. It was a lot of fun and I couldn't seem to put it down for long.