Amnesty, the final book of Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier, returns to Gedda after the fall of the fascistic Ospies, picking up in that tremulous, unsure time after a revolution. In Amberlough, we watched the criminal and compromised agents of Gedda work at cross purposes to one another against a background of the rising tide of fascism. In Armistice, the centrifuge of the police state flings the major players out of the country and into various forms of exile: freedom fighter, propagandist, publicist, presumed dead. In Amnesty, they all come back to their devastated homeland to roost—a place changed by the ravages of war, and not even slightly for the better.
This novel is about that tenuous period in a country’s history when it must pick itself back up and carry on after brutal, unforgivable civic acts. It bears home the tough inexorable press of history through a series of relationships that we’ve watched bend and break throughout the earlier books. The moral ambiguity of what the country, and its people, had to do to survive an authoritarian state is front and center, but this is not some philosophical treatise nor the bloodless recounting of civic facts.
The emotional through-line of the series has been (arguably) the relationship between Cyril DePaul and Aristide Makricosta. When we met them in Amberlough, during the rise of the Ospies, Cyril was an intelligence agent (read: spy), and Aristide a stripper and drug smuggler. There you’ve got a spy and an asset, or a kingpin and a mark, depending on your point of view. Cyril and Aristide enacted a dubious affair, using their institutional reasons for keeping one another close as cover for their real affections. They were truly star-crossed lovers, separated in ways that felt permanent: Cyril presumed dead, Aristide making propaganda films in another country and working hard at drinking himself to death.
They are reunited in Amnesty, but there is no swelling music, nor a fade to black. Cyril moved from being tortured by the Ospies to being tortured by their opposition, not so much a double agent than a man with allegiances to whatever kept him from another beating. His aristocratic nose is broken beyond repair, and he compulsively pockets things—even just the butt of a half-smoked cigarette—because of years of hand to mouth living. Aristide, for his sins, is relatively flush, though the post-Ospies black market economy is changing back from gun-running to the more stable state business of drugs. His reunion with Cyril is one of the most fraught encounters I’ve ever read: they are both broken in their own ways, though some scars are more visible than others. (One scene involving a shaving razor made me want to jump out of my skin.) Their reacquaintance is just the beginning of a series of reunions, as Gedda’s lost are found again.
Cyril and Aristide travel separately to the DePaul country estate in Gedda outside of Amberlough, where Cyril was raised. The DePauls were politely wealthy; now they are living on the ragged edge of political connections and social inertia. The building, like the country, is in poor repair following the Ospie occupation, stripped of its valuables. Cyril’s sister Lillian, her foreign husband, and their disaffected teenage son are in residence. Lillian rode out the Ospies by working in a job something like public relations crossed with propaganda, and she’s trying to market those skills in the nascent post-revolution state. There’s a parliamentary election between a freedom fighter and an old school politician coming up, and she is trying (and failing) to be all things to both people.
Unfortunately, Cyril’s return to Gedda puts all of the moral ambiguity of the Ospie occupation on trial: he’s to pay for the country’s sins, a politically expedient target who will acquiesce to his own destruction. He’s eaten by survivor’s guilt and the less morally pure form of shame, and that the state would try to kill him feels just to him. The people around Cyril—his sister, his old lover—are unwilling to let this come to pass without a fight.
It’s in this conflict that we find the heart of Amnesty, a novel which is, after all, named after a political pardon. All of the principles have been changed indelibly by the occupation, but their motives are still as selfish and as personal as ever. Nothing about the ending feels inevitable, but it’s perfect in its imperfect way: an ambiguous end to an ambiguous beginning. The personal is the political, but maybe not the other way around.