Babylon Steel is a debut work of a British author Gaie Sebold and as far as genres go, - difficult to slide in a certain slot. It's a fantasy, but there are portals which allow all sorts of creatures to travel from world to world, so maybe it's sci-fi as well, but what's important, - it's a fantastic book!
Babylon is one of those heroines we rarely see in fiction - she is a brothel owner, she participates in the trade, she is very comfortable in her own sexuality and she is a good fighter being an ex-mercenary and all that...
Scalentine, the planet she lives on has many portals and a lot of visitors from many worlds, it's a trade planet really. Babylon's crew reflects the various riff-raff you can meet on such planet - there are elves, green giants with superb culinary skills, there is a gruff and attractive were-creature sheriff and many many more.
Babylon herself not only works in the brothel and looks after her crew, she occasionally helps out people with her mercenary skills - she works as a sort of a private detective, and when a client asks her to find a missing girl from a rich and powerful family, she agrees to do so because A) she would never leave an innocent girl in trouble on the rough streets of Scalentine, B) the brothel is behind on paying tax and she needs the money urgently.
The book itself is split between Babylon's colourful past and present. The reason for it becomes known when her past catches up with present, and Babylon has to deal with everything at once - old prophecies involving the missing girl and old enemies which need to be vanquished once and for all.
The prose is colourful and beautiful, the characters jump from the pages of the book and grab your attention straight away. The plot separation on to past and present was a stroke of genius. The book becomes a puzzle which slowly assembles itself and at last you can see the whole picture.
To give you a slight spoiler, Babylon is way more than she seems. She might even be an ex-avatar of a once powerful goddess...
I recommend it to both sci-fi and fantasy lovers, and to everyone who wants to try something new. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.