Friday, 19 August 2011


Cherie Priest

Nurse Mercy Lynch is elbows deep in bloody laundry at a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when Clara Barton comes bearing bad news: Mercy's husband has died in a POW camp. On top of that, a telegram from the west coast declares that her estranged father is gravely injured, and he wishes to see her. Mercy sets out toward the Mississippi River. Once there, she'll catch a train over the Rockies and - if the telegram can be believed - be greeted in Washington Territory by the sheriff, who will take her to see her father in Seattle. Reaching the Mississippi is a harrowing adventure by dirigible and rail through war-torn border states. When Mercy finally arrives in St. Louis, the only Tacoma-bound train is pulled by a terrifying Union-operated steam engine called the DREADNOUGHT. Reluctantly, Mercy buys a ticket and climbs aboard. What ought to be a quiet trip turns deadly when the train is beset by bushwhackers, then vigorously attacked by a band of Rebel soldiers. The train is moving away from battle lines into the vast, unincorporated west, so Mercy can't imagine why they're so interested. Perhaps the mysterious cargo secreted in the second and last train cars has something to do with it? Mercy is just a frustrated nurse who wants to see her father before he dies. But she'll have to survive both Union intrigue and Confederate opposition if she wants to make it off the DREADNOUGHT alive.

Now that was tremendous! What a fabulous ride from beginning to end. This last year has put so many excellent books in front of me - Anno Dracula, the first Burton & Swineburne novel, to name just the first two that come to mind. This one carries on that winning streak.

This is my third visit to Priest's 'Clockwork Century' and whilst I very much enjoyed the other two this one was, for me, streets ahead. It's a romp of a book that never for a moment stands still. Mercy (a confederate nurse heading west to see her daddy in Seattle) leaves her job in a field hospital on her mammoth journey where via air, river and predominantly rail she experiences profound exposure to the politics, people and rigours of life on her continent.

She is an almost unlikely figure. A superheroine nurse unflappable and unstoppable yet as often being pulled along by the story she finds herself within as she is driving it. Her dynamism is nicely offset by the pragmatic cool of Texas Ranger Horatio Korman. A man made entirely out of glacial ice. Balancing these two is a supporting cast of well rounded and interesting individuals although the mad scientist was, maybe, a little cartoony.

The action scenes are both enormous fun and delightfully understated. They never feel heroic only futile, dirty and dangerous and you are never allowed to forget that they all have consequences.

The story is of course key and it's simplicity of purpose belies the complexity that is teased out over the course of it's 400 pages. The world Priest has created in the earlier tales is alive and impacting on her newer ones. The narrative rolls along and gathers momentum in most delightfully unexpected and appreciated ways .

I have been besotted by this book for the last few days and I've just emerged from it to discover that London is on fire with rioters looting all they can get. I'm too spaced to really focus and I have a warm fuzzy feeling that is probably not altogether appropriate given the news but that was a hell of a good book.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Study in Emerald

Neil Gaiman

Now this is one of my favourite things. I first came across this in my copy of Fragile Things but the version here is the audiobook read by Gaiman.

The story re-imagines the Holmes universe in line with a Lovecraftian setting whereby the old ones have returned and have dominion over humanity. The story finds a returning soldier (from Afghanistan) take up lodgings with a 'consulting detective'. He becomes the detective's companion and they are soon embroiled in the investigation of a death of a member of the Bohemian royal family.

The story borrows strongly, liberally and enjoyably from the Holmes mythos to produce a tale that is a ridiculous amount of fun.

I'm having to go out of my way to avoid giving anything at all away here so you'll please excuse if this review is brief but because Mr. Gaiman is a gent the story is available as a pdf below.

Anno Dracula

Kim Newman
Titan Books

In an alternate history of the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria has married Vlad Tepes, better known as Count Dracula, leading to a reign of terror, while, in Whitechapel, Silver Knife, a murderer of vampire girls, threatens the new regime.

Wow! Now that was a trip worth taking. Newman's reinvention of the Dracula mythos, indeed the whole vampire mythos, is a sumptuous and beautifully literate experience.

The basic conceit is simple. What if van Helsing and his followers had failed to stop the Count and he had fully implemented his plan to conquer and rule Britain? Here his marriage to Queen Victoria has brought all of the famous vampires out of hiding and has led to the adoption of vampirism by many within the country from politicians to beggars. Into this society comes the fear and outrage engendered by a spate of murders of vampire whores in Whitechapel by a killer christened first 'Silver Knife' and later, more famously (or infamously) 'Jack the Ripper'.

Newman makes no attempt to hide the identity of his ripper, it's one of the first things the book divulges and instead we are allowed to view, Columbo style, the slow advance of Charles Beauregard, agent of the Diogenes Club, as he investigates and eventually solves the crimes.

This is secondary however to the changes in both society and the individuals around Beauregard. The novel is bigger than a mere whodunnit. There is, in the great spirit of the Diogenes Club's most famous member (along with his brother and his author), a plan most devious, a plot most wonderful and a scheme most subtle that only the most indolent (no offense to Mr. Newman) could have conceived of it.

It's wonderfully written with subtle changes of pace and tone which carry you along as much as the plot. Newman's writing was only known to me through his articles in Empire and his excellent book on Apocalypse Movies so this was a real revelation.

A joy from start to finish. I'm very much looking forward to the second one now but that's not due until April 2012. in the meantime though (September) he's taking a crack at Moriarty which should be excellent fun.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


Gail Carriger

Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season. Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead. While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.

Ah now that was much more like it. After thoroughly and I really do mean thoroughly enjoying the first in this series I must admit to having been a little disappointed with the second. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't as good. Inevitable I suppose. This third one though was another good natured, frivolous, humorous, tea-loving, straight-laced, well-mannered melange of romp, romance and, eventually, romping (if you catch my drift).

The newly pregnant Alexia finds herself excluded from the pack, outcast from polite society and the object of concerted vampire attacks due to her condition. So, being Alexia she takes matters into her own hands and along with Floote and Madam Lefoux heads off to Europe to find out more.

Lord Maccon meanwhile has retreated into the bottle leaving Professor Lyall to deal with both the pack and B.U.R. Lord Akeldama has fled and the vampires are out for blood - specifically Alexia's. Lyall's increased role in this book is fine by me. I always have a soft spot for characters of his type - quietly and ruthlessly efficient with and unerring moral compass. His sartorial excellence doesn't hurt either. It is he who initially investigates the missing Akeldama whilst bringing Maccon back to sobriety and it is he who is left to explain about Biffy.

First stop for Alexia is France which introduces two new Brass Octopus scientists before she falls into the clutched of the Templars in Italy. It's here she at last uncovers a clue as to just what the baby is likely to be and why the vamps are so worked up about it.

The final act is split over several locations and is to the most part very satisfying. I think maybe Maccon was let off too easily by Alexia and the repercussions of Biffy's new furriness and how this will change relationships remains to be seen.

All things told however this one was a fun ride. Lot's of action, a bit of plot and some great interaction between the characters. I'm glad to say I thoroughly enjoyed this one again.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Osiris Ritual

George Mann
Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, imagines life can be a little quieter from now on after his dual success in solving The Affinity Bridge affair. But he hasn't banked on his villainous predecessor, Knox, hell bent on achieving immortality, not to mention a secret agent who isn't quite as he seems.... So continues an adventure quite unlike any other, a thrilling steampunk mystery and the second in the series of Newbury & Hobbes investigations.

The second of his Newbury & Hobbes Steampunk mysteries. I thought the first (The Affinity Bridge) was a fun, if a little flawed, romp through a fog-ridden London that mixed zombies, robots and airships into an entertaining neo-Victorian thriller. It's recommended for those looking for a more than satisfyingly pulp steampunk fix.

This second one wasn't as good as it's predecessor. The plot was a little rushed and lacked grandeur and scope but mostly i think he sacrificed too much of the world-building that was so well done in the first. I heartily approved of how naturalistic he allows the newly emerging technology to feel but half the joy (for me at least) of this sort of genre fiction lies in how the author interweaves technology and the subsequent cultural and societal changes into the narrative. I felt like I didn't learn anything new about the universe he's created and without that it may as well have been set (to an extent) in our own Victorian era.

That said though, Mann has an engaging style and the book was a fun, fast-paced read with a third volume still to come.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Five Fists of Science

Matt Fraction (words)
Steven Sanders (art)

True story: in 1899, Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla decided to end war forever. With Twain's connections and Tesla's inventions, they went into business selling world peace. So, what happened? Only now can the tale be told - in which Twain and Tesla collided with Edison and Morgan, an evil science cabal merging the Black Arts and the Industrial Age. Turn of the century New York City sets the stage for a titanic battle over the very fate of mankind.

The 'five fists' of the title are Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla and his (one handed) assistant Tim who, along with Baroness Bertha von Suttner (whose fists apparently don't count), create and attempt to sell a giant automaton that will, they think, end war and ensure peace.

It's their attempts to sell this ludicrous 60ft tall robot that make up the majority of this book. Their inability to persuade anyone of it's viability leads them to stage a series of hoax battles against 'conjured' demons that are actually electro-static representations of Tim in a variety of silly costumes.

Their antics soon catch the eyes of the fiendish cabal of J.T. Morgan, Guglielmo Marconi, Thomas Edison & Andrew Carnegie who are in the process of constructing a giant tower 'tuned' to attract real demons.

Fraction is a solid writer and is always readable. He does have a slight tendency to come across as a mini Warren Ellis - mostly in terms of dialogue - but he does it well and with ample originality so we certainly won't hold that against him. His story moves along at breakneck speed and is full of wit and some fabulous touches (Marconi being a stress eater for instance). At times the constant cuts and perspective shifts did get to be slightly annoying but it certainly stopped ones attention from wandering.

Sanders is a new name to me. I've not even heard of him previous to reading this. His art is rich and sumptuous. He has a fine eye for period detail and costume. The characters are expressive and the layout is easy and natural to navigate. The automaton is an absolute delight. It's gangliness portrayed wonderfully - the panel showing it on the back of a train being a favourite. The demons seem to be where his heart really lies as he lovingly renders whole hordes of these.

I think I would have preferred this as a novel (and that's no criticism of the art) as the depth of the characters and the added length would have allowed the story more time to breathe and for the story to develop at a more rounded pace. As I'm writing this I'm thinking about how much it reminds me of 'Burton & Swinburne in The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack' by Mark Hodder which had the similar premise of recasting otherwise famous historical personages into steampunk science heroes. The size of that book however allowed the author time and space to develop his themes and side-stories. Here large parts are alluded to but not pursued like Tesla's crime-fighting, Shadow style, at the opening of the book. Why is he doing this? Purely to test the guns? Surely there are less dangerous ways than that.

These are quibbles though, it's not a novel, it's a graphic novel and is confined by it's length. That length is perfect for what you get and this was thoroughly enjoyable. Shame there aren't more to come.


Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears - leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria. But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.

An Abundance of work commitments meant reading this second Alexia Tarabotti novel became quite a dragged out affair.

Not quite such an all round joyful read as the first volume this one tells the story of a curse of 'living' that first blights the afterlives of London's supernatural set before moving north to Scotland to afflict the remains of Lord Maccon's old pack. Alexia's investigation into this phenomena throws her into an adventure filled with spies, lies, assassins and intrigue.

The story this time is a little light. The set up is all in place for a rollercoaster romp but it never really delivers on this. The airship sequence could have been so much more than it ended up being and the climactic showdown was lacking in both derring-do and pathos. Too much time and effort was expended on Felicity and Ivy's bickering and nowhere near enough time was spent fleshing out the far more interesting Madame Lefoux. This leaves a large chunk of the book (the middle sequence) rather slight and unsatisfying.

All this negativity aside though I did enjoy Changeless. Carriger has a light touch and witty turn of phrase and the book was a fun way to spend a couple of sunny afternoons and the ending, whilst I have reservations (surely they (the core couple) must have contemplated the possibility of this knowing Alexia's powers - there are several references to everyone else having done so), certainly leaves everything wide open for the third book in the series.

Monday, 21 February 2011


Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire - and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Or will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

Now that was just pure unadulterated fun. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

Soulless is the first of three (currently) books featuring the stroppy, intimidating and really rather awesome (in the correct sense of the word) heroine Alexia Tarrabotti.

Alexia exists in a post-supernatural steampunk London filled with dirigibles, vampires and werewolves. Alexia herself is a preternatural being able to utterly cancel out supernatural abilities when in physical contact.

Having been quite rudely attacked by an unknown and lisping vampire whilst attending a soiree Alexia becomes embroiled in a plot to do all manner of beastly things to the supernatural elements within polite and refined Victorian society.

The book itself is as much a romantic romp as an adventure story. A fun mix of comedy of manners with swashbuckling daring-do. The plot of the book is solid if a bit thin but that's not where the charm lies. The real strength of Soulless is the central characters and the way they interact. Carriger has a lightness of touch and a deft sense of her protagonists that makes them utterly alive on the page. Alexia is deliciously modern but wrapped so strongly in the expectations and confines of her time that she is in constant battle to live her life the way she rightfully thinks it needs to be lived. Lord Maccon, the werewolf pack leader, government representative and hulking love-interest is a strong and unintentionally (on his part) comedic element whose emerging infatuation with this firebrand of a woman is driving him to rampant distraction and the oh so charismatic Lord Akeldama, well, he's just joy personified. I'd read volumes about him alone, think Mark Gatiss' Lucifer Box but with pronounced canines.

My favourite thing about this book though - it's a small thing in real terms but huge thing for me - is that this book contains, what I like to call, an ending, as opposed to just ending. Too often does a book get through the big set piece climactic battle / confrontation / expose only to then immediately fizzle out in a mad dash for the last page. Not here though as Carriger slowly wraps things up and allows us the luxury of seeing the aftermath of events (I almost cried along with Lord Akeldama as his wish came true) in much the same manner as we see their development.

I do think though that the cover blurb associating Carriger with Austen and Wodehouse is both lazy and detrimental making her sound anachronistic. Her prose is tight, energetic and very modern (as is her heroine) and, it must be said, it reminds me somewhat (although this is probably due mostly to my unfamiliarity with this specific end of the genre market and my perceived similarities between the principal characters) of Laurell K. Hamilton but without the vaguely creepy gun fetishism that always seemed to pervade that writers work.

On the shelf behind me I have the next two volumes of Alexia Tarrabotti The Parasol Protectorate novels and I am very much looking forward to getting to grips with them.

Friday, 18 February 2011


Cherie Priest
Audible Frontiers

Maria Isabella Boyd's success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty...she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago. Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn't pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials--essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay. Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who's been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea. And now it s Maria's job to go get him. He's dangerous quarry and she's a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice. And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.

I couldn't score myself a copy of the dead tree version of this as it was only published as a limited edition by some US micropublisher so had to settle for the audiobook.

This is the second of the Clockwork Century books that Priest has written. The third 'Dreadnought' (I love that word) is sitting on the shelf behind me waiting it's turn to be read. The first one, 'Boneshaker' was a cracking zombie(ish), gangster(ish), steampunk romp through a sealed Seattle filled with a poisonous fog that had turned most of the inhabitants into the living dead (yay!). It was good fun.

This time out Priest eschews such crowd pleasing concepts for a good old fashioned chase.

Maria 'Belle' Boyd (retired confederate spy) is hired to chase down escaped slave and sky-pirate Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey who in turn is hot on the heels of his stolen airship.

Both principles are cracking characters brought to life beautifully by quality voice-acting from both (one for him, one for her) readers (don't forget I'm listening to an audiobook here). The story is just the right side of complex to make for a good romp and there's more than enough intrigue and shenanigans to make it a great little read / listen.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Somnambulist

Jonathan Barnes

'Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it.' So starts the extraordinary tale of Edward Moon, detective, his silent sidekick the Sonambulist and devilish plot to recreate the apocalyptic prophecies of William Blake and bring the British Empire crashing down. With a gallery of vividly grotesque characters, a richly evoked setting and a playful highly literate style this is an amazingly readable literary fantasy and a brilliant debut.

Perhaps more magical-realist Victoriana than steampunk this startling little novel about the exploits of a fading magician / detective and his gigantic, mute, milk drinking associate as he investigates a series of unlikely deaths is maybe not an absolute joy but is certainly an intriguing one.

Whilst occasionally straying into the psychogeographical realms of Iain Sinclair, Barnes' tale is a stirring tale of deduction and destruction. Holmes is the obvious reference point here but is only that as Moon has a fully developed quirky personality of his own that needs no counterpart. The Somnambulist himself (the above mentioned milk drinker) is very much a peripheral character with minimal effect on the proceedings which makes his role as the title character a little confusing but then again he does have a cool name so why not. The setting, London, is treated as as much of a character as the flesh and blood (or whatever it is The Somnambulist is made from) ones and there are a number of odd and unusual characters revolving around the core that it makes for interesting reading.

The Somnambulist (the book not the character) is an entertaining enough read. Steampunk purists should probably stay away but personally I enjoyed it. As a novel it was always reaching, it didn't quite make it to where it was going but it never stopped trying and that was good to see especially in a debut novel.

Saturday, 29 January 2011


Cherie Priest

At the start of the Civil War, a Russian mining company commissions a great machine to pave the way from Seattle to Alaska and speed up the gold rush that is beating a path to the frozen north. Inventor Leviticus Blue creates the machine, but on its first test run it malfunctions, decimating Seattle's banking district and uncovering a vein of Blight Gas that turns everyone who breathes it into the living dead. Sixteen years later Briar, Blue's widow, lives in the poor neighborhood outside the wall that s been built around the uninhabitable city. Life is tough with a ruined reputation, but she and her teenage son Ezekiel are surviving until Zeke impetuously decides that he must reclaim his father's name from the clutches of history.

Having cut her teeth on a series of southern gothic ghost stories (the Eden Moore trilogy) Priest here turns her attention towards a steamier, or in this case gassier, genre with fine results.

Briar Wilkes is just about subsisting through punishing manual work on the outside of the high-walled death trap that used to be Seattle. Her life and reputation in tatters following the calamitous actions of her husband Leviticus Blue which had released the Blight Gas onto the city and doomed many of it's inhabitants to a life of poverty and hardship but many more to an unlife as the living dead.

It is from this existence that Briar's (and Blue's) son Zeke wishes to escape and the only way he knows how is by clearing his dead fathers name and that means going into the city.

Briar is a wonderful creation. Her reactions to her son's less than rational excursion and her subsequent travails as she attempts to recover him are so beautifully human and real that one cannot help falling for her. She is a woman remade in her own image, undiminished by the hand she has been dealt and meeting life head on. Zeke on the other hand is too much of a teenaged cliche full of undirected angst and naive bravado.

Life inside (and outside) the city is beautifully sketched and the book is peopled with a fabulous array of characters including dirigible flying sky pirates, sinister gangsters and all the different flavours of human flotsam and jetsam you'd ever be likely to find.

The story isn't perfect, there aren't enough zombies by a long chalk and the final confrontation (between whom I'll not say) is very rushed but it is, in spite of these points, still rather wonderful.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Martian War

Gabriel Mesta
Pocket Books

But what if the Martian invasion was not entirely the product of H. G. Wells's vivid imagination? What if Wells witnessed something that spurred him to write The War of the Worlds not as a form of entertainment -- but as a warning to the complacent people of Earth?

Mesta, or Kevin J Anderson as he's better known, here takes HG Wells and plunges him into the world of his very own fiction. He is plucked from obscurity and given a new role of utmost responsibility as an agent of a secret department with the British government.

Anderson attempts to weave a complex plot whereby Wells is brought into contact with Griffin (The Invisible Man) and Professor Cavor's miraculous Cavorite and informed of the imminent extraterrestrial invasion before being catapulted to the moon on a mission to liberate the Selenites from the invading martians. Whilst a concurrent story details the adventures of Dr. Moreau, and the non-fictional Percival Lowell, and their search to understand a captive martian.

Having never tried any of Anderson's work before I was intrigued both by the premise and the author but truthfully neither lived up to my expectations. The book was almost entirely lacking in drama or pathos - I ended the novel truly not caring about any of the characters - and Anderson's writing is inconsistent with the pace of the book varying wildly throughout and is intermitently either dragging you along through overlong passages or is leaving you blinking in it's wake as it races along hardly giving you time to appreciate the view.

The main problem for the book however is that it plays the same game as Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neil's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2 and comes out of it as very much the loser. If it comes down to a choice then you should always go with Moore but if you're just of a mood for a mildly entertaining spin through Wells' worlds then you may find something of interest here.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds

Manly W. Wellman & Wade Wellman
Titan Books

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless creation returns in a new series of handsomely designed, long out-of-print detective stories. From the earliest days of Holmes’ career to his astonishing encounters with Martian invaders, the Further Adventures series encapsulates the most varied and thrilling cases of the worlds’ greatest detective.
Sherlock Holmes, Professor Challenger and Dr. Watson meet their match when the streets of London are left decimated by a prolonged alien attack. Who could be responsible for such destruction? Sherlock Holmes is about to find out...
Manly and Wade Wellman’s novel takes H.G. Well’s classic story and throws Holmes into the mix, with surprising and unexpected results.

American father and son writing team conspire to mix the era's two greatest creations by setting Holmes, Watson and Professor Challenger (hero of Doyle's The Lost World) against those dastardly 'Martian' chappies.

The story is split into several parts with the perspective shifting throughout giving us tales of derring-do from Holmes, Challenger and then Watson for the last half of the novel at which point he takes over relating the tale.

It was solidly written and an enjoyable enough read. The characterisation of Holmes was way off portraying him as a friendly genius rather than the abrupt, rude and rather arrogant Holmes we know and love. He is however bursting with observations, intimations and deductions, as he should be. Challenger is the foil to this though as his egotism is so extraordinarily rampant that perhaps Holmes needed to be defanged. No point in defanging Challenger I suppose as readers are more likely to have Holmes as a reference point when venturing into these pages than the more obscure professor. Watson is very much in his bumbling persona here which is a shame as I always thought there was more to Watson than was often made of him in the non-canon or movie representations.

The one aspect of the book that I truly disliked though was the romance between Holmes and Mrs Hudson. I thought it was a nonsensical idea that only served to pad a thinly thought out plotline. Other than that a fun afternoon's read.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Pax Britannia: Unnatural History

Jonathan Green
Abaddon Books

In two scant months the nation, and all her colonies, will celebrate 160 years of Queen Victoria's glorious reign.
But all is not well at the heart of the empire of Magna Britannia. A chain of events is about to be set in motion that, if not stopped, could lead to a world-shattering conclusion.

It begins with a break-in at the Natural History Museum. A night watchman is murdered. An eminent Professor of Evolutionary Biology goes missing. Then a catastrophic Overground rail-crash unleashes the dinosaurs of London Zoo.

But how are all these events connected? Is it really the work of crazed revolutionaries, seeking the violent evolution of Magna Britannia? Or are there yet more sinister forces at work?
Enter Ulysses Quicksilver ­ dandy, rogue and agent of the throne ­ back from the dead. Aided by his ever faithful manservant Nimrod, it is up to this dashing soldier of fortune to solve the mystery and uncover the truth before London degenerates into primitive madness and a villainous mastermind brings about the unthinkable. The downfall of the British Empire!

Buckling his swash across this pulpiest of landscapes our hero, Ulysses Quicksilver, is a dashing young man of not inconsiderable daring do. He's equal part Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, d'Artagnan, Allan Quatermain and Batman (sans the gimp suit). Helping him serve Queen and Country is faithful family retainer, the improbably named, Nimrod.

It's quite hard to really find much to say about this book. For the most part it's world-building with a fairly obvious pulp adventure romp tacked onto it. It's enjoyable enough - Quicksilver is a personable enough hero without any real bite. The writing is solid - I've read a few of Green's Warhammer books and they were usually pretty readable (I thoroughly enjoyed the two Armageddon ones) - with some nice flourishes although the dialogue is knuckle bitingly cliched at points.

As a series it has promise and the world is an interesting setting with echoes of many pulp sci-fi tropes showing up with the promise of a fun ride ahead.