Ganymede, the fourth installment in Priest's Clockwork Century series, may well mark a turning point in the setting of the series, both for Seattle and for the wider world.  Building on events in Dreadnought and Boneshaker, with possibly a reference to Clementine in there at the beginning.  Our main characters are the smuggler (or pirate, as the term seems to be in the Clockwork Century) Andan Cly and New Orleans madame Josephine Early, with Texas Ranger Horatio Korman reappearing along with Cly's crew.

The plot of Ganymede is relatively simple; Josephine, an old flame of Cly's, needs to hire him in order to get the submarine Ganymede to Union forces near New Orleans, which is held by the Republic of Texas on behalf of the Confederacy.  Complications, naturally, ensue, and there are two subplots; one to do with Cly's burgeoning relationship with Briar Wilkes, hero of Boneshaker, and his resultant plans to settle in Seattle, and the other to do with the increasing menace of the zombis in New Orleans - those affected by the gas found in Seattle; and it's this plot which returns Ranger Korman to the fray, trying to prove to his Texas superiors that the zombies are real.  The plot is mixed; there are a number of points when it moves fast, although those can move towards repetitiveness - and a certain uneventful repetitiveness too, both in the faster and slower-moving portions.  However, the faster moments are well-placed and well-paced, without losing focus or control, and with a certain stylish power to them; and the slower moments are also well-written, the romantic elements thoughtful and not overplayed, the more suspenseful moments not overblown or overplayed but adding a lot to the narrative.  The subplots don't always play the obvious role - the zombis especially being a matter of convenience, not logic, in their use, and some of the references to Cly's wish to settle down feel gratuitous, but overall it works well, and the Ganymede's role in the novel is well controlled, to bring multiple elements together.

The characters of Ganymede are perhaps the strongest point of the novel; Ranger Korman, Andan Cly and his crew we know, but Josephine Early and her employees are new, as is her brother Deaderick; and, unsurprisingly, they're all excellent characters.  Josephine continues the line of strong women that Priest seems to like (alongside the Clockwork Century, each installment of which has a strong female hero leading the case, we have Eden Moore and the Cheshire Red Reports series, both female-focused); she's thoughtfully written, with a combination of her racial politics and her care for the women who work for her making her a powerful figure whose motivations are complicated by her love for her brother.  The majority of the cast are equally interesting; they're not simple characters, but rather, people whose motivations can't be pinned down to one thing, and who have thoughts of their own, and influence the plot in well-thought out ways.

Overall, then, whilst Ganymede, like the other installments of the Clockwork Century, has its flaws, Priest does seem to be improving over time, and this is a fun, enjoyable and well-written story.
Tidhar's third volume in the Bookman Histories not only returns to, but surpasses, the promise of the first volume of the series.  The Great Game - a name instantly suggesting the subject-matter of the novel - is a fun, and enjoyable, thriller, which winks slyly at the audience with literary and historical allusions (our viewpoint characters include Lucy Westenra and Harry Houdini, and the rest of the cast draws on characters from Mycroft Holmes to Charles Babbage via Colonel Creighton and M.; the novel's front cover also shows off one of the more significant influences on the novel...)

The Great Game's plot follows three strands, each of them building together in complex ways to a conclusion that is powerful, horrific and rather unexpected.  The plot follows Smith, a retired agent of the Bureau - Mycroft Holmes' British intelligence service - as he begins a last mission in the wake of the assassination of Mycroft Holmes, hunting down the assassin.  The plot also sees Lucy Westenra similarly sent on a last mission by the great detective's even greater brother, and Harry Houdini set on something of a collision course with Lucy by the Vespuccian secret service.  Each plot strand builds on things learned in the others, and the division into parts of the novel, and only following one character in each part, really does help keep clear what's going on; though the differentiation of character and location is no small boon in that regard too.  It's a nicely controlled, and well-written plot that is both mysterious and brilliant homage to spy thrillers of all sorts; Tidhar's writing really does keep the plot moving fast and stops the mysteries and hidden elements getting annoying, whilst also avoiding letting things slip early or unneccessarily.

The characters of The Great Game are also well-written, especially Smith himself.  Smith's a nicely amoral creation, but a loyal one; loyal to Mycroft and to Britain.  His satisfaction in his job is evident, as is his borderline sociopathy; that Tidhar makes such a character an interesting, empathetic and indeed in some ways attractive is the mark of a fantastic writer, especially as we're never quite easy with Smith and his actions.  All of our characters, however, are united by one thing; their role in the game (which is, of course, afoot!).  And in no small part it is the effect of the game on our characters which this novel is about; they have very different outcomes, having gone in as very different and differentiated unique characters, each fantastically well-written, but each put painfully through the wringer and, mercilessly, ground down.

In the end, especially as this can stand-alone whilst referring back to events in prior novels in the Bookman Histories, I heartily recommend The Great Game; not only a satisfying read, but an enjoyable, fun, and interesting one too.


The Great Game will be out at the end of this month in ebook form and in the US/Canada, and on February 2nd in paperback form for the rest of the world.  Review based on an eARC provided by Angry Robot Books.
The third volume (and possibly last) in the City of a Hundred Rows series neither breaks particularly new ground nor squanders that which has been put in place in the previous installments of the series; whilst this might make it sound simply workmanlike and adequate, Whates' closing volume is neither, and sheds new light on areas previously in shadow, both of the city itself and the series.

City of Light and Shadow picks up right where City of Hope and Despair left off, and this review will contain spoilers, so the majority of the review will be under a cut.

Read more... )

In the end, City of Light and Shadow is an excellent conclusion to one of the best series to come out of the still-young Angry Robot Books; although, especially given the nature of the setting, if Whates chose to continue with another book, he could easily do so, since enough ends are left loose to allow it without too much shoehorning.  Brilliant work, and I highly recommend the entire City of a Hundred Rows trilogy to you.
Adam Christopher's Empire State is an interesting novel, to say the least; but it's interesting for its concepts more than its content, which is unfortunate when the concepts are delivered through the content, albeit in rather infodumping form.

The plot of Empire State is hard to describe, as is the novel itself; secondary-world noir, perhaps, is the best descriptor, but the plot has little content beyond explaining that.  Essentially, a murder investigation spirals out into a huge, world-shaking set of overlapping, and ill-explained, events and plots which are variously misconceived, hidden, or underexplained and driven only by dei ex machinae heaped on top of each other until the whole edifice creaks and crumbles with each rapid-fire twist and turn; that's when the broken story-telling style doesn't end up with events happening backwards or sideways, or with the disjointed narrative leaping around without any real sense of what's happening or clarity.  The consistency of the problem is disturbing, and really makes this a hard novel to read.

The characters are just as bad; from Rad Bradley, our main character, down, every single individual in Empire State is consistent only in their one-dimensionality and cod mysteriousness.  I say cod, because that mysteriousness really isn't terribly well conveyed; instead of making characters mysteries, Christopher instead uses statements that go nowhere, false trails that avoid conclusion and aren't actually followed up on, and on many an occasion, a musing of Bradley's that just is dropped as soon as plot or convenience demand and allow.  Rather than constructing a noirish and strange-yet-mundane world, Christopher's efforts in Empire State actually combine to create a confused, and indeed confusing, mess of characters and plot; we have no clear-cut clarity, except where we're having information fed to us in a rather constrained and over-basic manner.

I'd really like to have enjoyed Empire State, and Christopher's attempts to bring in superhero and noir to his work looked like they could have been fascinating; but in the end this novel just spends far too long trying to be mysterious, and not enough time being, well, anything.
Clementine is another installment in Priest's alternate-history Clockwork Century series, and an excellent one at that; a novella available from Subterranean Press in ebook format, it's a story that ticks the boxes that the Clockwork Century series has as its hallmarks: well-written female hero, extended Civil War setting, steampunk mainstays like dirigibles, and the language of the times - one of our main characters here is black, and the attitude to Croggon Hainey is what we might expect. However, the best addition to Clementine is the obvious steampunk one: airship pirates!

The plot of Clementine is an effective, tight and fast-paced one.  We follow Maria Boyd, an ex-Confederate spy now employed by the Pinkerton Agency, in her hunt to prevent Capt. Hainey recapturing his stolen airship the Free Crow (renamed, by the man who stole it, the Clementine); and in the other strand, converging about half-way through the novel, we follow Hainey himself in his attempts to recapture his ship.  The plotting is fast-paced, and the incorporation as the story progresses of other elements and complications to the novel (such as the Union secret weapon, a vital component of which is being delivered in the stolen Free Crow) add a sense of building tension as well as some rogue elements - Boyd feels loyal, still, to the Confederacy - and the book's set-piece scenes are so well written and racey without being wild or confusing that the plot does move along at a fair lick, without leaving the reader behind or throwing out ideas too fast.

The characters are a less strong point, but Clementine still has a solid cast.  Boyd is a well-written and interesting character, albeit suffering a little from the "greatest ever" problem (up front and repeatedly throughout we're told Boyd was one of, if not the, best of the Confederate spies; her actual actions, however, really don't back that up).  Otherwise, though, Boyd is a character who really does bring the reader in; she doesn't like how she's treated as a woman, and doesn't like how she's been treated by her country but still feels loyal to them; there's also the extent to which she uses various tactics, rather than just being able to use her sex to her advantage, and to which she's a character who thinks about things, and is able to adjust to the situation as necessary.  Hainey's a very different character; obsessional, especially about recapturing the Free Crow, he's also got a chip on his shoulder about his treatment as a black man (or, as the novel repeatedly says, driving the point home, a Negro).  That combines with his somewhat chivalrous nature to create a really interesting, thoughtful character who is not only well-written but interesting; we don't see him undamaged by his time as a slave, but at the same time he's not defined by it, which is a fantastic combination.

All in all, Clementine is one of the best installments so far of the Clockwork Century; Priest's writing here is fantastic and fast-paced, and the characterisation excellent across the ball, meaning we're really - for the short length of this novel - seeing some amazing steampunk. With airship pirates.
The Night Circus was tipped as one of the debuts of 2011, and it is no fault of Morgenstern's that I took til 2012 to read it; once I started the novel, it was finished within just over 24 hours.  There appears to be a slight fashion for circuses at the moment in genre circles (see, for instance, Mechanique), and these two very different but also very similar stories demonstrate why: circuses allow the writer a lot of freedom...

The plot of The Night Circus is told in a temporally disjointed, but still clear and, indeed, chronological manner; nothing needs later elements to make sense, though some make a new sense as later events are told.  It concerns the magical contest between Marco and Celia, taught by two different mages and, as children unable to really understand the competition or what it is they are being bound to, drawn into the world of deadly and dangerous magics; it's a romance, in fact, between those two characters, and also (inevitably?) a tragedy.  But it's the telling of how we come from men arranging a strange and magical contest over the head of Celia to the tragic, beautiful end of the novel that really makes Morgenstern's debut shine; that, and the characters she creates as she weaves the illusion that binds the reader.

The Night Circus does have one of the most fantastic casts of any novel I have read for a while.  It's not doing anything particularly revolutionary here - especially for YA, which this book is pegged as (though I'd not hesitate to recommend it to anyone over the age of, oh, comprehension); but the characters are so fully realised, so individual, and so willing to fight against their roles that the writing makes them breathe and live, and makes us laugh and cry with them.  The rivalry and romance between Celia and Marco is so powerfully and beautifully portrayed, the one arising from the other and both being so influenced by their essential characters, so similar and yet also very different, that the reader can't help but care for them and care what happens to them; and despite the large cast of the novel, the reader knows every character so well, because they are each so vivid and unique, so well-portrayed, that they leap off the cage, from the mysterious Mr. A.H-- to Isobel via the twins and Bailey.

The plot is equally well-handled; never losing sight of the contest, Morgenstern doesn't always foreground it, so its pervasive influence is felt in little, rather than grand, ways.  Told episodically and out of order, we're also treated to a way of storytelling that avoids simplicity in favour of complexity, but not obscurity; it's still very linear, and allows us both to explore the wonderous, mysterious and strange Night Circus as well as follow our characters in their adventures and magic, and in which not a moment is wasted.  Everything builds up the atmosphere of the strange and wonderful, and also ups the tension; by the end of the novel, we're at a snapping point, and The Night Circus' tragic resolution was both inevitable and beautiful.

I really, really enjoyed this book, and I'd highly recommend The Night Circus to anyone and everyone; get a copy and read it.  Brilliant, beautiful, and so incredibly well characterised, this really did blow me away...
Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series, begun with The Final Empire, was not Sanderson's first work, but it was the series that propelled him into the limelight, a success that led to him being chosen to continue the Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan's death.  Now, he's returned to that series, some three centuries after the events of the original; and we've moved from a semi-mediaeval dystopia to a reasonable analogue of the America of the 19th century, and a reasonable one at that.

The characters are straight out of a Western, in many ways; Wax, our main character, is driven back into the arms of his family by a terrible mistake made when hunting criminals in the Roughs - the Wild West, essentially.  Wax is a well-rounded character, whose attempts to fit into the upper levels of society from his role as lawman of the Roughs are flawed from the start by his unwillingness to fit, and only thrown further into doubt when his fiancée-of-convenience is abducted as part of a series of robberies and kidnappings; Wax's rising to the gauntlet thrown down to him, and his expansion into a powerful, strong character in his own right who has overcome his failure, is a fantastic piece of characterisation, well-written and thoughtful.  Wayne, on the other hand, is much more like comic relief; he's not a character without merit, but he's flatter (and hat-obsessed - a tip of the cap to Girl Genius perhaps?) and develops less over the course of the novel, though he remains a well-written and interesting character; slightly off-kilter to the rest of the world and seeing it through the lens of accents, he creates a fantastic PoV, with a different take on the world.  Finally, Marasi, the second cousin of Wax's kidnapped fiancée, opens the novel appearing to be a weak and shy woman, but with a curious and inquiring mind; as time goes on she develops into a much more interesting, well thought out character, who has her own drives and emotions; she's a well-developed female character who goes beyond the bounds that society would imply for her, and she is also a strongly written character on her own terms, with a nicely mixed sensibility.

The plot of The Alloy of Law is also brilliant; Wax is drawn into trying to solve a series of crimes and hunt down the perpetrator, an ex-lawman turned criminal who sees himself as a freedom fighter.  The plot is carried off with style and panache, as Wax - like any good detective - doesn't reveal to the reader what he knows, but does reveal it to his allies, and it's revealed to the reader only as we see it.  The plot is ingenious, as seemingly-magical events are explained by means within the rules of the universe (expanded somewhat since the original Mistborn Trilogy), and as the characters' motivations come to the fore, and their limitations are highlighted and overcome.

What really makes the novel, however, is the style Sanderson brings to it.  The Alloy of Law is a Western fantasy; and it combines both elements really quite well.  We have the convention-breaking characters, the lawman drawn back into the job after retirement, the train robberies (oh, the train robberies!) and the gunplay.  Sanderson brings these elements together in a new, thrilling way, to create the feeling of a Western, with the elements of a fantasy.  He also incorporates a certain humour to the proceedings; the interplay between, especially, Wax and Wayne (puns aplenty suggest themselves, but they're never made) is filled with jokes and cutting remarks.  However, what makes the novel first and foremost is the style Sanderson applies to action sequences; they're fast and furious but never confused or clunky, and they flow beautifully and smoothly, powerfully but without any sense of inevitability to their conclusion.  The Alloy of Law reads rather like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; that is, it's smooth, cinematic, stylish, beautiful combat, despite the gunplay and violence, and indeed despite Sanderson's refusal to turn away from that violence.

Overall, The Alloy of Law is not only a fantastic standalone novel (although the ending implies future novels), but also a great new instalment in the Mistborn series; Sanderson is rising to new heights and breaking new ground in fantasy here.  I can hardly recommend the novel enough.
I've read a couple of Valentine's short stories before, and it has struck me in each case how beautiful, thoughtful and interesting her work is; Mechanique, her debut novel, has these virtues along with the space to explore them in more detail, and an intricate, strange structure to boot, that it takes a master-writer to pull off.

Valentine's strongest skill in Mechanique is that structure.  The novel has a number of strong points, but they all hang off the peculiar structure and writing style employed throughout the novel; we have a number of different viewpoints, in three different persons (first-person, from Little George's point of view; second-person, from varying points of view; and third-person, again from a few points of view).  These switch from chapter to chapter (an average of less than 4 pages each) and time to time; rather than a single straight line with flashbacks, Valentine won't even give us a simple sense of timescale, so we learn about what's happening in the past, present and future of the story all at once, with jumps and disjointed elements combining into a whole.  This is made to work with a charming, stylish writing style that is beautiful and easy to read whilst bringing out some fantastic, and quite dark, elements at the same time.

The characters of Mechanique are also an excellent set, with their own different attitudes and darknesses.  No single character is perfect, and no single character hogs the novel; Boss, Little George, Stenos, Bird, Elena, even characters like Ying and Panadrome get their moments in the spotlight, their history explored.  This leads into exploring more of the dystopian semi-steampunk world Valentine has created, and lets us understand the circus better; because this truly is an ensemble novel, and the Circus Tresaulti is that ensemble.  The circus and the world are characters as surely as any single individual in the story, and that gives it all the more power and effect.

In the end, Valentine has created a powerful, fantastically-written piece of steampunky fantasy; an amazing and unique writing style really give her the edge, and Mechanique is a novel of an author really coming into her own.  On the strength of this, I'd say Valentine has the chops to rival, if she wants to, Neil Gaiman... it just remains to see if she continues as strong, or even gets better!
Mann's followup to Ghosts of Manhattan is a similarly steampunk, superheroic and frothy tale; but Ghosts of War, by its nature as a sequel, by its construction, and by its characterisation, highlights some of the flaws that Ghosts of Manhattan managed to dampen down, and is brought down by them; indeed, this is a much poorer followup to a superior start.

The characterisation is where most of these problems lie.  Ghosts of Manhattan riffed on the Batman classic formula, with a few notes of difference (including the willingness of the Ghost to kill); Ghosts of War expands on this, but with a real problem - Mann is attempting to give Gabriel, the Ghost, a backstory and some angst, and yet the backstory we're given does nothing to explain the choice to disguise himself and go around the city as a vigilante, not even to the extent that Batman's origin story does.  Indeed, Gabriel Cross is a sort of broken Batman: whereas much of the interest of Batman's character is the conflict between socialite Bruce Wayne and vigilante Batman, and the angst at the heart of the character, Mann doesn't give Gabriel any real conflict between his identities, and there is no similar kind of angst or driving force.  Similarly, whilst Donovan is a stand-in for Gordon (at a Batman: Year One kind of stage) and Banks for Loeb, they don't really have the force of personality that makes comics work; the premise of Batman is ridiculous, and overblown, and Mann is trying to avoid that ridiculousness whilst having many of the ridiculous elements.

This crosses over into the plot; Ghosts of War has a plot which has the stakes raised so high, even compared to Ghosts of Manhattan, as to be meaningless, whilst also drawing on its prequel for the basic horror at the centre.  The problem here is a straightforward one; the plot is too simple and yet drawn out for far too long by idiocy and lack of communication, combined by characters not acting as they would be expected to given their character as given.  Indeed, what we really see here is a plot that is ridiculous, drawn straight from Watchmen (the comics references fly thick and fast!) combined with a Lovecraftian horror that isn't horrific, because Mann's writing strips it of any numinousness or awfulness, rendering it strangely quotidian.

Overall, then, Ghosts of War is a poor sequel to a frothy, fun novel; it tries to inject angst and meaning into a situation where those things don't work, because of the nature of Mann's writing and characterisation.  A deeply, deeply flawed and disappointing novel.
Sedia’s steampunk novel seems to take on a number of the objections laid at the subgenre’s door over the last year or two, especially as regards its Eurocentrism and its refusal to question the social norms of the period; rather, Heart of Iron has a very mixed attitude towards the 19th Century, and casts the Europeans – and especially British – as a very mixed thing.

Heart of Iron’s narrator is one of its strongest points. The novel is told in the first person, from the point of view of Sasha Trubetskaya, one of the first five women in Russia to attend a university. Sasha starts the novel as a rather immature, slightly confused young lady with a certain degree of backbone and stubbornness (a gift from her Aunt Eugenie); she ends the novel as a much stronger, more sharp and more self-aware character with a far greater feeling of her own agency; Sedia’s writing style and the character of Sasha blend absolutely beautifully to really create a verisimilitude about the character and her writing. The other characters are, perhaps, less effective – the majority of them, and especially Jack Bartram (an Englishman, mysterious, in love with Sasha, and sacrificing everything to help her), simply hang around to lend her help where needed (logistic and military, generally). Although some go some way towards becoming characters of their own – Lee Bo gets some screen time which helps him blossom, and Aunt Eugenie really is a wonderful character – the tendency to be peripheral to Sasha is so strong as to be lampshaded on more than one occasion. The exception to this is Dame Florence Nightingale, head of the British Secret Service and a terrifying character; she is presented as doing everything she does for love, and this being a bad thing – she values men’s opinions more than her own, and this is explicitly noted.

The plot is a mixed one; it has the air of the traditional fantasy trope of travel-quest, with the added problem noted above of much of the cast’s existence appearing to revolve around Sasha’s travels, but it combines this with a much stronger political commentary. Whilst the quest is just that, its purpose is rather different than killing the Dark Lord or finding the item of power; Sasha is attempting to travel to China to persuade whoever, when she arrives, rules there to ally with Russia against British aggression. On the way we see a number of obstacles, only some presented by Nightingale’s Secret Service agents, appear; the vagaries of travel also feature strongly. Sedia doesn’t let up on political commentary – there are notes on the end of serfdom early in the novel (a world where the Decembrists were successful), on the problems of Eurocentrism and of Russia’s strange status between Europe and Asia, and on the ability of foreign governments to intercede in national affairs. These tie together to give Heart of Iron a degree of relevance lost to most steampunk, whilst also giving the plot a greater power and individuality.

Sedia’s novel has to be one of the more successful pieces of world-building I have seen in a steampunk setting, and Sasha’s character certainly recommends it; but the rest of the cast, and somewhat formulaic plot, do detract from the enjoyment of Heart of Iron somewhat.
Anderton's work is the sort of thing that originally got me interested in Angry Robot Books: interesting, well thought out concepts and worlds, with good characters and an intelligent, well-written plot.  Debris, whilst slow to start and perhaps occasionally a little too in love with its own mysteries, is a good example of what makes the Angry Robot such a welcome overlord.

Anderton's setting is perhaps the most fantastic part of the whole novel, encapsulating within it as it does all sorts of ideas and tropes.  A pseudo-Russian (sort of) setting, the stylings and language certainly draw on 19th and 20th century Russia for a lot of their flavour, as does the organisation and economy of the government. Anderton has built her society on an apparently almost entirely state-run economy and a government that is made up of aristocrats who have somehow found their way to the top of society, and this makes Debris' society a new, powerful take on the medievalism of so much fantasy as we see it from those expelled from that structure.  Equally, she has a strong emphasis on the visuals of the world, which focus on Muscovite architecture, but draw, for elements such as the debris itself, on fantastic gothic strangeness with a certain brilliantly-wrought New Weird baroque.

The characters are a more mixed bunch.  Whilst our narrator, Tanyana, is a well-written character who we can't help but love, with her rebellion against the mores of her society turned into a wish to return to it once she is expelled combined with a certain dogged refusal to fit in.  She's also a good narrator in so far as her voice adds a lot of life to what would otherwise, potentially, be a slightly tedious book; it also allows the reader, at the start of the novel, to be straightforwardly and instantly immersed in the world whilst having drip-fed information once her entire world changes after a seeming industrial accident.  A couple of the other characters - Devich, who is much more than meets the eye, and a well-written figure at that; Kichlan, whose gruff and inhospitable attitude gives way to a much fuller, more interesting personality as the novel progresses - are also very rounded out, but most of the cast is sadly two-dimensional and basic, never more so than the old men of the undercity, who are simply wise kindly old sages.

Finally, the plot is a well-written one.  The combination of exploring the city and nature of the society, of discovering the debris and learning about it as Tanyana becomes a collector, and of the intrigue that starts when Tanyana falls or is pushed by the pions at the start of the novel interleave and come together, or not, in a number of places in such a way that Anderton provides some brilliant false leads and some nice non-climactic struggles.  We're given a somewhat tied up conclusion, but left with an open end, in a number of ways, meaning it's a satisfying ending, but not satisfying enough; Anderton's control of the plot and the various factors in it is fantastic, and with the right mindset you can see, somewhat, where it's going, but not precisely.

Overall, then, despite the problematic cast of background figures, Anderton has written an enjoyable, engaging and interesting novel; Debris, out in October, is really quite a good piece of fantasy.


Review based on an eARC provided by Angry Robot Books.

Tricks of London and Seven for a Secret, taken together, give us the earliest and last tales of Abigail Irene Garrett, one of Bear's protagonists in the New Amsterdam world (previously noted in New Amsterdam and The White City); they're an interesting study in the woman, and how she changes... and stays the same.  Because they're so closely linked, I'm going to review them together, with one paragraph on characterisation, and one each on the plots.  Some spoilers may crop up for New Amsterdam.

Bear's characters, as previously, are handled very well; what stands out here is the pairing of Sebastian and Abigail Irene.  Whilst Sebastian doesn't appear in Tricks of London, he is developed in Seven for a Secret quite significantly; here, what Bear has been hinting at for some time - the pain of losing a companion to age - is brought out to the forefront as Abigail Irene is near her death.  This gives him a certain added pathos and pain, and alongside the pain of having lost Jack in New Amsterdam, makes him an incredibly human character; and the effects of his age are well-portrayed and fantastic.  Abigail Irene is a very different story; her age changes her very little, leaving her stubborn, intelligent, incisive, uncompromising and all round a wonderful character.  Whilst I would like to see her more centre-stage in Seven for a Secret, her age makes that impossible, and the whole of Tricks of London is pretty purely centred on her to make up for it.  Tricks of London also brings in Sean Cuan, a DS with the Met; he's an interesting, if slightly two-dimensional, character who has a hint of mystery around him without any real substance to back it up, and exists largely as a foil for Abigail Irene.  On the other hand Seven for a Secret shows us Ruth, who is a much more interesting character; she is torn between duty and love, and has to make the choice between the two, and her whole character is well-written, driven and powerful; the hint at the end of the novella gives me hope for future writing in this 'verse featuring her.

Tricks of London is a relatively simple Jack the Ripper inspired crime drama; it introduces Abigail Irene in her youth and shows us things we have never seen before, but doesn't really do much surprising plot-wise - it's relatively pedestrian, although Bear's writing style makes the pacing work fantastically, with a definite movement and sense of impending something that really does add a huge amount to the suspense of the novellette.  Seven for a Secret, on the other hand, has a much better plot; it focuses on the possibility of a kind of pseudo-Nazi werewolf being developed by the Prussians after the invasion of Britain (yes, really). Sebastian and Abigail Irene are out to use this against the Prussians, whilst Ruth herself is one of these werewolves.  The story takes in all sorts of elements, from the Holocaust (not treated lightly, thankfully) to historical myths of the werewolf; it delves into the alternate-past of London in this 'verse, as well as giving us a well-paced and, in a way Tricks of London wasn't, deeply human story.

Overall, then, whilst Tricks of London  - probably in part due to its short length - was not quite up to what I've come to expect from Bear, Seven for a Secret was absolutely fantastic, and a very readable little novella.  Very enjoyable.
Roil is a strange story, a mad combination of new weird, steampunk, horror and science fiction, which adds up, sadly, to much less than the sum of its parts in what I can only call the inexpert hands of Jamieson.  Whilst the ideas and thought-processes behind the novel show some promise, the actual execution varies from clunky to downright poor.

The characters are, perhaps, where there is the most potential for brilliance, if Jamieson hadn't added far too much inconsistency to them.  The problem is that every character in this novel has so many problems with their writing.  David, for instance, is at times utterly collected and together, and a brilliant shot; other times, he's completely fallen apart.  If these were matched by his actual drug-taking patterns it would be understandable, but this isn't even close to being the case; and worse, as a portrayal of addiction, he falls down on a number of levels - right up to the complete lack of cold turkey on his withdrawal.  Cadell is simply a mysterious, haunted figure; Jamieson seems to want to keep everything about him mysterious, and therefore does so, but rather than this adding something to the novel it takes a lot away from it, because the mystery is clunky, pointless and inexplicable.  The two female protagonists are at least hypercompetent but both are standoffish, and Margaret seems to have a ridiculous set of character traits that really don't combine into a coherent person; her driving personality is just buried under so much stuff and neuroses that it becomes, realistically, unreadable, whilst Kara is simply a decent character, the only one in the bunch, and a minor main figure at that.

The plot is equally problematic; the predatory Roil, an enemy which is so ill-explained and motiveless without being alien (I have a feeling Jamieson was shooting for a Lovecraft vibe and missing) that it just descends into ridiculousness, especially with the weapons used against it, drives a novel into nowhere (it's unstoppable, so there's no real conflict).  Similarly, the human enemies are - and this is actually noted in the novel - short-sighted to the point of self-sacrifice; combined with the long-term plots they've been apparently running, but only since the events of the start of the novel, there are too many timescales combined into one novel and too few coherent, non-contradictory series of events to actually allow the plot to breathe or make sense, rather than simply jerking from one crisis to the next.

Overall, then, Roil is not a good novel; Jamieson butchers an enemy that could have been terrifying in more competent hands, wastes characters that could have really given the novel something positive, and fails to lay down a coherent plot.  A really poor novel.


Review based on an eARC provided by Angry Robot Books; Roil is out September 7th.
Ballantine and Morris’ attempt at a steampunk novel is, whilst fast-paced and fun, flawed on a number of levels; Phoenix Rising has high ambitions, and a certain swagger to it, but there’s not enough substance there to justify the cockiness.

The characters are the start of this mixed bag. Braun and Books – with names intended to sum them up unsubtly – are caricatures in the most blunt, ridiculous way; the former of the forward, ahead-of-her-time colonial in stuffy Victorian Britain, an active, passionate woman brilliant in all matter strategic – and yet, time and again, utterly unable to get over her hangups or herself, stuck with her attitudes that she criticises others for, and senselessly sexual. Books is the reverse – bookish, staid, upper-class and very much so, overshadowed by a damaged past with his father; a genius tinker who can do all sorts of impossible things but is apparently unable to fix a leak. The problem with Books is that he’s also none of these things – when it isn’t plot convenient, he descends into innuendo, cliché and silliness. He’s also physically useless – that is, he seems unable to fight, except that he is shown to be very good at it; it’s a plot convenience rather than a character trait that makes him non-combative himself. The other characters aren’t even as rounded as these two, and that really should tell you something.

The plot is utterly strange. It seems to be a Bond plot gone wrong; perhaps Licence to Kill, as the agents go outside the command structure in order to solve a case horrific (and yet, practically unmentioned – so much of what they do isn’t linked back to the original case at all, they really are half-cocked) and conspiratorial. There’s more than a faint air of SPECTRE hanging over the whole thing, and when we take into account the increasingly ridiculous contraptions the characters have, that may be intentional. The plot takes leaps of logic for granted, guesswork for detective work, and relies on a certain amount of luck; and the idiocy of the superior ranks – and idiocy is the only word for Dr. Sound, unless Ballantine and Morris plan to reverse the things they’ve said he’s thinking, because so far, he’s not remotely intelligent enough to be heading the Ministry.

In sum, Phoenix Rising is a novel hoist on its own ambitions; a failure to portray more than the most glib, clichéd picture of Victoriana, as ridiculous as it is unconvincing, is backed by a silly plot and thin characterisation; but at times, it draws one in, and the choppy, poor writing style rises above its failings at times to create moderately enjoyable moments. Ballantine and Morris have made an attempt on a grand project, but Phoenix Rising is more of a grand flop than anything else.
Shedding Skin; Or How The World Came to Be by Jay Lake
This creation-story, mixing native American coyote-narrative to Genesis, is quite strange; told in such a way that it gives us something of a sense of a culture, the narrative voice shifts a little too much to make it work well, and the stock characters really don’t break out of that mould. However, Lake does make the story work quite well in its moral and its style; and the culture it evokes is interesting, if not entirely coherent.
 
The Jackdaw’s Wife by Blake Hutchins
This story really doesn’t know what it’s trying to do. The use of a traditional tale in the mode of Frankenstein (about not messing with what we don’t understand – the wrong moral of Shelley’s novel) is combined with anthropomorphic animals (how, exactly, can a jackdaw do engineering? It has no thumbs… and therefore no grip!) and steampunk/magic in a traditional feudal fantasy setting to create a generic, not-terribly-good mess of unoriginality and lack of creativity.
 
The Student and the Rats by Jess Nevins
This prequel to Frankenstein isn’t bad, though the heavy-handed moral it ends with I a little clichéd and not really inherent to the text; its take on the Prometheus-myth and its elegant stylings work effectively to create a scene and a sense, before going on to use that in a story that doesn’t really have characters but does have a plot, an archetypal one, and that is reasonably well-told.
 
The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar by Shweta Narayan (reread, first read in Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded)
Narayan’s story, on a repeat reading, still retains the mysticism and the beautiful Arabian Nights quality of the first read, but the complexity of the story – fables with a fable, stories with a story – and the beauty of the prose and imagery is even more powerful; Narayan’s style is a strong, interesting and compelling one that ensures that the message stays with the reader.
 
Kay’s Box by Marissa Lingen
Lingen’s story – like too many, a fable – is nicely told and sweet, but without any real substance; it’s a little too obvious, with the characters very basic and some very odd elements that don’t really seem to fit into the tale, but it does work reasonably, if imperfectly, to interest the reader and get them to pay a little attention.
 
Otto’s Elephant by Vincent Pendergast
This story is rather a nice subversion; we have stories within a story, which are fantastic and wonderful, and we have a trite and overdone moral to finish the tale (albeit for once not explicit); Otto is a good character, and the use of historical reality to create fictive steampunk scenarios is well done, but the story is let down by its overly telegraphed ending.
 
The Monkey and the Butterfly by Susannah Mandel
Mandel’s story is a rather odd one; whilst the style attempts a Victorian feel, it falls short of it and overreaches it in equal measure in different ways, and the characters are far too basic (the brutish British – a stereotype that appears alive and well) to serve the story that Mandel wants to tell, but there’s also a beauty in there, and a childlike sentiment (all the different animals getting along, the dogs courting a cat, all with their humans knowing). It left me unmoved, but not cold.
 
Message in a Bottle by James Maxey
Maxey’s story is a really strange one; it seems to combine real history – in space as much as anything else – with a strange Vernian science fiction of moon-travel. It’s a very mixed story – none of the characters really have a character – and a very odd concept, but fun, and decently executed in the worldbuilding department (though a little more description would have been nice at times).
 
The Clockwork Cat’s Escape by Gwynne Garfinkle
This is a short, simple piece; it’s nice and sweet, well-written, interesting, and moving. Garfinkle sets things up rapidly, and takes us through, in the space of a side and a half, to the conclusion of the story, in such a way that it packs in a huge amount. Nicely done.
 
The Wolf and the Schoolmaster by James L. Cambias
This one’s very nice; the steampunk elements are handled well, the message of the story is powerfully conveyed, the princess is a much more complex character than the reader expects, and Volka is absolutely brilliant. I’m not sure about the deeply anti-revolutionary message (actually, I am: I don’t like it) but overall, this is a well-written and fun story.
 
A Garden in Bloom by Genevieve Valentine
Valentine’s story is beautiful and brilliant; it’s evocative, powerful and very visual, with some wonderfully creative descriptions and ideas. The natural motifs are well-used and the level of description is stylish; similarly, the characters come through very well and neatly. The sting in the tale, and funny, unexpected ending are incredible, however, above and beyond the rest of the story; this is fantastic.
 
And How His Audit Stands by Lou Anders
This is a really nice story (and Anders’ use of phlogiston is brilliant); it has some well-done surprises, contains so many of elements of the Western, and has a powerful resonance with the reader. The well-written characters are very effective both as motors for the story but also as people, allowing us to have an emotional connection to the events; Anders shows some serious short-fiction chops here.
 
The Story in which the Dog Dies by Sara Genge
This is an odd, apocalyptic story; not really clockwork, though perhaps so in some sense, it’s an odd tale that shifts its narrative viewpoint like an agitated snake and that manages to never really get off its feet. The style is problematic, and the nature of the story is a little odd – it’s hard to know what Genge is trying to do at times – and it all leaves the reader more confused than satisfied.
 
A Red One Cannot See by Barbara A. Barnett
I’ve got mixed feelings about this story; whilst Philibert is a wonderful idea, and an interesting character, Barnett’s story really fails to actually portray him as what she tells us he is like; there’s times when he just gives up too quickly to be what Barnett has told us he is, driven. It is, however, an interesting story and a nice view of a world.
 
The Fishbowl by Amal El-Mohtar
This is quite a nice one; it’s well-written and stylish, with a fascinating concept at its heart and an interesting image of the world – very informed (perhaps too much so?) by modern environmental concerns. El-Mohtar creates interesting characters and a nice mystery, with a slow build up to the well-done sting in the tail of the tale.
 
His Majesty’s Menagerie by Chris Roberson
Whilst having an obvious moral, and showcasing a wonderful imagination in terms of the steampunk military technology on display, this story is let down by a weakness; its resolution makes no real logical sense. Roberson’s characters are weak and obvious, at best two-dimensional, and the twist at the end is obvious and ridiculous at the same time. I’m left with the feeling that in the world Roberson creates, a much better story could – and should – have been told.
 
The Emperor’s Gift by Rajan Khanna
This is an odd story; Khanna seems to have imbued it with a certain royalist sentiment that feels very much out of place, and at the same time a sort of crushing sentimentality that really feels claustrophobic to mixed effect; the desperate emotionality of the piece and the mundane horror that it involves is handled to create a moving, terrifying story, but it doesn't quite ever get there - missing its mark somehow, somewhere along the way.
 
The Clockwork Goat and the Smokestack Magi by Peter M. Ball
This is a rather neat story with a well-done moral about suspicion and risk; Ball’s characters are well-formed and we get the background we need as the story continues. The use of the ideas behind the story and the brilliance of the goat doing what it does are both wonderful, and Ball incorporates them well into a story as a whole that works simply and effectively.
 
The Giant and the Unicorn by Alethea Kontis
This story is a sweet meditation on friendship, amongst other things; Kontis executes it well, opening with a nice spin on Genesis, and the obvious heart and fairytale qualities of the story really enhance the way it’s told, so that sad and tragic moments have that childlike quality that really makes them punch home harder, whilst the end is all the better for it. A lovely fairytale.
 
Mockmouse by Caleb Wilson
Hah, this is a brilliant story; Wilson directs our attention one way, so we think we know where it’s going, and the story tends in that direction… until a sudden, brilliant swerve at the end (into far darker territory); it’s achieved neatly and effectively, with some stylish elements as it continues, to achieve a real shock effect at the close.

Overall
This is a very, very mixed selection; whilst some really good stories - the Valentine, for instance - are included, the overwhelming impression is mediocre at best.  To what extent this is me failing to pick up on the vibe of the collection I don't know, but I think a lot of these stories were clumsy and heavy-handed.
The Time Machine has spawned entire franchises of time-travel novels, films, and indeed, sequels to Wells' scientific romance of the 19th century.  Jeter's is amongst the last category, and also one of the progenitor-novels of the steampunk subgenre that has become so hugely popular in the last few years.  It is also, perhaps unlike his other progenitor of the genre Infernal Devices, a fantastic novel.

Hocker and Tafe, the two main characters, are a nice juxtaposition of humanity: a brash American woman, powerful in her own right and willing to stand up for herself, with Hocker, the uptight British man of the Nineteenth century, unfailingly rationalist, unthinkingly prejudiced, and very much pleased with civilisation and his own place within it.  Hocker grows over the course of the novel incredibly well, and comes into the role revealed by the final twist of the story brilliantly; indeed, Jeter's ability to make Hocker's slow transformation believable and smooth without making it too neat is one of the best aspects of this novel.  The other characters - especially Dr Ambrose and Merdenne, with their chess-playing and polite rivalry - are also well-drawn and neatly portrayed, perhaps a little more cardboard (especially the Morlocks) but still interesting figures, and Dr. Ambrose perhaps owes a debt to T. H. White.

The plot is neatly written and fast-paced; it doesn't have much complexity in it - though a final twist at the end really throws the whole previous novel into a new light and sharp relief - but it does have action, intrigue, brilliant imagery and some nice ideas encapsulated.  Jeter makes sure the high stakes are never far from our mind, and Hocker and Tafe's attempts to save the world from the joint menaces of the Morlocks and of the space-time continuum are fascinating and, whilst often broken by a little humour or a pause for breath, brilliantly written and well-handled.  The one problematic note is that occasionally Jeter throws some elements in that really don't strike true - his characterisations of Victorian London have some stark anachronisms, and his use of the Atlanteans is, to say the least, a little annoying.

These are minor problems, however, in an overall excellent novel that well deserves a place in the classic canon of steampunk literature.
New Amsterdam, as the title implies, is set in the same world as The White City, and forms a series of linked novellettes (at a rough guesstimation of their length) that lay out much of what happened before that novella (and was published before it - my reading order is, in this case, unrepresentative of that intended by Bear).

The characterisation is universally excellent, subtle, and sweet; Sebastien is a thoughtful, intelligent, emotional and profoundly human vampire who I can't help but comparing with Genevieve of Kim Newman's Anno Dracula, as both share so many of the same characteristics, especially in their outlook on humanity and the brevity of human life.  The other characters are equally well-drawn; Jack Priest, with his jealous love of the vampire and his revolutionary views, is portrayed sympathetically but not flawlessly, and both the women - Abigail Irene Garrett and Phoebe Smith - are different, well-written, interesting characters with their own strengths and weaknesses (less so for Phoebe, but Abigail Irene is a powerful, interesting figure, with contradictions aplenty encapsulated within her).  The shifting background characters, who change from novellette to novellette, are also sketched well, and dealt with deftly to create nice, interesting figures for the reader.

The plot of each novellette forms part of a plot-arc, whilst also having its own resolution; they each follow the same form - body discovered, and Sebastien (in all but the first novellette) aided by Abigail Irene solve the murder over the course of the story, abetted and aided by various political factions and pressured with various underhand means.  It is less repetitive than it sounds - Bear has a variety of different atmospheres, and whilst the first story of the collection is relatively mundane and the last somewhat horrific and gothic, they're all dealt with well and showcase a great range on Bear's part; however, the political arc is much less strong, and seems to be a little disjointed, not only by the novellette-structure but also by the changes in the characters, which seem abrupt and extreme at times.

Overall, whilst this isn't a perfect collection, it is very good, very enjoyable and very strong; I'd recommend New Amsterdam, if you can get your hands on it, to fans of Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, but also to fans of steampunk and vampires.  Bear really does have a talent for enjoyable, well-written fiction and this certainly showcases that.
Jeter is regarded as a part of the steampunk foundational trinity, alongside Blaylock and Powers, and in the spirit of the steamy zeitgeist flying round the genre - one I fully buy into - Angry Robot Press have re-released Jeter's two steampunk novels, on of which is Infernal Devices.  As is sadly the case with much of steampunk literature, the concepts are funny and interesting but the novel itself is problematic - reflected just as much in its descendants as in this forerunner of the modern movement.

The characters of the novel are its first stumbling block: not one is likeable, plausible or believable.  Dower, our narrator, is stiff, stupid and completely uninspiring; the Brown Leather Man is Yoda-like in his speech and completely implausible as a character, only growing more so - and more like a deus ex machina - as the novel goes on; Scape is a caricature of himself, strange and annoying and brash, without any real virtues; McThane, sex-obsessed and silly (oh dear, we're caricaturing women now!); and so on, throughout the cast.  The problem is that there's no character development to offset these original impressions, even when there are opportunities for it - Scape has revelations about his background that could change how we see him, but they're deployed to no such end, for example.

The plot is... ridiculous, and silly to boot.  It has so many plots and counterplots, double, triple and quadruple agents, confusion and obscurity, interlinking and junk science said with a straight face that it really does read like a boy's own adventure on LSD; whilst there are some wonderful ideas, they're mixed in with some really weird ones - some of the science could be ripped from the pages of Verne and Wells, and that seems to be part of some of the best elements of the novel, those parts that could come from the scientific romance tradition straight off.

Jeter's novel is, it seems to me, an updating and comic version of scientific romance of the 19th century; whilst it defintiely has its virtues and is eminently readable, it's hardly high literature.  A fun, light and frothy read, but Infernal Devices isn't much more than that... so, for the father of a genre, somewhat disappointing.
The cover of Terminal World, Reynolds' latest novel, implies the events take place in his Revelation Space universe, by dint of style if nothing else; however, picking the novel up expecting it to be in the same universe would be a mistake - the differences are profound, from the simple fact that the story is confined to a single planet to the complex tone of the story and characters.

Reynolds was recently used by Dr. Grant Macaskill in a lecture as an example of pessimistic humanism in modern science fiction (for a theology lecturer, Grant is cool... by geek standards); Terminal World, unlike, say, Chasm City, has a view that is simultaneously deeply pessimistic and highly optimistic about humanity's future.  The characters are, as a rule, individuals who are honourable and noble within their own understanding of those concepts; Quillon, with his secrets, dark past and healing work is a man who wants to help save everyone; Meroka and Curtana are both driven, interesting and intelligent individuals with their own desires that they can put behind them for the good of the many; Ricasso is a man with his own agenda, wanting to help the world but perfectionist with it; and the villain for a good third of the book, Spatha, who is terribly obviously and cartoonishly villainly... is still a well-written, interesting character with the best interests of other people at heart and underlying his actions.  Each character is painted really well, and the only selfish character, and villain, of the story - a twist that comes right at the end, unexpectedly and brilliantly done - is well, and sympathetically, portrayed even after his betrayal.

The plot of the novel is a sort of epic fantasy quest, with science fiction bolted on... or perhaps a science fictional travelogue, with a quest and some violence bolted on. The travels of the characters away from, and back to, Spearpoint, encountering all sorts of obstacles and with politics and strangeness getting in their way, are brilliantly done; everything tends towards Spearpoint, as if it has a gravity all its own, and whilst the novel revolves around Quillon, as he says, "I moved on. Realised I wasn't the centre of my own universe. Wasn't even anywhere near the centre." (p478).  It's a plot that encompasses a lot of character growth, a  lot of world building, a lot of political chance and some beautiful, subtle elements (there's a flag - five stars on the side of a red field - that crops up a lot at one point without explanation; it's clear to a reader what the reference is) and whilst Reynolds varies the pace a lot - some action scenes get the blood racing, some slower areas where there is a lot of intellectual meat to chew, sometimes even combinations of the two - he manages to keep a very steady hand overall.

The setting is a beautifully constructed world that melds together science fictional futuristic ideas, steampunky aesthetics and technology, and even dark ages level elements into one planet through some strange science (I'm not sure it works); the concepts underlying the world are explained a couple of times in the book in some great analogies, but I'm not sure if they map to reality.  The thing is that they don't have to - the world, its fracturing, the strange structure of Spearpoint and the geography of the boundaries feel real and feel fascinating, too, since they're so well drawn and simply integrated into how the world works for the characters; it's a brilliant piece of work.

Terminal World is a demonstration of an author at the height of his game, and it'll be interesting, then, to see what Reynolds comes out with through his deal with Gollancz.  I look forward to it with interest!


Any readers around or in Fife? Reynolds will be giving a talk in St Andrews town library on Thursday, May 12th. Details here.
Tidhar's sequel to The Bookman has many of the hallmarks of the first novel, though describing it as a sequel is overstating the case somewhat - rather like the Bas-Lag novels of China Miéville, Camera Obscura is set in the same world as The Bookman, refers to events and characters in The Bookman, and builds on The Bookman... but has a separate plot and set of characters, in a separate part of the setting, with a separate style (to some extent).

Camera Obscura opens in Paris, not under the sway of the Royal Lizards and in the wake of its Quiet Revolution, and travels across large swathes of the world - we see Vespuccia, the America of Tidhar's imagination, and we see something of the immigrant experience (based on the so-called triangle trade of the 18th and 19th centuries).  However, as Camera Obscura goes on, things that were fresh and funny in The Bookman - the literary alusions, the sly jokes, the quiet asides, the wink at the reader - became wearing; the world-building was based on jokes and japery, on amusing ideas, on conceits and not concepts, and that's not enough to sustain a second full novel.

The characters that inhabit the world were mostly equally problematic; mostly sly alusions to literary or historical characters from Viktor von Frankenstein to Cardinal Richelieu, via Count Karnstein and Buffalo Bill Cody, they're very two-dimensional, basic, silly characters that are little more than throwaways to both be jokes and propel along the plot; Tidhar's delight in taking these characters and reducing them down to pointlessness is palpable, and it is strange to see such generally strong figures reduced to a sort of weak tea.  Lady Cleopatra de Winter is our one exception, and thankfully she's the main character; a relatively well-developed character, even when she starts to descend to the farcical level of the rest that change is arrested and her motivations, characterisation and power work really well.  Centring the book on anyone but her would probably have proven fatal, and solving some of the mysteries surrounding her past or exploring them further equally so, but her semi-enigmatic nature works rather well.

The plot... once more delves into the ridiculous, but the readable ridiculous.  It's convoluted and complex and in parts serves as little more than a vehicle for Tidhar to hang set-pieces or episodes that really should have been separate short stories on, but on some level it works; fast-paced, not too serious, with interlinked motivations and plots coming together in a huge climax that... well, makes sense, but the twists it takes to get there are more than a little strange, and indeed, the finale of the book is utterly insane, without reservation; Tidhar, with the brakes off, seems to produce some really strange and psychedelic prose.

Overall, Camera Observa demonstrates that The Bookman was a premise stretched to breaking point, as TIdhar snaps it completely here; the problems of the first novel are brought to the fore more, whilst its strengths move to the backburner. A fun, easy read, but by no means a good one.

Review based on an eARC provided by the publisher, Angry Robot Books. Released in April 2011

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