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on 8 November 2013
It all starts when a man is found dead in a locked room on the Rue Morgue. His stomach cut open to retrieve the mysterious object he was carrying. Milady De Winter is sent to investigate, and what she uncovers is a fiendish plot. With different organisations all after the same object, and dead bodies showing up regularly, the suspects list narrows to one. But how can she find an object when she doesn't know what it is? What is the mysterious grey affliction? Can she figure out who the murderer is and keep her life?

The book was fast paced, with short chapters making it easy to read. The story was divided in to parts, with "interludes" showing Kai and his journey with the mysterious jade lizard, until it all interlocks at the end. I thought the prose was very good, and the book was very atmospheric. Occasionally it felt like the plot was a bit all over the place, as there was lots going on that all related to everything.

I'm warning you now, the cover is a huge spoiler for what happens about halfway through the book or so. The story appeared to be going one way and then did a huge about face and changed.

I enjoyed the cameo's certain well known persons made...Houdini...Mycroft Holmes....Frankenstein....Quasimodo....to name a few.

The book was fast paced, full of gun toting nuns, and lizard royalty, it struggled to hold my attention once or twice, and can seem a bit all over the place, but all in all it was a good read!
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on 21 February 2012
This is a series of three novels set in a "Steampunk" Universe that includes a large population of Nineteenth Century fictional and historical characters. By `large,' I mean that I lost track during the first volume and merely took occasional notes during the later volumes. For example, Chief Sitting Bull appears in the same volume as Erich Weiss, aka Harry Houdini and Irene Adler is a Scotland Yard Inspector, keeping her eye on Fagin and Oliver Twist. The three volumes in the series are, respectively, "The Bookman," "Camera Obscura" and "The Great Game." All three volumes are, more or less, stand-alone publications. On the other hand, I have a number of questions after completing the third volume, so all of the answers are definitely NOT included in the books.

The main theme of the series revolves around Mycroft Holmes and his Intelligence Organization. Many other Sherlockian characters appear as well as an unruly mob of other personages. One really needs a scorecard to keep track. The author also has a habit of making readers work for understanding of the environment. Every once in a while, some character will summarize a part of history, either recent or ancient, so that readers can orient (not `orientate') themselves. Mostly, though, the characters talk about more immediate concerns as do people involved in active lives so readers are left to catch up on their own. I found this aspect more interesting than most fictional settings because it makes a reader think. Meanwhile, the action continues and events keep happening.

The three volumes occur in 1888, in 1893 and in 1899. Many characters appear in all three volumes and some explanations are offered. I retain a number of serious questions, such as "What happened to Smallpox" and "Where did Amerigo Vespucci learn to pilot a ship?" There are also open questions about who is on which side of what. There seem to be more `sides' than players and there are a real ocean full of players. Needless to say, the action takes place all over the place and even in some unexpected places.

At base, this is an action series. Agents, counteragents, retired agents and secret agents wander in and out, change sides, switch masters and shoot it out with each other at the drop of a hat. It is difficult to bring up any subject without revealing some of the mysteries that are part of the story. As an example, there was a revolution in France in the late eighteenth Century. It was called "The Quiet Revolution." Doctors Frankenstein and Jekyl are working together, sort of. Milady DeWinter and the Comte de Rochefort are still (or again) in business, working for the French Government, in between other clients. One hint, when the author talks about a "Vespucian" you can translate that as "American."

This is a fun series. There are lots of interesting characters, stolen from everywhere, as much action as can be kept track of and a whole slew of questions left unanswered. Familiar characters pop up in the oddest places for even odder reasons and familiar places all look just a little bit odd. If you can figure out what actually happened, please drop me a note. I'm still a bit puzzled.

Reviewed by: Philip K. Jones, February 2012
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 July 2011
An ebony-black Amazonian ex-circus performer turned detective, automata, a steampunk Paris and a murder in the Rue Morgue. It sounds like it should be wonderful...

Unfortunately I found the story dull and unconvincing and the characters didn't engage me at all. It was a bit like watching one of those boring B movies where you really don't care what happens to anyone in it.

Still, I suppose YOUR mileage may vary. But I just couldn't get into this at all.

Oh, and someone should really tell the author that Bushmills is an Irish Whiskey, NOT a Scotch whisky...
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on 19 July 2011
I haven't read the previous book in Lavie Tidhar's steampunk series (The Bookman (Angry Robot)), but I've read a lot of his short fiction and thought I'd just dive in.
I also don't know my 19th century French history and fiction all that well, but there are nevertheless plenty of familiar references in this very intertextual novel.
For that matter, I don't consider myself much of a steampunk fan (well, I read Girl Genius, but who doesn't?) - I love Tidhar's writing for its complete lack of boundaries, and the hallucinatory near-future biopunk/post-everything stuff is my favourite. But from the start this isn't your standard steampunk fare (although, what is?). We start with a young Asian boy reading adventure tales in his father's shop, who witnesses a ninja attack in which his father is killed, and takes off with a highly valuable sculpture which shortly begins talking to him.
Meanwhile in Paris we meet a Madame Winter, a secret policewoman of African descent with an assistant/pet which is a mechanical insect.

With automota, secret histories, Imperial Lizards in England, and occasional intrusions of Quantum Thingy, this is a pretty insane ride. The characterisation is about as deep as your standard thriller, and occasionally Tidhar has a habit of repeating a descriptive word distractingly within one paragraph (what do editors do these days?), but this is pure entertainment, and yes - refreshingly free of boundaries.
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on 19 July 2011
So I'm going to start this review with a confession. I have yet to read Lavie Tidhar's first novel, The Bookman. It's been on my to-read list pretty much since it was released, but this past year that list has been distressingly static. After finishing Camera Obscura, however, it has jumped to the top of said list.

Fortunately for series-order anarchists like myself, whilst Camera Obscura is set in the same world as The Bookman it doesn't seem to be a direct sequel. What it is, however, is an outstanding novel that appreciates full how to entertain and intrigue, and yet not shirk the big issues the story raises. Which is really what I'd expect of Lavie, to be honest.

The story follows Milady de Winter, an agent of the mysterious Quiet Council, as she investigates a murder and is catapulted into a wide-ranging conspiracy that takes her across the world, meeting a cavalcade of friends and foes, all pursuing an item which could mean the end of humanity. Which doesn't get across an iota of the excitement in the story. There are many points I enjoyed about Camera Obscura, but for brevity's (and decorum's) sake, I'm going to focus on a few major points and try not to gush hopelessly over it.

The first is something I've already hinted at. The sheer pace of the story is something to be marvelled at in itself. Short chapters, to-the-point sentences, and the fact that Poor de Winter is tossed around like a metaphorical rag doll. There scarcely seems a chapter that she isn't running for her life, or being knocked/drugged unconscious.

The storytelling here will keep you on the edge of your seat (now there's a cliché for you) and you should be well prepared for the ten minute dip into you planned to turn into hours. It happened to me, and it's both at once wonderful and intensely annoying. I emerged from the final page of Camera Obscura exhausted by the experience, but with a definite smile on my face. It's fast, and relentlessly fun.

The second point, is the wonderful range of characters. They're interconnected with the world Tidhar crafts really; familiar people and places, from history and fiction, worked into a rich and seamless fantasy. I particularly liked the lizard Queen Victoria, and Tom Thumb with his shop in Paris. He even works in a reference to Doctor Moreau, which hints at further things to come. And the main character of Milday de Winter was one whose boots are so easy to slip into that her trials and tribulations mattered deeply to me as the reader.

If I have to criticise something, then I'd have to say that the ending feels extremely abrupt. To race through a plot, foot down on the accelerator, and then to come to the finish line so abruptly was a little jarring. The climax comes only a few pages before the end, so it has a sense of suddenness, but also a sense of more story (and stories) to come. Hopefully that isn't just wishful thinking.

As you'll no doubt have gathered, I enjoyed Camera Obscura very much. It was an incredibly fun read, expertly written and immersive on an almost dangerous level. It's a widely held belief in the circles of genre fiction that Lavie is well on his way to being one of the new monsters of science fiction. This novel is as good an example of why as you're likely to find.
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on 19 July 2011
Mishandling of thirst quenchers is a plot by those effete English tea-drinkers.

Tanned, two-fisted jetsetting adventurers are hardly going to make such mistakes deliberately, keeping those fine products down.

Louche English intellectuals and their word-ridden minions and their weak lager deliberately introducing such confusion. An anti-Celt anglo conspiracy..

Feh.

3 Laphroaigs + 1.6 Tullamore Dews

Or, this is the good stuff.
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