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3.7 out of 5 stars42
3.7 out of 5 stars
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Penny Dreadfuls were the Victorian equivalent pulp fiction; disposable magazines (often sold for a penny, hence the name) that contained lurid tales of horror, crime and adventure. Although a 'proper' novel Jonathan Green's 'Unnatural History' very follows in the same tradition. It doesn't pretend to be high art or great literature. Its a tall tale intended to entertain, and it does exactly what it sets out to do.

A mixture of steam punk alternative history, Ryder Haggard-style adventure, Hammer horror and Conan Doyle-ish whodunnit, mixed in with action sequences that wouldn't be out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster, it often feels like a comic book without pictures (the fact that the author has also written comics might partly explain that). All the characters, from hero Ulysses Quicksilver to the bad guys, are stereotypes of one sort or another, drawn in broad strokes, but this suits the genre and the tone of the book. The same goes for the plot, which is suitably convoluted and packed full of incident. It might also be utterly implausible, but in a setting where dinosaurs still live, robots are commonplace and Queen Victoria is 160 years old, it fits in perfectly.

It might be valid to say that there is a surfeit of ideas on display, with some working better than others. Equally the focus on keeping the plot moving and on almost relentless action means that readers are given very little time to get to grips with the world Green has created. I'm sure this will be corrected in future books, but at times in Unnatural History it can leave your head spinning.

As adventure fiction however, Unnatural History provides great entertainment. Its utterly disposable and over the top at times, but it rockets along and gives you everything that you'd want from this sort of fantastical high adventure. On its own terms therefore it has to be consider a success and worthy of four stars.
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on 13 March 2007
This book served as a fantastic introduction to the world of 'Pax Britannia' bringing the reader fully up to speed with the fact that by 1997 the visions of the great Victorian sci-fi writers have been met or surpassed by the British Empire. Whilst also delivering a nicely paced adventure with many a twist and turn which allowed the reader to comprehend why the characters (some of whom are bound to turn up again in sequels) had such noteworthy places in society as they held because Ulysses, Jango, Wormwood et al played their parts magnificently.

My only main point of fault with the book was that some of the plot twists were let on a bit too early. Thus when a shocking turn of events left many characters shocked and surprised we the reader already knew who was in league with who, even if the precise details were new to us, which lessoned the impact somewhat.
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on 9 March 2016
I'm glad to say that like Terry Pratchett i failed to start the series on the first book because i may not have kept reading despite enjoying the story. Luckily for me i had read the follow up first and it has become one of my favourite go to reads.

I didn't even get my hands on a copy of Unnatural History until i was technically three books into the series.

Reading it when i did though (as well as pointing out the first books stand nicely alone) made it a good fun read. The characters are not yet developed so follow the traditional tropes leading to the belief you may have read this story all before; in several different places. The characters do develop though and it such a twisted and magical way that if you do (wisely) start at the beginning you are in for a fantastic ride.

Enjoy this book for what it is, an origin story that will lead to some awesome turns.
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on 3 February 2009
I saw this book advertised in the back of the first Abaddon book I bought - Smith's excellent `The Words Of Their Roaring' - and when I saw a picture of a T-rex running around Victorian London I thought I would have to give it a try. But for some reason, none of my local shops ever seemd to want to stock it, so I waited in great anticipation until finally finding it in a charity shop.

Now though I have to say that the expected story conjured up in my minds-eye did not quite live up to the actual pleasure of read - don't get me wrong, its worth a read but not quite what I thought it might be.

The book is basically about the escapades of `private eye/detective' Ulysses Quiksilver, hired by a scheming politicitian to try and solve a murder/theft from London's Natural Hitory Museum. However, nothing is as it seems, and quickly the investigation turns into a chase to uncover the scandalous truth and stop the 160 year old Queen Victoria and her patronage devolving into a primeval soup !

This book seemed to me to be the result of what would happen if Jules Verne, HG Wells and Conan Doyle ever had met on a train and came up with a story to pass the time away. Though if the classical writers had ever published a work of a semi-mechanical 160 year old Queen Victoria, I am sure they would have been immediately transported to the `Tower' !

My problem was that I found it hard to picture a Great Birtain that had conquered the stars and had robotic policeman yet still used steam as its main source of power, Zeppelins and horse and cart. Maybe my powers of imagination are not quite as immaginative as the writers, but I found the mix of modern and the old just a bit too distracting from the actual story line. It was like a return to the old black and white movies like `First Men On The Moon' !

It is all very well to have an arch nemesis of a `dandy' hero - after all Holmes had his Morriaty - but to have the sudden appearance and expect readers to just accept him is asking a little. I felt it would have been far better to have just introduced Kane as the hired muscle in this book and leave it at that and to re-appear in future novels.

I would also like to say that at times I felt the writer could not decide if to give this book a serious story line or a comical one. The idea of a Neanderthal walking around London in a suit and our hero bringing down a rampaging T-Rex with a blade from his walking stick seemed to be verging a little on the humourous.

However, I would still give the author, the character and tha Pax Britannia world a second chance. 4 out of 5.

Incidenatlly, if anyone out there really wants to read a silly book about people being munched by a T-Rex, please read Carnivore by Leigh Clarke - enjoyable but pure unscientific clap-trap !!
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on 9 August 2010
Okay, this book was one of the goofiest I have read in a long while and I really liked it. It was over the top, silly steampunk that didn't take itself seriously and you shouldn't either. The names of the characters are even tongue in cheek, which some readers who have reviewed the book don't seem to get. Also, people were complaining that the science part of the plot was bad - it wasn't supposed to be great science fiction. It is supposed to be a lighthearted fun read. No, this isn't a classic. No, this isn't superb fiction. It is a lighthearted and comic tongue in cheek look at steampunk and the genre.
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on 3 July 2010
This book is getting mixed reviews it would seem. It's great fun and well written and Ulysses Quicksilver, dandy aristocratic hero, is a great creation. The narrative is very wordy at times (a criticism I have read levelled at the book in some reviews) but this is essesntial in portraying the world through the eyes of such an upper crust protagonist.

Highly recommended and I look forward to reading the rest of the Pax Britannia series. El Sombra is a highly recommended entry into the series and is even better than this one.
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What fun - Queen Victoria is 160 years old (and mostly rebuilt using brass cogs I suspect), there are dinosaurs loose in London, and there is a spiffing hero - along the lines of those stiff-upper-lipped men from Rider Haggard et al. Zooms along in a somewhat daft and lunatic way - but well worth a read, if you like the steam-punk re-imagined Victorian era. Not the best of its type - try Gibson and Sterling's "Difference Engine" to see the masters at work.
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on 17 November 2015
Fantastic look into a diffrent universe look forward to reading more from this author
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on 22 April 2016
I got this book months ago but only recently read it. I'm ashamed I didn't read it sooner.

Ulysses Quicksilver is an immensely likeable hero. Adventurer, Swashbuckler, detective and more.

Don't take my word for it though, just read Unnatural History (the first in the Pax Britannia series) like there's no tomorrow.
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on 4 January 2012
just finished reading Unnatural History and it was a rip roaring read with gushings of hot steampunk action. I had been meaning to read this series for years ever since I first saw it on the shelf at the local Waterstones where I worked. Finally I bit the bullet and gave it a go and it must have been the horrible britannia weather outside and getting over the year that's been that put me in a perfect mood for this type of novel. I must say it delivered exactly what I expected from it, which isnt a bad thing. When I was reading it I recalled certain movies over the last few years like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing coupled with a slice of Weng Chiang and abit of Sherlock Holmes...so was it was an amalgamation of various sources... Now being compared to some of the biggest slated movies of the 90's is not a great thing..but on the other hand it is..so bare with..barewith..lol...one thing those movies did was try to bring a steampunk ethic from literary fiction/comics onto the mainstream cinema..and whether it was script or acting we can debate to the early hours of the evening with many other movies etc...but let's get back to why I thought Jonathan Green's work did it for me...it's all based on familiarity of material he uses especially of you are a fan boy or a geek like me...the names of the characters he uses are witty and obvious but I appreciate it the more of Jonathan's unabashed love of this stuff and I got it...anyway it worked for me because I had all this stuff and visuals in my mind that made Unnatural History lush and visually dramatic..the set pieces were amazing and the equal of any movie blockbuster especially the dinosaur escape and the finale...my one main critically point was that even though the action was fast paced and dramatic I wanted more character development and abit more meat which Im sure we will get in the ongoing series. I feel even though I know Ulysses Quicksilver he comes across as any other embodiment of rackish victorian dandy and I had in mind Mark Gatiss in this role cause he is rather similar to his Vesuvius Box character in his own take on steampunk daring do.
6 minutes ago · Like
David Kenyon '...oops pressed the wrong button..havent finished yet..so yes I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars because I enjoyed it immensely and will devour his other books with gentlemen's relish and a nice warm cup of earl grey while my manservant pleasures me at my own disposal..sorry got a bit Carry On there...but yes I enjoyed it and recommend it to those who like a quick fun read..with a fun plot and lovely witty language in the form of Quicksilver comebacks that will make you laugh out loud at times or at least smirk abit...give it a go and let yourself go, but dont expect anything too wordy..just have fun..I did. Now where is my manservant when I need one..:)
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