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A weird world of wonders,
This review is from: The Shadow Wars: Book Two in the Demi-Monde Saga (Paperback)
There are some series where you can kick off with the second or third episode and not have missed too much. The Demi-Monde is not one of those series.
It is a wittily dense and coherent alternative reality - well, two alternative realities in fact - which tie together historical characters, invented creations, subverted legends, politics, philosophy and egonomics in an endless series of steampunk newspeak wordplay and bad puns. If you try to get your head around Spring/Book Two without first reading Winter/Book One, then I imagine you'll find it a fairly unrewarding experience. It's a long book too, packed with clever concepts and a tangle of interwoven plots at the core of which lies the urNazi ForthRight's evil attempt to take over both a virtual world and the real one, by supressing the computer-contained Demi-Monde and manipulating external events.
The original players from Winter stay central to the plot although they undergo some dramatic changes, as the action switches to the Quartier Chaud, an amalgamation of Mediterranean nations including the French and Venetians, all aswirl in giddy sensuality, liberated in most desires - the majority carnal - but about to come under the heel of Forthright oppression.
Rod Rees writes in an easy-going, accessible fashion which helps the short chapters to fly by. Each chapter includes a chunk of background info and there's a very handy glossary at the end (skim it first to remind yourself of whattheheck is going on). The action switches between the four or so main players and two realities, keeping all the various concurrent plotlines in play until the conclusion, when Venice itself comes under attack and multiple assassins attack under cover of an erotic festival. There's even the odd vampire or two, just to satisfy the current quotas for undead inclusion.
While Winter was an extremely successful opener for this series - one of my fave reads of last year - Spring is a little less satisfying, perhaps because it is so obviously an in-between episode in what logically will be a four-part series. As well as needing to cope with all the previous concepts and characters in this multi-layered universe, the reader meets a stack of newcomers and some remarkable reversals and developments - which means it rewards careful, considered reading. This isn't a book to dip in to for five minutes; I found I enjoyed it best when I had a couple of hours and could lose myself in the turmoil of pre-industrial belle epoch.
And I did get a little tired of so many weird words and odd capitalisations in the text, and the mauled mockney and fake franglais dialogue of a couple of the main characters. (I never liked Bascule the Rascule, either). However, the delightful manipulation of well-known characters into one time/space situation is a total giggle. Where else can you find Beria rubbing shoulders with Robespierre, Marie Lavreau, Casanova et al?
So. Not quite so rewarding for me as the first part, but still a thoroughly enjoyable read. The plot and character developments kept me utterly engaged, and I'm now eagerly awaiting the first signs of Summer...
NOTE: different editions label the series in different ways, Shadow Wars rather than by the seasons.