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
on 26 February 2012
The Bookman-series took a turn for the (even) better with this third entry. At this level I loo(c)k forward to stay with it and I am happy to give four stars to "The Great Game" because it's fun, thrilling and entertaining all the way through.
It's not so much the story, but the author is getting better as a writer. I would still call him 'talented' and 'promising' though, because he is not 'there' yet. When he gets there, I hope there is a there there. (Sorry - I couldn't resist.) Seriously: When Tidhar get's 'there', he will be very good indeed, maybe even excellent.
The plot is more convoluted this time, though this third novel has the problem of many 'middle'-books that have to carry previous story lines and introduce new one, while keeping the overall story in mind. I imagine that some story lines which seem superfluous or at least redundant at this point, are vital for the big showdown.
The author keeps using (and introducing more and more) fictional characters by other writers as even very minor characters of his own. This is ... fun and no doubt for many readers one reason they buy the books, but I'm looking forward to a Tidhar-novel with his own characters.
Finally, a word about the publisher. Angry Robot deserves full credit for the most excellent cover design (front AND back). And their books are good on the inside as well! For a small publisher, they've already published some great books.