It's 2058 in an alternate world where Britain, France and Norway have united under the British monarchy. 19-year-old Prince Merovech is the heir to the throne but when his French girlfriend, Julie, invites him to join her in breaking into a laboratory run by his mother to free an artificial intelligence he jumps at the chance to abandon his responsibilities only to find that the AI's actually an enhanced monkey known as Ack-Ack Macaque.
Ack-Ack's been jacked into an on-line role-playing game where he believes that it's 1944 and he's an RAF pilot fighting German ninjas. Forced to question his entire existence, he's determined to get revenge and ropes Merovech and Julie in to help find the people responsible. Their search brings them into contact with Victoria Valois, a technologically-enhanced former journalist who's hunting for her ex-husband's murderer.
In a world filled with nuclear-powered zeppelins, electronic souls and vengeful, cigar-smoking monkeys, the four of them will battle powerful forces with sinister motives against the backdrop of a mission to Mars ...
Gareth Powell's SF novel is a thoroughly entertaining, fun-filled adventure packed with ideas and wry humour that kept me turning the pages to the end.
The star of the book's Ack-Ack, a cigar-chomping monkey undergoing an existential crisis. Larger than life, he simply takes over every scene he's in and I really enjoyed learning about his backstory. However Victoria Valois takes an equally prominent role and she's just as interesting, having had her brain rebuilt with gel-ware following a helicopter crash. Her relationship with ex-husband Paul continues after his brutal murder as she uploads his soul (essentially a computer recreation of his personality) into her own brain, which I found interesting. The notion of soul-catchers (which store the personalities) was fascinating and I loved how the plot touches on the consequences and implications of this.
Merovech was less interesting and I didn't quite buy his relationship with Julie (who doesn't really seem to do much). I also wished that his relationship with his mother had been developed more than it was, especially because of the way the plot turns on it.
The alternate world is well realised and has a coherent history and the use of news reports to put the story within a wider geopolitical context. The nuclear powered zeppelins were also great fun.
All in all I really enjoyed this book and will definitely buy the sequel.