Tuesday, December 27, 2016

By Gaslight by Steven Price

By Gaslight by Steven Price is an atmospheric victorian mystery with an intriguing premise and fascinating characters. William Pinkerton, son of the namesake agency’s founder and quite famous in his own right, pursues a criminal who eluded his father; the notorious Edward Shade, a man whom many think dead and some think doesn’t exist at all. The key to picking up Shade’s trail may be Charlotte Reckitt. Pinkerton and English gentleman Adam Foole are both pursuing her for their own reasons. Along with Foole’s giant accomplice, Flood, they search the gaslit corners of London from its highest echelons to the lowest imaginable locales for clues to Charlotte’s whereabouts and fate.

By Gaslight is heavy on the atmosphere. Price’s background as a poet is on ample display with lyrical and beautiful phrasing throughout. The story is filled with descriptive and memorable language both of place and of character. The narrative bounces from the search in 1880s London to the American Civil War 20 years earlier. The time spent in the civil war gradually shines more light on Pinkerton, as well as Shade, lending greater understanding of the events of 1880.

The plot moves doggedly forward as clues propel the characters together and apart and gradually shine light on the central mystery. The mystery is as much who is Edward Shade and what is he to the Pinkertons as it is where might he be. There is almost an excess of language with so much time spent on descriptions that the plot can at times suffer and makes the book feel overlong. One nagging thing for most of the book was that the obsession by both Pinkertons with finding Edward Shade seemed to lack sufficient motivation. This lack balances throughout on the knife’s edge between intriguing and annoying, with a little too much time spent on the latter side. In the end, Price manages to weave all the various threads together into a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion.

Price has a knack for uniformly interesting characters both major and minor. Charlotte Reckitt may be the most interesting, and perhaps tragic, character of all.

The audio version of the book is narrated by John Lee who does an outstanding job with the material. He brings to life the lush descriptions and makes each character distinctive and easy to recognize. The voices for the Pinkertons didn’t sound very midwestern American, but I’m not sure what an 1860s or 1880s midwestern accent really sounded like. Lee added to the enjoyment of the material, which is an important factor given that the audio is nearly 24 hours long. His pacing and accents added to the mood and mystery of the material.

Fans of victorian mysteries and lush, descriptive language will enjoy this book.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: William Pinkerton is already famous when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of the fabled con Edward Shade. His father, the most notorious detective of all time, died without ever finding Shade, but William is determined.

Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London to find her. What he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried.

A fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and séance halls ensues, creating the most unlikely of bonds. Steven Price’s dazzling, riveting By Gaslight moves from the diamond mines of South Africa to the battlefields of the Civil War, on a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our darker selves.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

After the Crown (The Indranan War) by K. B. Wagers

Behind the Throne by K. B. Wagers was one of the best debut novels I’ve read and one of my favorite reads of 2016 period. It was with both excitement and trepidation that I started reading the sequel, After the Crown. I needn’t have worried. Now K. B. Wagers has written two of my favorite reads of 2016 and she’s only getting better. I get the same feeling as the first time I opened a book and met Miles Vorkosigan or Honor Harrington. Like Lois McMaster Bujold and David Weber, Wagers has created a character and a universe that I look forward to reading many, many more stories about.

After the Crown picks up events soon after we left them at the end of Behind the Throne. Hail is settling into being empress despite the threats that exist both from within and outside the empire. The court intrigue and disruptions from factions within the empire is intriguing and exciting in its own right, but the story really kicks into high gear when Hail leaves the planet to meet with the King of the Saxon empire and try to avert interplanetary war. Soon after, more bullets start flying and more things start blowing up. This leads to the gunrunner empress proving that her reputation is no joke and that killing her is harder than it looks. Now Hail is on the run and relying on some of her more disreputable connections from her past to win back her empire and get justice for all the friends and family she’s lost.

Wagers writes action scenes like nobody’s business and once things start rolling they keep on rolling until you are out of breath and there are no more pages left to turn. Even better than the action though is the characters. Hail Bristol is one of the best characters I’ve come across in a long time. She is larger than life. She is part Princess Leia and part Han Solo. The cast of characters around her is equally interesting. Emmory and Zin, the trackers turned bodyguards, are great characters, and there are many more among the court, the Indranan military and the government. After the Crown introduces us to more characters from Hail’s past, including her old boss Hao and the infamous Po-Sin.

The Indranan War is one of the best new series to come along in a long time and After the Crown is an outstanding followup to Behind the Throne. Get in on the ground floor of the next great science fiction series. You won’t regret it. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: Former gunrunner-turned-Empress Hail Bristol was dragged back to her home planet to fill her rightful position in the palace. With her sisters and parents murdered, the Indranan empire is on the brink of war. Hail must quickly make alliances with nearby worlds if she has any hope of surviving her rule.

When peace talks turn violent and Hail realizes she's been betrayed, she must rely on her old gunrunning ways to get out of trouble. With help from an old boss and some surprising new allies, she must risk everything to save her world.