Book Review: The Great Game

So, do you…steampunk? Honestly, it’s the best (and only) way to introduce The Great Game because it is its dominant trait. Think Cheryl Priest—except whereas her works take place in Civil War era America, this one transports readers to Victorian Europe, a land where everything runs like clockwork. Or, on clockwork.

No, really. This may be alternate history, but the alternate should be in all caps—the British Empire is ruled by aliens, and not just any aliens, but alien lizards. Everyone who said the lizardman phenomenon was coming for us was apparently right—they just had the time frame off a little bit. Oh, and France? Automatons, the lot of them. Amazing, what a little steam and clockwork can pull off.

Suffice to say, the setting is pretty jarring. We’re not in Kansas anymore and all that; it does take some getting used to. Fortunately, historical and literary characters are there to help guide us through the adjustment period—though not in any real way we would be familiar with them for. Sherlock Holmes? Real and retired. Harry Houdini? Agent on the move. Yes, there’s more than one joke in there somewhere.

Would that any of these characters had the depth to bring extra life to a very colorful world, but unfortunately, no one’s really kept up with for too long. The world and the mysteries themselves are our real characters, and they drive this book forward, through a rather chaotic smattering of events.

Which brings us, in a rather roundabout way, to the plot. Agents of “the Bureau” are on the case of several murders, through shadowy intrigues and some rather colorful expositions. Despite that, erm, rather bland unveiling, though, I will note the plot’s problem is that, while it manages to stay pretty vibrant throughout, it can get a bit…shall we say…chaotic? The fact that the characters are not really at the heart of things certainly doesn’t help.

It is fun. You will be amused. But if you’re looking for more than that, you may be in for some disappointment. With all this attention dedicated to the mystery and the plot, over character, one would think the climax and resolution would be especially key, the answers to all the great exploratory questions—and yet, there is little resolution. It’s a book that can be raced through, leaving little along the way; it will entertain while it’s read, but there’s not much that will cling to the shadows of the mind in its aftermath.

Just don’t let the lizards know I told you.

Book Review: The Son

To begin, let me get this out of the way: I won a copy of “The Son” through a giveaway on Goodreads. Despite that, this review has not been bought and paid for, nor is it in any way anyone’s opinion but my own.

Well. That gets the nitty-gritty out of the way. So let’s get down to business, shall we?

Welcome to The Son: historical fiction at its finest. A vibrant picture not only of characterization, but of the history and personification of the Lone Star state itself, this work is an engaging saga that carries across generations, and through them, unveils the cultures and people that helped to form the true uniqueness of the American south.

Our guides are four-fold: Colonel Eli McCullough, patriarch of the McCullough clan and the first male child born in the Republic of Texas; his son, Peter, in which morality finds a foothold; and Peter’s granddaughter, Jeanne, whom expands the McCullough empire to new heights. No, that is not a mathematical error, by the way–there is a fourth character, but unveiling them would in turn prod too deeply into the plot for a review. Apologies.

This book is not your average Western. If you go in expecting that, you will be sadly disappointed. There is violence, tragedy, and unsettling portrayals of family–but it is captured in an authentically real voice and narrative; one will find cowboys, but they’re not roaming the prairie with the easy heroism of “The Duke.”

It also delivers what is, in truth, a captivating portrayal of the Comanche Indians, from the height of their dominion to the devastating about-face a flip of luck’s coin can bring. The effect this tribe would have on the generations to come, and viewed through the eyes of Eli McCullough, a white man raised in this world, positively resonates through the soul of the book.

Each character has a unique voice, fraught with its own foibles and virtues; yet the book itself shines through Philipp Meyer‘s own voice, originally rendered to us in the equally powerful novel, American Rust. Here, it captures the untamed wild and brings it under modern inspection; he breathes emotion into history and shows why it is so important we should never let the past die. In some ways, it can come back to haunt you; yet, in others, the peril is so much greater for those that turn aside.

It can be jarring initially. If you go in without any foreknowledge of what you’re getting into, the character shifts and settings might leave you a little off-balance–but once you settle in, you won’t be able to put it down. There is power in the voice, humanity (in all its shades of grey) in the characters, beauty and terror in the setting, and a sweeping breadth of life in the cultures and landscape it covers. And the dialogue is none-too-shabby either–a fact that is paired with enough twists and turns to keep even the most suspicious fellow on their toes.

Taken to the stars? 4/5

Review: The Wolf’s Sun

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: there are too few quality historical fiction narratives yet lodged among the hall of trophies on the indie side of literary manor. Karen Charbonneau`s marvelous delivery is surely among them.

But first, a summary, in the book’s own words:

In this sweeping historical novel of 17th century France, the wrath and power of Louis XIV are felt all the way to Keltic Brittany near the Bay of the Dead.

Born into the peasant culture, a mixture of ancient pagan beliefs mixed with Catholicism, is the girl Anna, a bastard looking like no one in her parish – her mother would not tell who her father was. Taught the use of herbs by the women of her family, she also has the gift of healing – a power also attributed to French and English kings who were said to heal scrofula with their touch. This ability will cause one man, a physician, to attempt to use her for his own glorification, and another, a Jesuit, to work to send her to a fiery death.

The Wolf’s Sun is a beautifully crafted, richly detailed rendering of 17th century France, peppered with a cast of colorful characters and historical tidbits that leave us with a book I can describe only as “sweeping” in scope. And it is at that. This is a long read, but well worth it. Not only does one become engrossed in the mechanisms and doings of the characters, when you emerge again from the captivating narrative, you find yourself pondering how much you have actually learned, actually pulled still fresh and gleaming from the fertile wealth of that rich French soil.

To say it plainly: this book is well-researched, and planted easily among the boundaries of its period of history. It also helps that it is well edited, and professionally delivered–I doubt you shall ever feel stricken by any sense of “amateur hour” while in the midst of this book.

But I caution thus: it is slow to get going. You will likely ponder, in the first 10% of the book or so, just what the point is, and where it is going. Because this is not just a story, it is the telling of a life, and the lives around it, and for that, that central crux takes some getting to. While in later chapters the multiple viewpoints structure gives us a great deal of insight into the characters, and to the events surrounding, in the beginning it has something of a muddled effect, pulling us this way and that without seeing the why, or even, who shall be our inevitable fixing point. When this shifts, however, you will know it, and Wolf’s Sun truly hits smooth sailing from then on.

Through Charbonneau’s writing we see a vibrant world, carefully honed and crafted, with figures and scenes that are strikingly realistic…and captivating for it. It puts us, as well, in a unique scandal–the Affair with Poisons–and delivers it to us in a way that, in spite of its breadth, never feels bogged down by its details, but rather, enhances its portrait. This is not a quick read by any means. But for the patient, and the great fan of history, it is well worth the investment of time.

I definitely recommend it.