This is a vaguely steampunkish fantasy novel set in a very China-like country. I say fantasy and steampunkish, but neither term totally fits in this c...moreThis is a vaguely steampunkish fantasy novel set in a very China-like country. I say fantasy and steampunkish, but neither term totally fits in this case. There is no magic or dragons or vampires--just people in a world that is technologically very like ours in the late 1800s. It's sort of fantasy in that the countries are different--Albion, which is much like Britain but not with recognizable political figures, and Tem, which is sort of like China, but again, not quite. It has a few steampunk elements.
So how is it? Not bad at all, with well-drawn characters and a lot of political intrigue, both of which I grew to care about, and a lovingly detailed world.
This is a relatively long book--probably the equivalent of over 600 pages, and can be purchased in two more bite-sized chunks if you prefer. The length is the only real criticism I had. The story could have used one more light line-edit cut.
Overall though, it was quite well done. The heroine is a member of an Albion mission to Tem. She is also a member of a shadowy group called the Guild of Spies. She accidentally gets sucked into the politics of Tem at the highest level when she plays a role in preventing the assassination of Tem's emperor. Tem's politics is thoroughly nasty and complex, though in subtle ways that often seem counter-intuitive.(less)
Five out of five stars, but he almost lost one in the last 40 pages.
I bought this book from the author at Context, a science fiction convention in Co...moreFive out of five stars, but he almost lost one in the last 40 pages.
I bought this book from the author at Context, a science fiction convention in Columbus Ohio.
First the good stuff: It has been a long time since a book has grabbed me and made me want to keep turning pages even though I had a lot of other things that desperately needed to be done. This one did. The combination of the plot and characters I cared about kept me reading. The next issue of Point of Divergence may be a day or two late, but this was worth it.
This book is solidly alternate history, though the histories of the universes involved are generally rather sketchy. Most of them are penciled in with a few well-chosen details--enough to that they seemed solid, but not enough to slow down or overshadow the story.
The bulk of the story follows two versions of a farm boy, John Rayburn as he/they live his/their lives, mostly separately, but with some overlap. The first of those overlaps comes as one version (John Prime) tricks the other into swapping lives with him. Details of the second meeting would involve spoilers, so I'll let you discover that on your own. There are other overlapping characters, including a nemesis and a love interest.
One of the stronger aspects of this novel is the way that Melko approaches the way intellectual property transfers across the realities. That sounds boring stated that way, but he handles it well, technically accurate, realistic, and kind of exciting. Another strength: the way the experiences of the two versions of John shape them into substantially different people by the end of the book.
Now the weakness: Notice that I still gave this one five stars, so this didn't spoil the experience for me. With that in mind, the last forty-odd pages of Walls seemed considerably weaker than the rest. The writing wasn't as smooth. The characters didn't seem quite as in-character. There were a lot of little line-edits that should have been made to tighten it up and make things clearer. The rest of the book was excellent. Those last forty pages or so felt like they had the same potential, but needed one more edit pass for clarity and conciseness.
Again, notice the five stars. I read a lot of alternate history, and this one grabbed me about as thoroughly as a book as been able to grab me in the last year or two, relatively weak ending or no. I'm glad I bought this one, and would buy a sequel if one comes out. (less)
I was torn between a four and a five on the rating for this one. There is a lot to like about it. The author sets up his mystery with a deceptively tr...moreI was torn between a four and a five on the rating for this one. There is a lot to like about it. The author sets up his mystery with a deceptively tranquil pace, then suddenly slams the trap shut on his point of view character. That part is very well done.
My only issue with the book was that I figured out who the "big bad" was earlier than the author probably intended me to. That may have come from thinking like an author--who would I put in that position?
Overall, this was an enjoyable read, and I do recommend it.(less)