Alternate History Feed

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

C.vision.silver.180Last summer I listened to the first two books in The Others series, Written in Red and Murder of Crows and I fell in love with the series.  The Others series is set in alternate Earth, called Thasia, where humans are not the dominant species. Instead humans are a vulnerable population that lives at the mercy of mysterious and supernatural communities of shape-shifters,  vampires, elementals and other even more powerful beings that have control over most of the world's lands and resources. Centuries ago humans and Terra Indigene worked out treaties that allow humans to barter technology, books and other manufactured goods in exchange for access to raw materials, limited land leases and access to water sources, allowing human communities to grow and thrive as long as they do nothing to threaten their Terra Indigene neighbors.   After the creation of these treaties, the Terra Indigene for the most part retreated to the interior parts of the vast land holdings, leaving behind only small groups to live near, observe and trade with the humans. These Terra Indigene-controlled tracks of lands, where human law does not apply, at the edges of human settlements were called Courtyards, and are used as headquarters, embassies and trading posts.

Meg Corbyn, is the central character in The Others series. She is a blood prophet who is learning how to live after escaping captivity at the hands of humans who profited from her prophecies. In Written in Red, Meg finds sanctuary among the Terra Indigene when she stumbles into the Lakeside Courtyard and into Simon Wolfguard's bookstore. In Murder of Crows,  Meg's continued presence in the Lakeside Courtyard and her prophesies expose a growing anti-Terra Indigene movement in the human communities of Thasia.  In Vision in Silver, the tensions between human and Terra Indigene communities continue to grow and it is clear that change, maybe explosive change, is inevitable. 

I really loved this book. It was 1/3 political thriller, 1/3 murder-mystery and 1/3 psychological horror story.

When the newly rescued Cassandra Sangue struggle to acclimate to life outside of the sanatoriums, Meg's quest to understand how to manage her prophetic urges while minimizing harm to herself gains new urgency. She is no longer simply trying to figure out how live and use her gifts outside of captivity  but intentionally blazing a trail for these young and newly rescued group of Cassandra Sangue.

Lieutenant Montgomery becomes personally involved in trying to identify and stop the human agitators hell-bent on sparking a Terra Indigene-Human war in Thasia, when his daughter Lizzie is nearly abducted and his ex killed.  He must try to figure out what humans he can trust while not overly-alarming his Terra Indigene contacts.

Meanwhile Simon is traveling all over Thasia following the clues in Meg's cryptic but frightening prophesies, looking for hope and hoping to figure out some new way to for these two communities to co-exist short of genocide.

Ms. Bishop was able to juggle these ambitious and complicated plot threads, while developing complex emotional relationships within the book's large ensemble cast.  I was fully engaged in all three plots, because I was emotionally invested in the lives of the secondary characters, both human & Terra Indigene, not just in Meg and Simon's relationship. But Simon and  Meg remain central to the story. Their struggle to understand what their growing attraction and emotional attachment means to them and everyone else serves as both a catalyst and proof of the radically altering state of human & Terra Indigene relations in the series.

 I was left wanting to read so much more about this world. I was greatly relieved to see confirmation on Ms. Bishop's website that we can count on at least two more books in this fascinating series. My only disappointment is in having to wait at least another year for the next book.

A review copy of Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop was provided by PENGUIN GROUP USA via Edelweiss. 

Thursday I will be again reviewing another fantastic Urban Fantasy book, Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs, the 5th story in her Alpha and Omega series.


Gunpower Alchemy (The Gunpowder Chronicles) by Jeannie Lin

Cover53780-mediumThis summer I read Jeannie Lin’s beautiful “Lotus Palace” and the beauty of that book won her a place on my auto-buy list. I have been stockpiling her other earlier China-set historical romances for the TBR.

Gunpower Alchemy is the first book in the Gunpowder Chronicles a steampunk flavored speculative/alternative history fiction series set in China during Qing Dynasty & the Opium Wars. The series follows Soling a young woman whose father, once the Chief Engineer of the Empire and head of the Ministry of Science, was executed by the Emperor when China's navy fell before the Yangguizi’s steam-powered iron-ships. Ten years later, the Yangguizi (English) control many of the China’s port cities, insurrectionists are raiding cities in the interior,  opium addiction is at all time high. Soling has grown up in poverty, taking care of her opium addicted mother and younger brother Tian after they were were exiled from Peking. There is nothing genteel about their situation, but Soling has managed to provide for them, attaching herself to the village doctor, learning to practice acupuncture and training to be a healer, while slowly selling the few of her father’s precious trinkets and inventions they were able to bring with them out of Peking to ensure her mother always has her next dose. When she travels out of her small village to the provincial center to get a better price for the last of these treasures, a foreign-made metal puzzle box, she doesn’t realize that her life will be changing dramatically once again.

The world-building in Gunpower Alchemy is fantastic. Lin creates vibrant  steam gunpowder-punk China, with acupuncture inspired bio-mechanical devices, gunpowder powered junks, and delicate kite-like dirigibles and gliders. The world of the Gunpowder Chronicles is both familiar and surprising. The world never feels artificial but instead feels lived in and grounded by the weight of the well-developed characters that inhabit it.

Jin Soling is recruited by the Crown Prince to track down her father’s associates in an effort to reclaim some of his discoveries for the benefit of the empire. Some of these men are outlaws on the run from the Emperor since her father’s execution. The Crown Prince sends her to work with Chang-wei, her father’s protege, to whom she was once betrothed. They had never met, but have been ghostly presences  in each others lives, haunting each other with might-have-beens. The stakes are very high for Soling through out the story. If she successfully fulfills this quest, she could see her family honor restored and secure a better future for her brother Tian, but if she fails she could die a world away from the family that depends on her.  Chang-wei tries to dissuade her from participating, and feels great responsibility for her but Soling refuses to stay home when there is a chance to better her own life and that of her family.  In the end she has the resourcefulness, observational skills and occasionally the right life-experiences to help her and Chang-wei to survive the many perilous situations they encounter. 

This novel is the first of a projected three stories following Soling and Chang-wei and and while we have resolution to one storyline in this book, the overarching plot of the Opium Wars & internal insurrectionist threat against the empire remain. The romantic plot is progressing and clearly will continue to develop in the next book.

I loved roaming around Lin’s Gunpowder-punk China, meeting mad or madly brilliant scientists, tinkerers and engineers, to face down passionate and ruthless rebels, whose cause is not unjust but who pose great danger to Soling and her family. I loved how Soling, Chang-wei, & Yang all wrestle with how they should balance the demands of Emperor, Nation, Family and Self. I can’t wait to read more.

 

4.5 Stars

A review copy of this novel was made available by Penguin Group: Intermix via NetGalley


The Kraken King by Meljean Brook

Krakenkingpart1-184x300Meljean Brook and Nalini Singh were my gateway drugs into Romance. Back in early 2012, I started watching Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Book Club. One of the early bookclub selections was the Iron Duke, which I was lucky enough to get from my local library. I was sucked into the her Steampunk/alternate history world, The Iron Seas, where the Horde (Genghis Khan’s mighty empire) had overrun Asia and Europe and had enslaved great swaths of the world through nanobots hidden in sugar.

 

Meljean Brook hooked me with her fantastic world-building and in every book, novella and short since she has expanded the world a little further. We have traveled to the zombie infested European interior, infiltrated the New World settlements, discovered hidden Scandinavian villages, traveled to remote African trading posts, and met colorful characters from up-tight New Worlders, rebel sultans, imposing blacksmiths, pirate queens and outlandish archaeologists. From the most powerful of English Dukes to orphan gutter rats, Meljean Brook has populated the world with fascinatingly diverse characters.

 

Krakenkingpart2-184x300In the Kraken King, the focus shifts from the west to Australia and the eastern fringes of the Golden Empire. Zenobia Fox is a writer used observing and never participating in the adventures she chronicles, even though she is also the daughter of notorious traitor and brother to trouble-making adventurer. Her connection to Archimedes Fox, the star of her serials and brother is no longer a secret and she can no longer hide out in her quiet North Sea village. Too many ransom seeking kidnappers have come bursting through her door, so she decides it is time stop being a sitting duck and to venture forth and see the world for herself. When her friend Helene needs a companion for a urgent trip to the Red City, she leaps at the opportunity. However she is soon leaping from the wreckage of her airship when it come under attack by marauders off the coast of Australia. She leaps right into the arms of one of the most dangerous men in the world, the former rebel Ariq the Kraken King.

 

The first two parts of this serial were fantastic. Great character development and tension as Arriq and Zenobia try to figure each other while trying to keep their own secrets and those of the one they love. I don’t usually sign up for serials usually waiting for the collected edition to come out as I did with Ruthie Knox’s Roman Holiday but this is one I would happily recommend. Each part has it own arc within the larger Kraken King story arc and are long enough to be satisfying. Zenobia, Ariq and the Eastern fringes of the empire hold lots of surprises for the reader and I can’t wait to learn more about them all.

 

The Kraken King and the Scribbling Spinster published April 15, 2014

The Kraken King and the Abominable Worm will be published April 22, 2014

The Kraken King and the Fox’s Den will be published April 29, 2014

The Kraken King and the Inevitable Abduction will published May 6, 2014

The Kraken King and the Iron Hear will be published May 13, 2014

The Kraken King and the Crumbling Walls will be published May 20, 2014

The Kraken King and the Empress’s Eyes will be published May 27, 2014

The Kraken King and the Greatest Adventure will be published June 3, 2014

 

The serial will be republished in a collected edition sometime after Aug 2014.

 

A review copy of The Kraken King, Part 1 & 2 were provided by Penguin/Intermix for review purposes