Review: Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley

Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley
Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley

Cowboy Angels
Paul McAuley (blog, twitter)
Pyr, 2011

I started this sort of randomly.  I mean, I certainly intended to read it next, but I was on my way to the bathroom (tmi?) and saw it sitting there on my desk and just sort of brought it along.  Then we had more than a foot of snow dumped on us so I kept reading.  I don’t know what it is about the novel that prompted me to keep reading.  I think that it had something to do with the sort-of wearied spy/two old soldiers talking dialogue early in the novel.  There is a certain undeniable attraction to the “I’m too old for this.”  mentality in protagonists that I sometimes find hard to resist.

Cowboy Angels is sort of like Sliders but instead of dumb graduate student it was spies that had discovered a way to hop realities.  These spies don’t get lost but instead became part of an initiative to create an alliance of America’s across multiple realities.  Of course, all of that happened before Cowboy Angels started.  The novel opens with a regime change predicated on the desire to end the violence and resource drain caused by the active pursuit the so-called Pan-American Alliance.  Agreements are broken and those original spies, the Cowboy Angels, are more-or-less hung out to dry.  Fast forward several years later and retired CIA Agent Stone is living out his retirement in a prehistoric sheaf (alternate reality) running a hunting lodge when he is called back in by The Company to track down his former partner who has apparently been on a murder spree targeting the dopel’s (alternate reality versions) of a mathematician.  Almost against his will Stone is dragged back into the field.

Continue reading “Review: Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley”

Review: At the Queen’s Command by Michael A. Stackpole

At the Queen's Command by Michael A Stackpole
At the Queen's Command by Michael A Stackpole

At the Queen’s Command
Michael A Stackpole
Night Shade Books, 2010

I have seen little to no discussion of At the Queen’s Command around the blogging circuit and I’m a little worried it might fly under some people’s radar.  If you enjoyed The Last of the Mohicans, perused Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series, or glanced at C. C. Finlay’s The Patriot Witch this is probably a fantasy novel worth a look.  It might be 1763 but European history as we know it had been significantly altered as Norillian (English) and Tharygnian (French) forces are still at war in Europe.  The Tharygnians have had a revolution applying scientific method to study magic while the Norillians maintain a more religious outlook on arcane power (used to control the more magically powerful commoners).  Owen Stake, a solider in the Queen’s Own Wurms, has been sent to Mystria (America), a Norillian Colony, to investigate the Tharygnian presence there.  Continue reading “Review: At the Queen’s Command by Michael A. Stackpole”

Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Leviathan by Scott Westerfield

Scott Westerfeld with art by Keith Thompson
Forthcoming Simon Pulse, 2009 (October 6)

In my continuing exploration of several Steampunk titles this month my signed ARC from BEA of Westerfeld’s Leviathan marks my first and only foray into a YA steampunk title.  Which is regrettable since Leviathan is an exciting novel full of imagination, adventure, and excitement in spades.  Leviathan starts in June of 1914  as the fictional son of Archduke Ferdinand, Aleksander, is whisked away on the eve of his parents murder.  Loaded into a Stormwalker, a mechanized military walker, he and his two mentors flee towards the Swiss border.  Meanwhile, young Deryn Sharp disguises herself as a boy in order to enter the British air service whose genetically engineered animals take the place of the mechanized constructs of the Austrian empire.  Deryn, thanks to a mishap involving the a jellyfish-based air creature, finds herself aboard the titular Leviathan and airship composed mostly out of a whale but in truth a living ecosystem unto itself.

If all that sounds wildly imaginative then you’d be absolutely correct.  It is also a joy to read.

Continue reading “Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld”

Review: New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

Set in an alternate 19th/early 20th Century where the British Empire still reigns supreme and magic and science collide Elizabeth Bear’s New Amsterdam is an fascinating look in a world equal parts familiar and strange.

Warning:  Vampire Romance Ahead.  Words I almost wish I had heard before starting the book, but ultimately I’m glad I didn’t as I would have missed out on a good read.  The book’s main characters are DCI (Detective Crown Inspector) Abigail Irene Garrett and Don Sebastian de Ulloa (the aforementioned vampire) the more interesting of the two, IMO, is DCI Garrett but the book focuses heavily on Sebastian.  Garrett is a hard drinking older woman disgraced and suffering in self-exile in New Amsterdam; serving as the British Crown’s chief investigator of all things magical.  Sebastian is a thousand year-old vampire, also in self-exile, looking to escape the trappings of the “Blood’s” (vampire) society in the fledgling British colonies.

In a series of linked stories we follow Garrett as she solves cases and gets tangled in the political strife between the colonial government and the crown.   At the same time we follow Sebastian, working as a PI in the colonies, as he solves cases (crossing paths with Garret) and acquires a Court (a group of trusted/loved individuals he can feed on)  and gets involved in the same political struggles as DCI Garrett.  Each story is self-contained eventually forming a more cohesive narrative.  Each is well paced, typically featuring a magical twist on a typical detective fiction trope (the first story is a “locked room” mystery) and each builds on the relationship between Sebastian and his Court.

Not being a huge fan of vampire stories this wasn’t a big draw for me but the world crafted by Bear was so vivid and compelling and as a result I wish more time was spent on Garrett and her personal story rather than on Sebastian.  Sebastian isn’t a bad character, but he is familiar, the vampire as tragic hero type isn’t new, and was certainly less interesting (to me at least) than Miss Garrett.  Regardless the world Bear crafted really drew me in and I would like to see more of it.  Given the final events of the book a return to the Colonies and series on what’s going on there would definitely be something I’d read.

The book walks some interesting genre lines: urban fantasy, vampire fantasy (maybe romance, but not too much), alternate history but manages the balance in almost pitch-perfect harmony.  Recommened overall for fantasy fans looking for something a little different, even those that hate vampires in their fantasy should at least give it a look, and fans of period fiction looking to branch out.  If you’re hesitant, or can’t find a copy, check out Baen’s e-book service where you can find a sample chapter.