alternate history


The fourth book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Page count: 376

Irene Winters is retrieving a book from an alternate world which has vampires. Or rather she wants to exchange one book for another. Unfortunately, the vampire who has the book Irene wants (John Webster’s Guise) has other ideas. Irene manages to escape but at her hotel, a dragon in a human form is waiting to speak with her. The dragon, Jin Zhi, requires a very specific book to get a high position in her queen’s court. The book is the Chinese classic Journey to the West but this specific version has a lot more dragons in it.

But what really alarms Irene, is that Jin Zhi claims that her competitor for the position already has a Librarian helping him. The Library between various alternate worlds has survived because of their carefully maintained neutrality with regards to the dragons who are creatures of order and the fae who are creatures of chaos. However, if a Librarian is seen helping a dragon, that neutrality can be compromised, perhaps even lead to war. Irene refuses to help Jin Zhi and instead hurries to report to her own superiors.

However, Irene’s superiors order her to go the alternate world where the Librarian in question is and find out what happened. Irene and Kai set out to alternate US which is mostly the equivalent of 1930s US: the prohibition is in full force and gangsters roam the streets of New York, battling each other and the police with tommy guns.

The Lost Plot is more a stand-alone than the previous two books. It draws heavily on the dragon politics which have been explored somewhat in the previous book, but doesn’t necessarily require reading the other books. But they’re fun and exciting so why not.

Kai, Irene’s underling and a Librarian in training, could be compromised rather badly, but he follows and supports Irene loyally. He’s not thrilled to be involved in a conflict between two noble dragons. I love dragons and I was really happy to see more of them. Both Jin Zhi and her competitor are quite snobby about their own status.

This is a very fast-paced adventure and the 1930s setting was used well. Irene must deal with a greedy, know-it-all mob boss and a corrupt police chief. Irene gets to hone her acting abilities as she once again goes undercover. However, the change in setting also meant that Peregrine Vale barely makes an appearance and the Victorian and steampunk overtones are gone. Also, it doesn’t advance the overarching mystery of Irene’s parentage or if the senior Librarians are hiding anything (although we get a few clues that they do). But I don’t mind any of those. I thoroughly enjoyed the Lost Plot and I’m eagerly looking for the next book.

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The first book in an alternate reality noir mystery series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Red Dog Press
Page count: 243 at GoodReads

In an alternate USA, four big families rule the city of Bridges. The city has been divided into four quadrants, each ruled by one family, and it’s very difficult to move from one quadrant to the other. The families are Spadros, Clubb, Hart, and Diamond.

Jacqueline was born in a whore house to the madam. She was also a member of a kid gang. When she was twelve her best friend, Air, was shot and she still has nightmares about it. She grew up not knowing who her father was, until one day he appeared. He had made a deal with the Spadros. Jacq was to be the bride of the Spadros heir. Despite being a “Pot rag”, as the very poorest are called, she was trained to be a lady and married Tony Spadros. Except that Jacq loved someone else and never saw him again after she was promised to Spadros. Roy Spadros, the head of the family, is a ruthless, cruel man who delights in torture and beating his wife. But Tony is different. He’s still a man who has spent his whole life in luxury, wanting for nothing. But he’s usually not cruel, only when it serves a purpose. He orders men killed when that’s required but not tortured. And he loves Jacq. Jacq has learned to pretend love but has never forgotten her only love, Joe. She also knows that if something would happen to Tony, she would be thrown back to the streets. So, in secret from Tony she has her own business as an investigator. It doesn’t make much money but she saves what she can.

The story starts when a woman calls Jacq for help. The woman is Air’s mother. Her youngest son is missing and nearby is the mark of the Red Dog Gang. Jacq refuses to help at first but the case won’t leave her alone: she can’t allow the little boy to just vanish. When the little boy’s older brother is found strangled in another quadrant, Jacq knows that she must investigate. But she has troubles of her own: she must support Tony or someone could murder him. She must keep her investigations a secret from him because it would ruin their delicate relationship. She must also keep her investigations a secret from everyone else who could ruin her life.

Jacq has a lot of contacts around the Spadros area, some of whom know who she is and others don’t. She uses a lot of disguises and lies. The story has a lot of characters, as well. Jacq herself is a tough and determined woman but she’s in a very vulnerable position and she also has hard time letting of the past, her childhood friend’s death and her first love. So, she’s also a vulnerable character.

The story is told from Jacq’s first person POV. Since she was born poor and then rose to the elite (although unwillingly) she has a different perspective than many of the other wealthy people. The story touches on the disenfranchisement of the poor, class struggles, and women’s rights, which are, sadly, still ongoing issues today.

The start of the story dropped us readers right in the middle of the story. Explanations came later mostly through Jacq’s thoughts. For the most part, this worked well and I enjoyed the story. Jacq is a very interesting character and her dilemma drew me in. The book is labeled as steampunk but there are very few steampunk elements in the story.

At the end, the current case is resolved (kind of) but the larger mysteries remain. We also get a timeline of this alternate history and a list of characters at the end.

The second book in the alternate world thriller Roma Nova series. I strongly recommend reading the first book, Inceptio, first because the characters and their relationships are introduced there.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 and 54 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Thorburn

Perfiditas starts seven years after the end of Inceptio. Karen Brown is now a Roma Nova citizen and has fully embraced her life as a member of the highly politically powerful Mitela family, as Carina Mitela. She’s also a captain in Roma Nova’s elite military force, the Praetorian Guard Special Forces (PGSF). She’s also married to Conrad(us) and they have three kids. Their life is complicated by the fact that Conrad is Carina’s boss in work but otherwise as a member of the Mitela family, Carina is Conrad’s social superior. Conrad has also other children from his previous union with none other than the Imperatrix herself.

Someone shows Carina’s emergency token to the Guard and when Carina hurries to meet her, for her surprise she finds out Mossia who is extremely worried about an employee, Aidan, whom she’s also been sleeping with. Aidan has apparently left her leaving behind a strange note. Both Mossia and Aidan are behaving very strangely, and Carina starts to investigate Aidan. The clue leads her on the trail of a plot to overthrow the Nova Roman way of life. Meanwhile, Conrad has just been promoted to legate and the boss of the whole PGSF. This makes him a target for the conspirators, too.

Most of the book centers on a plot to overthrow the matriarchal leaders of the Roma Nova. They also threaten the Imperatrix’s and Conrad’s children. A couple of PGSF members are apparently part of the plot: one tries to stab Carina and another frames her. Carina realizes that she has far better chance of catching the plotters when she returns to her previous role as an underworld figure Pulcheria. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know whom she can trust so she doesn’t tell anyone at the PGSF. From the guards’ point-of-view, she has really turned traitor and while some of the criminal contacts still trust her, some are very suspicious.

The end of the book deals with the aftermath of Carina’s decisions. They threaten not only her career and professional relationships but her marriage and her family, as well.

The bad guys are frustrated because they’re denied political influence because of the gender and have decided to take over. However, the majority of the male characters in the book don’t feel that way, thankfully. This was a nice reversal of the trope of an entire gender rising up against the other. The plot is mostly fast paced with schemes and counterschemes following each other very quickly. In fact, I found them a bit confusing although that could be because I listened an audio book and didn’t concentrate on it fully. Politics also play a big part.

I was disappointed with Conrad. I expected him to trust Carina and support her fully. Instead, he’s suspicious of her motives and character. Indeed, it felt to me that he doesn’t really know her even after seven years together. At times, it felt to me that he (and some other officers) were more concerned with following regulations than getting the bad guys. In fact, Carina’s long-time friend Flavius (who was part of the same criminal organization as Pulcheria and now is also a PGSF officer) was the one who supported and helped Carina fully. He accompanied her back to the criminal world and faces the same charges as her. This actually perfectly fits their characters in the first book and creates more tension to Carina’s life, so I understand why Morton chose to write that.

Carina herself is an excellent character and action heroine. She’s smart and flexible in her thinking and isn’t afraid to bend the rules and take chances when needed. This is something that Conrad doesn’t do well and can sour their relationship.

Still, this was a very good continuation to the series and I’m definitely reading the next book, Successio.