Gregory Keyes


The last book in the series. Mostly, I liked it but not as much as the previous ones. Keyes continues to have good characterization and the setting continues to be interesting. The big fight at end went on for far too long and most of the time the good guys won battles through lucky coincidences and sheer determination. There weren’t any skill and very little thought involved which irritates me hugely. The ending was also a bit too happy. If you have a huge battle some main characters should suffer.

I really liked his handling of Red Shoes but talking about it would be a huge spoiler. Also, I thought that is was ironic when he apparently either quotes or rewrites the US Declaration of Independence in the end. The male characters talk about freedom while they keep the other half of the human race limited and dependent of themselves.

Overall, the series is really good with exotic alternate history, magic, science, good characters and tight writing.

7,5/10

The whole series get a solid 8/10.

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This is set about eight years after the previous book. It has some more action than in the previous books and most of that happens on the American continent. At first I thought that would make the book less appealing to me but I shouldn’t have worried. Keyes continues to have depth in his characters and an interesting setting.

Even though the book has more conventional fantasy plot elements than what Keyes used in the previous books, it’s very entertaining. The threat of war that will end all humankind and the defenders who first have to put aside their differences are very familiar fantasy elements but Keyes manages to make them work. He even has a quest of sorts: Adrienne is looking for her lost son.

The science users have been divided more clearly into two camps: those who rely on the angels and those who despise the angels. Adrienne de Montchevreuil has devised mighty war engines to the Russians but they work only because she has managed to harness the supernatural Malakim to power her engines. Her circle of students, among them Carl von Linné and the young tsarevna Elizavet, continue to examine the angels throughout the book.

In the other camp is Benjamin Franklin with his mechanical inventions. He also invents machines that disrupt the angels and so make the engines that rely on angels useless. He has founded a secret society, the Junto, that hunts any agents of the angels that comes to America.

Red Shoes gives us another point of view to the spirit world. The Choctaw shaman sees and interacts with the supernatural creatures from his own perspective. He also sees them all as enemies and trusts only creatures that he can create. His shadowchildren are parts of his own soul that he can make into independent creatures.

The books POV shifts again between Adrienne, Benjamin and Red Shoes. Later in the book the general of the Colonial armies becomes a POV character as well. The book has quite a lot of characters but it doesn’t feel crowded. However, there are a few elements from the very start of the book that feel underused: Voltaire returns to Ben and one of the pawns of the angels surrenders himself into to hands of the Junto. Hopefully we’ll see more of the both of them in the next book.

The angels have been dived into two clear camps: one wants to stop the humans meddling into the supernatural by killing them all. The others want to only suppress the humans’ desire for knowledge. Both sides need human agents so that they can influence the world of matter.

Unlike the other two books this one ends in a cliffhanger with lots of things left unresolved.

9/10

The second book in the series is set a few years after the first book, Newton’s Cannon. Adrienne de Montchevreuil and Benjamin Franklin are dealing with the results of the last book’s disaster. Ben is now the apprentice of Sir Isaac Newton and lives a sort of high life in Prague. Because Sir Isaac has turned into a hermit again Ben has to deal with the Holy Roman Emperor Karl VI, who expects quick results from his sorcerers’ in the war against the Muscovites.

After the fall of France, Adrienne and Crecy do their best to survive. Adrienne finds out more about her connection to the djinni and about the secret society of female scientists. A new major POV character is a Chocotaw Shaman Red Shoes. He is part of America’s attempt to find out what has happened to the Old World. Red Shoes, the pirate Blackbeard, a priest Cotton Mather and a cast of other minor characters sail to England.

Red Shoes brings an interesting POV to the setting’s magic. He sees the spirit world in the terms of his own world view which is somewhat different from the scientific view that Adrienne and Ben have. Also the priest Mather sees it from his own background. A clash between the shaman and the priest is inevitable.

Most of the magic in the setting works when someone can command or persuade the supernatural beings into changing the laws of nature. Red Shoes in different because he can create his own supernatural beings that he calls shadowchildren out of his own soul.

All of the major characters have depth in them and most of the minor characters are also believable. Tsar Peter the Great is a minor POV character and his flying ships are amazing! The third famous person in this book is Charles XII, King of Sweden.

Because the world has changed dramatically this is perhaps less alternate history and more fantasy.

The book starts with a short intro of how Sir Isaac Newton discovered magic through science in the 17th century. The rest of the story happens in the year 1720 when machines called philosophical devices have become common. Among them are the aetherschreibers that work in pairs. When you write something with the other device, its mate scribes it at the same time, no matter where the devices are on earth. There are also more military devices such as the feverfactum that can boil a man’s blood.

In Boston a young Benjamin Franklin dreams of being a sailor while he invents scientific devices. Instead he becomes a newspaperman’s apprentice. The other main character is Adrienne de Montchevreuil, a young woman who wants to be a philosopher and research science. Unfortunately, even in King Louis XIV’s court that is not possible for a woman and she has to hide her scientific aspirations. The Sun King himself is also intimately familiar with the supernatural side of the world. He appears as a minor POV character. One might even call him undead. Sort of.

There are also supernatural beings that can be persuaded to help humans through some philosophical devices. The beings are called malakus, malakim or djinn depending on who you ask. However, their nature is explained in the second book.

The end is actually shocking for those who have grown to expect that the status quo of the setting doesn’t change.

Keyes’ world that mixes history, science, magic and fiction was very appealing to me. Although we don’t see the whole world, the glimpses that we are shown in Boston, Londo,n and Paris are well done.

Some people complain that the book is too choppy but I rather enjoyed it that we aren’t shown endless descriptions of whatever the writer uses to rack up the word count. Every scene counts. However, Keyes himself has said on his website that he was unhappy with the rather drastic work that his editor had done with this book, which might explain the abruptness.

An excellent beginning to a promising series.

9/10