I have slipped a little behind with Jonathan Green’s Pax Britannia series from Abaddon Books. I have only just finished Blood Royal, and have Dark Side and Anno Frankenstein (just released last week) to catch up on. On top of that I haven’t read Al Ewings two Pax Britannia books, El Sombra and Gods of Manhattan either. So to put this right I am reading them one after the other and I will be posting a series of Pax Britannia reviews here on the blog as well.
For those who haven’t encountered this steampunk series before, the stories are set towards the end of the 20th century. Queen Victoria has been on the throne for a hundred and sixty years, kept alive in a steam powered life support machine. Jonathan Green’s entries in the series are all centred around the dandy adventurer and secret agent of Her Majesties Government, Ulysses Quicksilver and his manservant Nimrod. They have fought various dastardly plots aimed at bringing down the British Empire, all very much with a James Bond like feel, but clearly with that all important Steampunk twist. By the beginning of Blood Royal, London has been reduced, at least in part, to a post apocalyptic wasteland where venturing out after dark risks encountering many of the giant locusts that terrorise the ruined parts of the city (all this caused by a plot that was unsuccessful, in the previous book, Evolution Expects).
Green has incorporated many familiar steampunk tropes into his Pax Britannian world. Steam power, lost plateaus with still living prehistoric beasts, Nemo like undersea cities and even H.G. Well’s Cavorite!
I reviewed the first two of Green’s books, Unnatural History and Leviathan Rising on my former podcast (Dial P For Pulp!) and the fourth book, Evolution Expects, on this very blog. I seem to have managed to miss out the third book Human Nature, but anyway moving on to Blood Royal!
Firstly, can I say, even though I have really enjoyed all of Green’s Pax Britannia books, for a while there, somewhere in the middle, I did tend to feel that the writing was starting to feel a little “by the numbers”, it had all the right elements, but just didn’t quite grab you as much as it should have! With Blood Royal Green has completely turned that around. This book was one of the most gripping and fun reads I have had in a long time. In my review of Evolution Expects I said that I would have liked to see Quicksilver venture a little further afield, well he certainly does that in this book, visiting both Russia and Mongolia, before ending up in a Transylvanian-like castle. Quicksilver has run-ins with a queen locust (think of the egg chamber scene from Aliens), Jack the Ripper, an unstoppable mechanical assassin with long extending silver claws, Rasputin, a female Russian vampire master-spy, an Anglophile descendant of Genghis Khan and his Golden Horde of Mongolian dinosaur riders, and several werewolves (I don’t think I am spoiling to much revealing them, after all there is one on the cover).
After the initial Sherlock Holmes like investigations around London, the plot takes off at a frenetic pace, with a mad dash across Europe, Quicksilver both chasing and being chased by various protagonists. There are plots within plots and no-one gives anyone the full story until the very end. The set piece battle around the “Transylvanian” castle is just wonderful (the most fun I’ve had while commuting for a long time – I usually read while travelling to work).
I have a keen interest in Genghis Khan (Chingis as it seems to be more accurately termed) and the Mongolian Empire’s rise and fall and also Sherlock Holmes and spy fiction, aspects of Blood Royal were predestined to push the right buttons for me, but I think that there is easily enough to please anyone looking for some good steampunk, pulpy adventure. Green has expanded his remit from simply steampunk and added in a good mix of Gothic horror, and there are also hint of the coming “Weird War II” style conflict.
As with Green’s other Pax Britannia books, the main story concludes about 50 pages short of the end of the book, and we are treated to a Ulysses Quicksilver novella, here called White Rabbit. In Evolution Expects the novella Conqueror Worm turned out to be a cracking good read, that may have even eclipsed the main novel. White Rabbit, I felt, fell somewhat short of that. As you might imagine the plot owes a great deal to Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, I have never liked Carrol’s Alice stories, they left me cold as a child and I still don’t understand the attraction that they hold for so many people, so when I realised that this story would revolve around the Alice stories I was already put on a back foot. In need not have worried too much, once it became apparent, about half way through the story, what was really going on, it turned out to be a fairly normal outing for Mr Quicksilver. It is not one of my favourite stories, but it is perfectly serviceable and rounds out the book reasonably well.
After finishing Blood Royal, my mind was naturally carried to the wargaming possiblilties. There are some great set pieces that would work really well on the wargaming table. I just need to work out the logistics of putting together a Mongol army riding dinosaurs and using sabre-toothed cats as fighting animals, and also where to get the opposing army of werewolves from.
I finished Blood Royal yesterday and have since started Dark Side. As soon as I have finished it you can expect a review to appear. I will then read and review Anno Frankenstein, El Sombra and Gods of Manhattan, in that order. So keep your Babbage engine tuned in this direction and look out for more Pax Britannia over the next couple of months…
The first three Green Pax Britannia novels have been collected into an omnibus edition.