I really thought that Jonathan Green couldn’t possibly top his last two Pax Britannia novels, Blood Royal which took the steampunk down a gothic horror path and then Dark Side which combined a Noir detective story with H.G. Wells First Men on the Moon. However, Anno Frankenstein takes us to a whole new level.
Green likes to take this series in different directions, touching various familiar genres with each new book. With Anno Frankenstein he takes us full speed into classic Weird World War II. The steampunk aspects are pushed into the background. They are still there, the tanks are steam powered and there is a flying machine that uses Cavorite to help it get off the ground, but the general feel of this book is that of a 1960s World War Two movie that has somehow gotten mixed up with a selection of classic Hammer Horror monsters. We have a vampire, a werewolf, Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde and a whole corps of Frankenstein’s monsters all mixed in with Winston Churchill, stiff upper lipped British secret agents, evil SS and Gestapo bad guys, oh and a team of perky young burlesque dancers who are actually a British infiltration team working behind enemy lines.
Anno Frankenstein takes place around 50 years before Ulysses Quicksilver’s previous adventures, during the “Second Great War”. The first half of the book follows the daring adventures of Ulysses’ father Hercules Quicksilver as he attempts to bring down a Nazi plot to create a whole corps of Prometheans (Frankenstein’s monsters), making his way across Europe and into Germany where he has to break into Castle Frankenstein (it is explained why it is in Germany, and not as Mary Shelley wrote it, in Switzerland). At this point we are reunited with Ulysses Quicksilver, who followed the bad guy from the last book, Daniel Dashwood, through his time machine and back into 1943. We end up with a couple of huge fights with Nazis, Prometheans, vampires, werewolves and everyone else ripping into each other as they attempt to stop the new Nazi super weapon laying waste to the British Automaton forces lined up at the frontline at Amiens.
The tension that builds over the length of the novel leads wonderfully through to the big finale, even with Green’s small injections of humour, references to Star Trek, The Incredible Hulk, The Six Million Dollar Man and Quantum Leap all stick in my mind, without ruining the pace at all.
As a wargamer who is just starting to get into the steampunk gaming genre there is plenty here to inspire! Airships and (without spoiling it) other flying machines, the German Jotun class steam tank and heavy “AT-ST” like walkers. The British forces lined up at Amiens with their land-battleships, tamed pterosaurs, ten thousand strong automaton army and the general riding into battle on a steam-elephant.
I think I can safely say this book has finally inspired me to seriously get back into figure sculpting. It has given me so many ideas for steampunk style figures and no-one else makes them yet, so I guess I am going to have to do it myself, after all, there are many excellent characters in the Pax Britannia stories, they really need to be realised as miniatures…
Anyway, back to Anno Frankenstein. If you’re picky about your steampunk, you may find it moves to far out of the genre for you, but if you want a rollicking good adventure and you like the Weird War genre, you are going to love this book!
I hope Green returns to the Weird War setting for some of his future Quicksilver stories, he is clearly right at home writing in this genre. If he doesn’t want to tie Ulysses down to the Weird War setting, a spin off series with Hercules Quicksilver or the Monstrous Regiment (i.e. the burlesque dancing infiltration squad) would suit me down to the ground.
Jonathan, if you read this post, please hurry up with the next book, you’ve left so many teaser threads left open from recent books that I really can’t wait too long...
Anyway in the mean time, now that I have caught up with Green’s Pax Britannia books I am going to read Al Ewing’s two entries into the series. So look out for my reviews of El Sombre and Gods of Manhattan over the next few weeks.