RogerBW's Blog

Not Less than Gods, Kage Baker 14 March 2019

2009 steampunk science fiction in The Company setting. Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax is born, grows up, is trained to be a spy, and in 1850 goes on his first mission for the Gentlemen's Speculative Society.

For the series reader there's a slight problem there: while this is filling in some backstory, we know that Edward has to be alive and whole to meet Mendoza in California in 1862. Not, granted, that Baker is particularly prone to killing off her leads, but it feels like filler; we already know from asides in other books the general pattern of how he gets to where and who he will be in Mendoza in Hollywood.

This might in fact work better for someone who isn't already familiar with the setting. The Society, getting limited information and advanced technology from itself in the future, is an interesting conceit; but if you've read the rest of the books you already know why that's happening, so there's less of a mystery to it.

In any case, the book is solid steampunk adventure, festooned with prosthetic eyes and limbs and even an underground Galvanic Railway across Europe. The team of spies travels through the Holy Land, Constantinople and St Petersburg, poking things here and there to make the impending Crimean War come out more favourably for Britain. It's enjoyable, but there are never any particular setbacks or challenges: a problem is presented, the team solves it, on to the next thing.

It's tempting to blame Baker's illness for the shift away from the subtlety that characterised the earlier books. I don't know. It's all right, but Baker had done much better.

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