RogerBW's Blog

Steel Blues, Melissa Scott and Jo Graham 29 August 2020

2013 historical fantasy, second in the Order of the Air series. In 1931, the Great Depression is biting and there's not much work for an air charter company in Colorado. So they enter a cross-country air race.

The first book of this trilogy was an awkward juxtaposition of magical shenanigans with aviation action. This time the two come together rather better: instead of a world-shaking horror under Lake Nemi, the magical threat is at a rather more personal level, a piece of Napoleonic-era jewellery with a baleful influence. Our heroes have to deal with that, and win the air race. There's even a link to the historical period, with part of the company's financial problems being the reassignment of existing air mail contracts to larger airlines following the 1930 Air Mail Act.

Indeed, this strikes the role-playing gamer part of my mind as the sort of structure I might like to use in an adventure: on the one hand, there's the mundane challenge of using the advantages of the aircraft relative to that of the other racers, mitigating its disadvantages, and heroic piloting. The race is being run as a publicity event and distraction from hard times, so there are games at each overnight stop in which non-flying skills can be used to gain a time advantage. On the other hand, there's the sudden demand of having to deal with a magical problem Right Now, and of course you can't give the real reason for your absence to your sponsors and the press. Which in turn means you need to race even faster to make up for the time you lost doing that…

The start is still somewhat slow, but once the race itself begins the pace of the narrative picks up. The characters show a bit more distinctiveness from each other, and a newly-introduced con artist and thief provides a welcome dose of liveliness.

It's been quite a while since I read the first volume, but I enjoyed this one rather more. There isn't a great deal of progress with the problems that were left hanging at the end of book 1, and in some ways this feels like an entry in a much longer series – but it's none the worse for getting away from the great big stakes and telling a more personal story.

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Previous in series: Lost Things | Series: Order of the Air | Next in series: Silver Bullet

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