RogerBW's Blog

Oath Bound, Melissa Scott and Jo Graham 20 September 2021

2015 historical fantasy, fifth in the Order of the Air series. Late in 1935, Alma, Lewis and Mitch are showing off the new Catalina at an air show in Palermo, while Jerry is across the Med in Alexandria following magical hints to the lost tomb of Alexander the Great.

So the basic idea of this series is Mercedes-Lackey-style pagan magicians saving the world, combined with heroic aviation pioneers. In other words the authors aimed it squarely at me. And while it certainly isn't perfect, much of the time it works. In the first three books, anyway.

But they took a couple of years off before releasing volumes 4 and 5 in the same year along with a single-volume edition of the first three, and to me at least the spark has gone. This time the magical and aviation stories don't blend at all: Jerry does magical archaeology, while the others end up flying their Cat on a supply mission to embattled Ethiopia (before the League of Nations has shrugged and said "not our problem, guv"), and they meet only briefly and in passing.

There's some attempt to pep things up with cameos for Italo Balbo, Hermann Göring and Rudolf Hess at the air show, but none of them rises beyond the historical basics. Count Carl Gustaf von Rosen shows up as a possibly Nazi-allied flyer, which if you've never heard of him might seem plausible (he's Göring's nephew-by-marriage, after all), but I'm the sort of reader who has. Similarly, most of the material on the Italo-Ethiopian war could come straight from the Wikipedia page; it's fine to start with something like that if you then pastiche it up into an interesting story, but as presented it's disappointingly bare.

There's also a remarkable lack of threat or opposition. During that delivery run our heroes see some fighters in the distance and try to hide from them, and later some of them get into fighters of their own to try to repel an Italian air raid, but that's it. In the sewers of Alexandria there's some physical challenge (Jerry lost a leg below the knee in the war, and the practicalities of dealing with this situation on 1930s prosthetics have always been one of the stronger points of the series), but similarly no actual opposition, and having found the Tomb they decide to leave it hidden because clearly War Is Coming and they don't want it to be part of a Triumph in Rome. Staci, left behind in Palermo to care for the children and because the authors seem to have lost interest in her, merely burgles Hess's hotel room.

There are a couple of reliable tricks to telling side stories in a well-documented history with which you want to keep consistent, if you also want some degree of tension. Option one, you can say "if this evil scheme comes off, things will be So Much Worse than they otherwise might be"; then our heroes foil the evil scheme and the historical version happens. Option two, you can make many of the consequences hidden, quite easy when you're dealing with secret magic that the history books won't record, or just make them small-scale enough that they're unnoticeable on the big historical scale even though they're still important in people's individual stories. Scott and Graham do none of these things; they want their characters participating in big historical events, but they also want to make sure this world's history reads very much like that of our own, and the result is strangely flat. This was easier when it was the late 1920s and early 1930s, but they chose to roll the timeline forward to get into the explicitly approach-of-war stuff…

Which flatness means I'm not distracted by the story from noticing that a book needs more of an editorial pass than a run through the spellchecker. If you want to convince me you've done your research on ritual magic, you probably shouldn't spell the tarot card's name as "Heirophant". (This also betrays that you don't know any Greek, which a ritualist really ought to.) If you want to convince me you've done your research on aviation, you need someone who knows that the aircraft company is spelled Bréguet, or at least Breguet (though they are a mere watchmaker), not Breuguet. And even if it were Breuguet, it's not also Breugeuet and Brueguet. The spellchecker function for "this word is OK, but don't add it to the general dictionary" is "Ignore All", at least in LibreOffice…

The book ends with "To be continued in: FIRE SEASON", but there's been no sign of it in the six years since this came out.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Previous in series: Wind Raker | Series: Order of the Air

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1