I have been slacking on the blogging, but I’m back for a bit, with (surprise!) a nerdy-as-hell book review
Also, I just talked a bit about this particular book in my last Best Author You’ve Never Read post. So if you feel cheated, its justified. But you’re here reading, so your umbrage must have stayed on the shelf.
I digress. You can read the previous post for all of my gushing about Michael Stackpole; At The Queen’s Command is a nifty beginning to a series that’s long on captivating ideas, but a bit short on character development. I’ll endeavor to not bore you with plot summations, as ever.
The setting is essentially the mid to late 1700’s in a land called Mystria (i.e. America), a rough and rugged colony of the naval powerhouse of Norisle (i.e. England) located across a rather expansive ocean. A good chunk of the setting can be easily paralleled with the chafing of the American colonies beneath the British boot-heel, with just a few minor differences (Dragons, magical guns, zombies, nothing too major). Don’t forget the Shedashee (i.e. Native Americans), the shamanistic indigs that play a vital guidance role…and also have green skin.
The setting is very intriguing, and Stackpole delves deep into magical theory (in this work and in the next voume) almost to the point of aridity. It’s Martian-level scientific detail, except its completely made up and fantastic. Needless to say, it can be a bit hard to follow at times. The utilization of the magic, however, is the fantasy-focused area where this book shines. It’s not rampant or overpowering. Guns are fired with a type of fire-magic used to ignite the powder to supply the force that moves the lead. Everything else, including the laborious reloading task, feels very realistic and true to a historical setting. That’s the beauty of magic in the world Stackpole’s created: it supplements daily activities; it doesn’t run the world.
I mentioned character development earlier, and that’s where this one gets a bit shaky. Some of the characters are captivating, from the bible-thumping frontiersman Makepeace Bone (with a name like that, he’s gotta be awesome) and the aptly-named Nathaniel Woods (cuz he’s a woodsman) to the conflicted, somewhat naive Norisler Owen Strake who bumbles through and then falls in love with the new colonies. These three examples, and most of the other enjoyable characters, are Mystrians (i.e. Americans, at least at heart) and maybe its my own prejudice, but I found the vast majority of the Norisle (British) characters to be a bit myopic. It’s clear who we’re supposed to root for and like best in the prose, but I always like characters that have more going on than simple caricature, and I just couldn’t find much beneath the surface for the Norisle contingent, even the esteemed Prince Vladimir.
Overall, this is one for the nerds. If you like nifty alternate history ideas injected with a bit of magic, give this one a swing. The way he chooses to take the wyrm/dragon aspects are unique in a plot device we’ve probably all seen beaten to death in the genre. The arch-villain is cold, calculating, yet has the special kind of evil you can almost understand.
I’d say this one gets gets a solid 4-out-of-5 crates of tea. Floating in the Boston harbor. It has nothing to do with the book, but still…Take that, you limey Brits. Go Team America.