Monday, 21 July 2014

Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar

I feel like this series is developing nicely. The second book feels slightly more accomplished than the first. But two books in, isn't it about time to state clearly what's going on here? It's not a deal-breaker, because I enjoy very much this literary steampunky world, but I've stuck it out for two books. What are Les Lezards? (Yes, it's been broadly hinted at. But I'm ready for answers, not just hints. If something major had been revealed each book, but reserved part of the secrets, that would have been fine. It's substituting the hints for any real reveals that makes me a bit impatient.)

Still, this series is getting better as it goes. This one is set in Paris, and therefore brings in a whole whack of French literary figures, from Mme. de Winter from The Three Musketeers to Victor Frankenstein to the Phantom of the Opera. Along with Tom Thumb and the Marquis de Sade. I truly do have fun with spot-the-literary-reference. I'm not sure that it adds anything to the stories themselves except to make me pleased with myself for being well-read, but it is a main feature of the stories.

And, in a massive bit of improvement, none of the literary characters struck me as wrong as Irene Adler being on the side of order in The Bookman did. Although, to tell true, I've only seen movie adaptations of The Three Musketeers, but I liked what Tidhar did with that character.

Milady is the operative of a secret Parisian council, probably dedicated to preventing the lizards from gaining the same toehold on France that they have on England. But their motives may also be more suspect. She is called to investigate a corpse of a man who seems to have been given a c-section, and something removed. Her investigation takes her through the sewers of London, and into robosexual subcultures, and darned if she doesn't keep coming across bodies that just won't stay dead.

She also keeps running across Chinese operatives who are in Paris trying to retrieve whatever that guy was carrying in his stomach, but the Council wants it too. It's broadly hinted at as to what they think they could do with it if they got it, but this is one place just a smidge more clarity might have helped. I'd even have accepted monologuing.

The Phantom of the Opera is an operative too, but he seems to have been infected by the grey plague that is making corpses still walk, and he was never that stable anyway. So he's killing people left right and centre, and Milady is bound and determined to stop him, but the Council tells her to let him alone. Little people don't concern them.

She can't let it alone though, and this leads to a chase across the Atlantic to Vespuccia (apparently Amerigo gave his other name to the continent in this world) and the Chicago World's Fair. Before this happens, though, she gets a piece of the statue everyone is chasing lodged in her eye, and it starts whispering curiously scientific sentences to her, about finding its way home. Turns out the Phantom has one of his own, as does a Chinese man, and hey, les Lezards may want to use the statue to open a portal to...their own world? Seems likely, but more hinted at than said.

So all in all, I love the world-building. I enjoy the characters from literature. But after two books, I don't think I'm being overly demanding when I say that I'd like some answers. Not all the answers, but some. Seriously. I've stuck it out this far. It's getting to where withholding answers has gone past the point of creating tension, and into the part where it bugs me.

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