Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Bookman Histories

The Bookman HistoriesThe Bookman Histories by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an alternate history steampunk trilogy in one volume, comprising three separate books: The Bookman, Camera Obscura, and The Great Gamee. And while all steampunk novels can be considered alternate history, this one truly is, because the ruling family of Great Britain is comprised of large, intelligent lizards. (The queen is still named Victoria, however.) The origin and motives of these lizards are part of the mystery that is unraveled in the course of the novels. Each novel is fairly stand-alone, but there are common characters and plot lines that run through all three, so I would recommend that you read them in order.

This is not a short read - all three novels combine for over 1000 pages. And the story is quite complex, with quite a large number of characters and sub-plots to keep straight. It wasn't quite as difficult to get through as War and Peace, but it was close. It is truly an epic tale.

Part of the difficulty in getting though the books was the fact that I never truly connected with the characters. The only exception was the character of Orphan in the first book, but that is his only appearance. I thought I'd really like the main character in the second book, as she is a kick-ass female assassin, but she is portrayed so dryly that I never felt emotionally invested. This is my main complaint about these books - the characters, though quite complex, seem wooden, and seem to exist only to move the story to the next plot point. One gets the impression that the author had an idea for a story, and simply added in the characters as needed, in order to serve the plots.

The star of the books really is the world. It is rich and complex, and quite inventive. The author brings in both real-world and fictional characters (such as Frankenstein, Lord Byron, Dr. Jekyll, Harry Houdini, Sherlock Holmes and Oliver Twist) and weaves them into the myriad plots quite nicely, even though they may be from different eras in our world. He also uses real-wold events, such as the Chicago World's Fair. These little touches are fun, and help to lighten the rather complex plots.

Had I read these books back-to-back-to-back, I may not have struggled so much with keeping the plots and characters straight. As it was, I read the books over about a five month period, interspersing them with dozens of other books. These books just didn't pull me in, so that I was content to pause for long periods between them. For me, the mark of a successful series is that you cannot wait to pick up the next book, as soon as you finish the current one. This was definitely not the case for this trilogy, and I blame the wooden characters. Even the most interesting and inventive of alternate worlds cannot make up for this lack.

However, I would still recommend this to steampunk fans, as the world is delightfully complex, and the mix of fictional and real-world characters is quite fun. I just think that the author could have done a better job with the characters.

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