98. THREE PRINCES, BY RAMONA WHEELER
Another recommendation from Maria, plus it has awesome cover art. This one was a miss for me, though.
Synopsis: In an alternative reality, where the Egyptian Empire flourished and went on to dominate the world by what would be our 16th century, Lord Scott Oken is a spy for the Empress against her enemies, Victoria and Albert, who want to bring the empire down. Along with his mentor Mabruke, he is sent to the New World of the Inca Empire to investigate strange happenings.
Overall enjoyment: It was a bit pointless. There was so much that could have been done here, with the supposed steampunk setting plus the alternate history, but those two elements almost weren’t used. They are basically bright lights to advertise what, in the end, is a poorly constructed, quite unoriginal, and, frankly, very boring spy story.
Plot: It takes a really long time for the story to start, and it drags all the way to the end. Scott and Mik are supposed to be superspies, but they actually do nothing at all, they only watch as the story unfolds. The third prince, who is the one who brings the start of the action with him, only appears halfway through the book, and leaves right afterwards. The events are disconnected and there is no suspense at all.
Characters: Scott is a brushed-up James Bond who doesn’t play cards. All he does is objectify, seduce, and abandon women who, of course, can’t help but sigh when they think of him for missing him so much. Mik is likable, and that is his only true asset as a spy. All the characters are shallow stereotypes, and I couldn’t care less about any of them.
World/setting: My biggest disappointment. It should have been where all the work was truly done -- you have both steampunk and alternate history going on here -- but it was just used as a gimmick to get attention and there was no depth to it at all. There is no explanation, or even a hint, as to how Egypt managed to dominate the world; or how, for that matter, the Inca Empire survived (in our reality they had already been destroyed by the Aztec at this point, but in the book the Aztec aren’t even mentioned). There are some flying machines, but calling this book steampunk is a really big stretch. Overall, there is lots of decoration but very little foundation: she spends pages describing how the women paint their breasts, how they dress, the appropriate form of address, the decoration of the houses, and what the flying machines look like; and very few or no pages at all telling us how the machines actually work, or how it was that this society became possible, or how it works in practice. Any engineer can tell you that you have to lay the foundations first and then build upon that, otherwise the whole thing will fall down on your head.
Writing style: It wasn’t too bad, considering how bad the other stuff was.
Representation: The Incas could be considered dark-skinned, I suppose. And she hints that Mik may be gay. She misses a couple of perfect opportunities to make lesbian couples, though. (And it’s not just that she could have put them together but chose not to, the story would actually have been better and the plot neater if they had been couples.)
Political correctness: This reads exactly like a James Bond novel, especially in the misogyny, hypocrisy and self-importance. I won’t even bother listing all the problems I had with this, I’ll just leave a general comment: argh.
Up next: Half World, by Hiromi Goto