Review: A Case of Spontaneous Combustion by Stephanie Osborn

case of spontaneous combustion by stephanie osbornFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: mystery
Series: The Displaced Detective #5
Length: 344 pages
Publisher: Twilight Times
Date Released: May 10, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

When an entire village on the Salisbury Plain is wiped out in an apparent case of mass spontaneous combustion, Her Majesty’s Secret Service contacts The Holmes Agency to investigate. Unfortunately Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Dr. Skye Chadwick-Holmes, have just had their first serious fight, over her abilities and attitudes as an investigator. To make matters worse, he is summoned to England in the middle of the night, and she is not — and due to the invocation of the National Security Act in the summons, he cannot even wake her and tell her.

Once in London, Holmes looks into the horror that is now Stonegrange. His investigations take him into a dangerous undercover assignment in search of a possible terror ring, though he cannot determine how a human agency could have caused the disaster. There, he works hard to pass as a recent immigrant and manual laborer from a certain rogue Mideastern nation as he attempts to uncover signs of the terrorists.

Meanwhile, alone in Colorado, Skye battles raging wildfires and tames a wild mustang stallion, all while believing her husband has abandoned her.

Who — or what — caused the horror in Stonegrange? Will Holmes find his way safely through the metaphorical minefield that is modern Middle Eastern politics? Will Skye subdue Smoky before she is seriously hurt? Will this predicament seriously damage — even destroy — the couple’s relationship? And can Holmes stop the terrorists before they unleash their outré weapon again?

My Review:

Mass human spontaneous combustion–it sounds like something that would be reported in the tabloids at the grocery checkout stands. And that is what happens in A Case of Spontaneous Combustion. But unlike the usual tabloid stories, this one is true, and MI-5 calls in Sherlock Holmes to investigate.

The Case of the Displaced Detective - The Arrival by Stephanie OsbornIf it sounds like I’ve sailed even further into tabloid-land, I haven’t. This story is the fifth book in Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective series, where Sherlock Holmes has been brought to our world through quantum physics. (Read The Case of the Displaced Detective: the Arrival (reviewed here) for details.)

The difference is that the Sherlock Holmes in this particular pastiche is a real person, not a fictional construct as he was in our version of the multiverse. And being human and not literary, he does not completely resemble the literary version in Conan Doyle’s stories. Because this one managed to fall in love, and get married. Eventually, and with a lot of persuasion and adaptation from the 19th century to the 21st. (See The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed (review) and The Case of the Cosmological Killer (review) for the full story.)

A Case of Spontaneous Combustion is a story designed to showcase both sides of the Holmes that came to our world. On the one hand, he has a diabolical mystery to investigate, and on the other, he’s in the middle of a fight with his wife, and it’s affecting the case. It also becomes a minor case in its own right.

Holmes and his wife Skye have their first major argument. And it’s the kind of thing that looms large at the time, but could be quickly gotten over in the morning, when both tempers have cooled off a bit. Instead, Holmes gets hauled off to England, and his orders specifically exclude Skye and invoke the Official Secrets Act. He’s stuck and screwed (or not, as the case may be)

He gets to London, and almost immediately goes undercover to look for the terrorists who set off something in the middle of a small town that exploded all the inhabitants, and every other living thing for a radius of two miles, without harming any of the buildings.

Skye can’t reach him, and it’s literally more than his life is worth to call her. They both write letters trying to patch things up, but neither set of letters is getting through. Each thinks that they have been abandoned by the other, and that their marriage is over. They both descend into a certain amount of self-destructive behavior, while Holmes is undercover among the terrorists.

Things look like they are not going to end well. The case turns out to be much bigger, and considerably more dangerous, than was originally believed. By the end, Holmes and Skye’s bodies may be among the dead, if someone doesn’t solve their missing communications first.

Is it all part of the terrorist plot, or is there a spy in MI-5? Holmes needs Skye to save him from himself, and to figure out the high-level physics behind the mass spontaneous combustion.

Escape Rating B: I love this series. The whole concept of an alternate-world Sherlock Holmes works for me. He’s Holmes, but he’s not quite Conan Doyle’s Holmes, and that provides enough leeway for the ways that he’s different. In fact, a point in this story is that people keep equating the living Holmes with the fictional creation, and make assumptions that prove very, very wrong or hurtful, sometimes both.

There are two stories here; the marital tension being exacerbated by the missing communication, and the terrorist plot. I’ll admit that there were points where I wondered if they might somehow be part of the same plot, but there were different “baddies” for each one.

One issue with basing a series on whether or not a romantic relationship forms between the main characters is that a significant part of the dramatic tension can dissipate when the sexual tension is consummated. The depths to which both Holmes and Skye sunk as a result of their argument took over too much of the story. And it felt like a misunderstandammit that should have been resolved much more easily. The reasons behind the plot to keep them from communicating were a bit simplistic and it was easy to spot the perpetrator.

The terrorist case was much more nefarious, and it took longer to develop and to bring to a (temporary) close. Watching Holmes work his undercover magic in a contemporary setting was marvelous. Changing his identity and immersing himself completely in his role is a skill that translated well from one century to the next. But I think the ringleaders of this one will be back, and I’m looking forward to it.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-26-14

Sunday Post

As you read this, I am in Philadelphia, trying not to freeze. The American Library Association Midwinter Conference is in Philly. Why, oh why couldn’t they have picked someplace warm this year?

Oh, that’s right, they saved the hot spot for the SUMMER conference. The June conference this year is in Las Vegas! (Yes, I know, it’s a DRY heat)

Current Giveaways:

Late Last Night by Lilian Darcy (ebook)
Tourwide Giveaway from Susannah Sandlin: $25 Amazon Gift Card, $10 Amazon Gift Card and Author Swag Pack

deeper by robin yorkBlog Recap:

A Review: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
B+ Review: Forward to Camelot 50th Anniversary Edition by Susan Sloate and Kevin Finn
Guest Post by Susan Sloate on Writing About the Kennedy Assassination
B+ Review: Late Last Night by Lilian Darcy + Giveaway
A+ Review: Deeper by Robin York
B Review: Chenoire by Susannah Sandlin + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (75)

Coming Next Week:

share the love giveaway hopThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (blog tour review)
Jewel of the East by Victoria Vane (blog tour review, guest post + giveaway)
The Warrior & the Flower by Camille Picott (blog tour review + giveaway)
Prince of Tricks by Jane Kindred (blog tour review, guest post + giveaway)
The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki (blog tour review, author interview + giveaway)
Share the Love Giveaway Hop

Review: Forward to Camelot 50th Anniversary Edition by Susan Sloate and Kevin Finn

forward to camelot by susan sloateFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: time travel, alternate history
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Drake Valley Press
Date Released: August 29, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

WHERE WERE YOU THE DAY KENNEDY WAS SAVED? On the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination comes a new edition of the extraordinary time-travel thriller first published in 2003 with a new Afterword from the authors. On November 22, 1963, just hours after President Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President aboard Air Force One using JFK’s own Bible. Immediately afterward, the Bible disappeared. It has never been recovered. Today, its value would be beyond price. In the year 2000, actress Cady Cuyler is recruited to return to 1963 for this Bible-while also discovering why her father disappeared in the same city, on the same tragic day. Finding frightening links between them will lead Cady to a far more perilous mission: to somehow prevent the President’s murder, with one unlikely ally: an ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald. Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition brings together an unlikely trio: a gallant president, the young patriot who risks his own life to save him, and the woman who knows their future, who is desperate to save them both. History CAN be altered …

My Review:

One of the historic events that alternate history writers LOVE to play with is the Kennedy Assassination. What if John F. Kennedy had not been killed on November 22, 1963? What if that brief period of bright hope was not extinguished so tragically? Would the U.S., would the world, be a brighter place now? Or does the tragedy make JFK seem nobler than he was, or would have been?

Forward to Camelot is the story of one attempt to change that history, but rather than attempt to focus on the broad sweep of the last 50 years, the authors have chosen to view the change through the lens of one person’s life. There is also more than a bit of science fiction “hand-wavium” regarding the method of time travel.

And it doesn’t matter. It’s the story of that brief period in November 1963 that compels. Using the point of view of a woman from the year 2000 makes it just that much easier for us to be swept along by the events.

The story pulls us along because we get set up right along with the main character. Cady Cuyler is sent back to 1963 to retrieve a priceless artifact, not to change history–or so she thinks. As an actress, she feels that she is being prepped to play a role, the part of a 20-something woman in Dallas in 1963. The world she is stepping into is both familiar and different.

While her employers want her to retrieve the Bible used to swear in President Johnson, Cady is willing to do this crazy thing in the hopes of saving her father. He also disappeared on November 22, 1963. Her mother has never recovered.

By inserting Cady into the past a few days before the assassination, we get immersed with her. She meets her father, and discovers that he’s not quite the loving, caring husband her mother portrayed. But while he’s hitting on her, he offers her a job as a temporary switchboard operator at his import/export business.

The more Cady sees, the more she realizes that things are not the way she was told they were. Not just because her father is no knight in shining armor, but because there is something terrible going on and he is in it up to his neck.

Her father has damned himself in a way that Cady can’t forgive. He is part of the conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. The only person who might be able to help her save the President is the person she least expects to be on her side, Lee Harvey Oswald.

But then, nothing in 1963 is what she thought it would be. Her father is trying to kill the President and Oswald is helping to save him. Cady might never get back to her own time, but if she can save JFK, it doesn’t matter.

Escape Rating B+: This is one of those stories that absolutely shouldn’t work, but it definitely does. I kept carrying it around, wanting to get just a few more pages read.

This book is a conspiracy theorist’s dream. Not just that Oswald was set up by the CIA and FBI, but that there was a separate conspiracy planning to assassinate Kennedy in order to send troops back to Cuba to fight Castro. It sounds wild now, but it makes sense in the historical context. Even more fascinating, the type of coverup outlined in the book has a basis in evidence released in the 1980s and 1990s due to Freedom of Information Act requests. While the coverup may not have been quite as dramatic as written, that one occurred is pretty easy to believe, especially post-Watergate.

But it’s Cady’s story that kept this reader glued to the story. The way that she takes the information that she finds and keeps running with it, despite the odds and the insane things that keep happening. Would someone try to save JFK? Yes, quite probably. But the story, her story, is all in how she does it. She starts out not having a lot of confidence, thinking that real life happens to other people. Going back to the past she grows up, she finds her courage, she saves the President because she saves herself first. The cool thing is that she does it twice.

Pump Up Your Book


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post on the Importance of Mentors by Author Jen Greyson + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome Jen Greyson, author of the totally spectacular Lightning Rider. This one absolutely pulled me in and swept me away–or maybe I should say stormed in and took me under? Read my review and you’ll see just what I mean.

Lightning Rider large blog tour button

A huge thank you to Marlene here at Reading Reality for letting me visit (can I get a huge round of applause for librarians everywhere?)

With my first book coming out, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what got me here, and the points that stand out have all dealt with my mentors along the way, so I wanted to talk about the . . .

Importance of Mentors by Jen Greyson

I’m an eclectic. In every aspect of my life. My resume looks like those paintings where the artist throws random splashes of color on a canvas–the end result is passionate and beautiful, but it’s messy in the creating. I used to say my erratic work history made me a journeyman. Once I started writing, I realized it was fodder for my stories.

Because I have such a huge network filled with people from nearly every profession thanks to all those jobs, I’ve also been able to rely on the sea of humanity to give me mentors.

When I think of a mentor, I picture someone who has succeeded, who didn’t quit, who’s gone the extra mile to be exceptional. But when it comes to writing, my mentors aren’t all mega-accomplished writers. They’re also accountants and financial advisors and fiberglassers.

Lightning Rider by Jen GreysonSee, mentoring has to encompass every area of my life. I can’t be a writer without learning how to socialize and listen, respect deadlines and be tenacious, devote myself to my work and turn out the best possible product. Having a mentor in each of those areas gives me someone to admire and emulate, but they’ve come from every walk of life. A very blue-collar worker I know is a genius at listening and making a person feel like he’s hanging on their every word. An interaction with him makes me feel very special. I want my readers to feel that way when I meet them, so I watch the nuances of his interactions as he mentors me.

Writing is a solitary profession. I go in a room, talk to my imaginary friends for several hundred hours, and give those ramblings to other people and ask them what they think. It’s all very bizarre, if I really think about it. My daily interactions with people are pretty brief and superficial. (Not because I want them to be, but cashiers tend to want you to move along quickly and don’t care that it’s been 4 days since you’ve had an adult conversation. 🙂 Since they’re brief, I need them to be impactful and memorable, and not in a bad way. If I can make someone feel special (even in our 2 minute interaction), that’s an awesome day. But I have to work at it because socializing and listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to learn and practice and improve.

Having great mentors means being a great disciple. I have to be someone they want to continue to teach. If I argue their points, or act like a jerk, I don’t imagine the mentoring would last long.

In my new book, Lightning Rider, the main character, Evy, gets bombarded by people who want to mentor her and she must choose wisely. The wrong mentor is often worse than no mentor. While the stakes in most cases aren’t ever saving-the-world-or-die-trying like they are in Evy’s, they are impactful and deserve the right mentor.

I’d love to know, do you have a mentor in your life? Is there one from the past that sticks out? Are you a mentor to others? What’s the most impactful thing you’ve learned from a mentor—or mentored to someone else?

Thanks again to Marlene and all her readers.


Jen is kindly giving away one ebook copy of Lightning Rider. To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jen GreysonAbout Jen GreysonFrom the moment she decided on a degree in Equestrian Studies, Jen Greyson’s life has been one unscripted adventure after another. Leaving the cowboy state of Wyoming to train show horses in France, Switzerland, and Germany, she’s lived life without much of a plan, but always a book in her suitcase. Now a wife and mom to two young boys, she relies on her adventurous, passionate characters to be the risk- takers.Jen also writes university courses and corporate training material when she’s not enjoying the wilds of the west via wakeboard or snowmobile. Her new adult fantasy, Lightning Rider, comes out May 31 and features a Latina heroine with some serious superpowers.To learn more about Jen, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

Review: Lightning Rider by Jen Greyson

Lightning Rider by Jen GreysonFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Lightning Rider, #1
Publisher: The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House
Date Released: May 30, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

For Evy Rivera, thunderstorms have always caused her physical pain, but she’s never known why. When a record-setting storm arrives on the same night her father finds ancient ancestral documents, Evy is set aglow with mysterious tiny lightnings she can command.

Even worse, she alerts some people in the universe who’ve been looking for her family for a very long time.

Thrown back into ancient Spain and tasked with killing a Spanish legend, she must train alongside Constantine, a sexy yet obstinate Roman warrior. He teaches her how to wield her lightning as a weapon, through more errors than trials. With a relationship as explosive as their late-night training sessions, Evy and Constantine battle their push-pull relationship while trying to ignore the two-thousand-year difference in their birthdates.

Ilif Rotiart, her quasi-mentor, is appalled at Evy’s skill. He would prefer to train her father and keep Evy on the sidelines—where women belong. Evy has a feeling Ilif is keeping something from them, but she must play nice until she uncovers the truth. And if he’s lying, it will be the worst day of his four-hundred-year life.

Penya Sepadas claims she’s Evy’s rightful trainer, and she has the prophecy to prove it. Penya doesn’t share Ilif’s misogynistic attitude, but she does have her own agenda . . . and her own secrets.

Evy must sort through the lies and find the truth behind her family’s time-traveling past before the wrong history obliterates the future. She’s spent her whole life fighting for her place. Now, as the first female lightning rider, she’ll dedicate her existence to fighting to save the world.

But will Evy learn to manage her lightning and find the truth before it’s too late?

My Review:

cloud to cloud lightningLightning is magic. Haven’t we all believed that when we’ve seen the beauty and power of a storm?

For Evy Rivera, lightning really is magic, magic she can ride like the motorcycles she loves. She rides the lightning, and it takes her forwards and backwards in time. It’s the ultimate trip.

Riding the lightning is a great adventure. But with great power, comes great responsibility. When she arcs to somewhen other, it’s because there is something she needs to do, someone she needs to save.

It’s a responsibility that has been passed through her family for millennia. But only from father to son. There are not supposed to be any female riders.

Back in Roman Spain, 2000 years ago, Penya is waiting for the rider of prophecy. She’s waiting for Evy. Penya is sitting on one of the cruxes of history. Evy is supposed to come back to Penya’s time and assassinate a Spanish rebel leader. It’s happened before, and it’s supposed to happen again.

In the present, there’s a man named Ilif. He says he’s there to guide Evy’s father in becoming a rider, but his motives are much less pure.

Evy’s quest is to save the past, and the future, before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: Particularly for a first novel, Lightning Rider was amazingly good.

The start is a teensy bit rocky. Evy’s breakup with her thieving ex-boyfriend, the thing that propels her down the road to her parent’s house in the first chapter still seems slightly random, but once she gets to her “Papi’s”, the action never stops.

Lightning Rider is a “time war” type story. Ilif is manipulating events for some murky purpose, and Penya is trying to stop him. Maybe. We don’t actually know what their motives are, but Ilif is not on the side of the angels.

in the garden of idenI love “time war” stories. There’s a hint of Kage Baker’s The Company in this, which is always good, but Evy seems to have more agency than Mendoza did. (Start with In the Garden of Iden, which is still awesome.)

This does have an element of the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” as well. The man in the past who needs to be assassinated was a hero in his time, but history needs to remain unchanged. If it’s changed, our future gets wiped out. It’s a hard lesson.

The ending of Lightning Rider leaves the reader hanging. This story is definitely not over. I just wish I knew when to look for the next part!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-19-13

Sunday Post

The fantastic thing about living in a reading city like Seattle is just how many authors stop by on their tours. It’s not just that Seattle is one of the top 20 cities on Amazon’s annual list of America’s most well-read cities, but it’s also a city that everyone, authors included, love to visit.

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh HanagarneLast night we went to a book signing at Third Place Books for The World’s Strongest Librarian. We’d both read the eARC and loved it, so when the opportunity presented itself to see the author in person, we jumped at the chance. Josh Hanagarne was terrific, so if you’re in Seattle and are interested in either books, libraries, strength training or Tourette’s, there’s still a chance to see/hear him tomorrow at the Seattle Central Library.

Tomorrow night we’ll be at the University Book Store listening to John Scalzi talk about The Human Division. And even though we both read (and adored) a review copy, yes, we’ll buy a print copy and get it signed.

Winner Announcements:

Paperback copy of Bare It All by Lori Foster: April P.
Ebook copy of His Southern Temptation by Robin Covington: Amy P.

The Human Division by John ScalziBlog Recap:

A- Review: The Human Division by John Scalzi
D+ Review: The Right Bride by Jennifer Ryan
B+ Review: The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester
B Review: Wife in Name Only by Hayson Manning
B+ Review: The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
Q&A with Author Josh Hanagarne
Stacking the Shelves (45)



The Perfume Collector by Kathleen TessaroComing up this week:

Review: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro (blog tour)
Review: Chasing Mrs. Right by Katee Robert
Review: Lightning Rider by Jen Greyson (blog tour)
Review: Doctor Who: Festival of Death by Jonathan Morris (blog tour)
Review: Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

What’s coming up in your week?

Past Tense

Nick Marsh’s Past Tense is almost two books in one. The first half of Past Tense is science fiction/horror, and it’s pretty much of a sequel to Marsh’s first book, Soul Purpose (reviewed here). The main purpose of chapters 1 through 44 (or I through XLIV) is to provide a reason for the rest: the marvelous time travel feast that gives Past Tense its name.

The present day bits about the vet Alan Reece and his friends George and Kate, who saved the world from a Lovecraftian-Cthulhu-monster type takeover in the previous book, serve as introduction. The world is going to hell in a handcart again. Alan is not just seeing monsters, he also keeps slipping sideways into a world where Cthulhu seems to be running the place. And this is NOT GOOD.

He’s also being stalked by a couple of guys in ill-fitting suits and rather poor hygiene. When they finally catch up with him, their explanation floors him. They are like him, except from other “Soul Plains”. They are Conduits, with a capital “C”, and so is Alan.

And they are on Earth to help Alan save it, again. Because that last time Alan saved the Earth, he caught the attention of something nasty, and it wants to spoil things at the Soul Plain level, where only Conduits can fix things. Earth wasn’t even supposed to have a Conduit yet, so Alan is special.

About the poor hygiene thing. The other Conduits are just borrowing the bodies of people from Earth. They don’t quite know how to operate the equipment, so to speak. They get the language and general movement, well mostly, but the nuances of hair combing and tooth brushing are pretty much beyond them.

But they can show Alan how bad the problem is. The creature has no physical existence, except what he borrows. But on the Soul Plain level, he consumes Conduits, kills them, and steals their power. And he wants Alan. But he also want the entire Soul Power of the Earth.

The 21st century didn’t work for him. He was drawn to it because that’s where Alan was, but the 21st century doesn’t believe in much anymore, not on a superstitious level. This being needs to be worshipped to manifest. People need to believe in him. So he’s gone back into Earth’s past.

And that’s where the second “book” comes in. The creature has manifested in Britain, during the late period of the Roman occupation, in a fort on Hadrian’s Wall. In order to stop him, Alan has to go back to that same period to stop him from changing whatever piece in history he changed to trigger the wrong turn in history.

Alan has to occupy someone else’s body, just as the other Conduits do. Alan’s spirit, or soul, or Conduitness, or whatever, travels back and occupies the body of a medicus, a surgeon, on the Roman frontier in Britain at around 177 A.D. This glimpse into the life in Roman Britain is absolutely fascinating.

Even better, although worse for her, one of the creature’s minions mistakenly believes that Kate is the Conduit and sends her back to the same place and time. Kate occupies the body of a slave girl.

Between Alan and Kate, they are able to observe Roman life from top to bottom.

Their mission, which they must accept, is to prevent the assassination of the future emperor Commodus. Bastard that Commodus was, his place in history was necessary in order for the Roman Empire to fall at the appropriate time.

The only way they may be able to accomplish this seemingly impossible task is to convince a loyal and rational Roman Centurion that his commander is already dead and that his best friend is a time traveler. Can they do the impossible in time?

Escape Rating B+: I am of two minds. The set up with the part in the 21st century at the beginning, was necessary, but I wanted more of the part in the past. I adored the story once it moved to Roman Britain. Alan’s perspective on life in the fort really shone. It was so ironic that he found his place in life nearly 2,000 years before his birth. And he knew it couldn’t last.

And Kate, trying so hard to hold up at the absolute bottom of society’s ladder, reminding Alan that his current privilege rested on the backs of people like her, on slavery.

The historic bits reminded me a lot of Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove’s excellent Household Gods. This was a marvelous book about a woman whose spirit travels back to live on the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire at the same time period as Past Tense.

There’s a slight hint of the Star Trek Original Series episode City on the Edge of Forever in Kate’s relationship with Lucius the centurion. She wants to save him, to the point where she writes herself a message the second they get back to the 21st century, which she already knows she will find and read at the beginning of this adventure, but he will still attack first and die. And it’s necessary to save the future. And she grieves.

For more of my thoughts on Past Tense, take a look at Book Lovers Inc.


Prehistoric Clock

Prehistoric Clock by Robert Appleton is a steam-powered adventure story of the Jules Verne school of adventuring. Not to mention the Jules Verne era of scientific knowledge. But as an adventure story, it’s definitely great fun.

Prehistoric Clock is Victorian-inspired steampunk, so it is set in an alternate British Empire on which the sun has not set, and does not look likely to. The year is 1908, but it is definitely not our 1908. The world is powered, not just by steam, but also by an energy called psammeticum. Great airships rule the skies. And the secretive scientific gents (and a few ladies) of the Leviacrum Council, are the ones who really run the Empire.

Two seemingly unrelated events collide, rather spectacularly. Lieutenant Verity Champlain has promised the loyal crew of the Empress Matilda that she will get them to London, even if it’s a place that she barely remembers and that most of them have never seen. The Empress is an airship of the British Air Corps, and she has been ordered to London from her base in Africa. Her orders are to “protect the pipeline at all costs”.

Lord Garrett Embrey is in London, standing before a Star Chamber within the deep recesses of Grosvenor House. The supposedly “august gentlemen” are Government bureaucrats, but Embrey knows they are merely puppets of the Leviacrum Council. It has only been 18 months since his father and uncle were convicted of trumped-up charges of treason, and these same “gentlemen” have manufactured evidence against him as well.

Embrey whisks the forged letters away from the blackguards and flees the premises, one step ahead of the steam-powered Black Maria dogging his steps. He has a yacht at the marina, and he’s planning to leave England, hopefully for good. Now he knows there’s nothing left for him.

Professor Cecil Reardon manages to fool the Leviacrum Council’s inspection one last time. As soon as he has ushered their harridan of an investigator, Miss Polperro, out the door, he stops caring. All of his supposed work for the Council has been a grand hoax.

The Leviacrum Council has been building two great Leviacrum Towers, one in London, and another on the Benguela Plateau. Verity Champlain’s airship came from Benguela. Garrett Embry’s family was sacrificed on the altar of secrecy because they asked questions about that tower.

Cecil Reardon was supposed to be working on methods of harnessing Leviacrum power, in anticipation of a great event. Instead, he worked on something of his own. As soon as Miss Polperro left his factory, he flipped the switch on his Time Clock, in hopes of returning to the time before his wife and son died.

Professor Reardon’s invention works spectacularly but not accurately. London is cleaved in two. Big Ben is carved through the middle, and time is symbolically, as well as literally, shattered. The district surrounding Reardon’s factory is transported, not just a few decades back in time, but centuries, back to the Cretaceous period. Dinosaurs roam the earth.

Some humans survive the transition to this world of adventure. The Professor is at the epicenter. Unfortunately for him, Miss Polperro and her band of Inquisitors are trapped within the cone of transferrance. Verity Champlain’s airship is dragged out of the sky by the storm the time slip produces.

As for Garrett Embry, he is caught just barely inside the blast range with the young son of an ice cream truck driver. The boy’s father was killed in the separation. To Embry, the brave new/old world is a much better adventure than the trial he barely escaped, even with pterodactyls swooping out of the sky at every turn.

But the intrepid band of time wanderers cannot survive long in the terrifying past. The Professor must find a way to reverse the time clock’s trajectory, but he will only have one opportunity to get it right. And only if the dinosaurs don’t eat them first!

Escape Rating B: Jules Verne and H.G. Wells would be so proud! Prehistoric Clock reads very much like something of the Verne school of adventure writing, and there is a definite nod to Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth at the end. Of course the Clock itself is a time machine of the Wells’ persuasion, without the Eloi and Morlock, but Wells’ time traveler doesn’t suffer the same sad backstory as motivation as Professor Reardon.

The truly fascinating character in Prehistoric Clock is Verity Champlain. A female airship officer wasn’t usual, but her crew did not merely respect her, but found her so compelling that they gave her a particular honorific title, Eembu. It means “trousers”. Meet her and you’ll find out why.

The ending is open enough that there could be a sequel. I sincerely hope so.

The Mysterious Lady Law

The Mysterious Lady Law by Robert Appleton has been one of those books that’s always looked interesting every time I’ve seen it mentioned. I’ve just never had an excuse to read it until now. As I started to read Mr. Appleton’s latest steampunk story, Prehistoric Clock, I had this niggling thought that Clock and Lady Law might be set in the same universe. That was all the excuse I needed and it was a pretty good excuse. The Mysterious Lady Law turned out to be a pretty good story, too.

The story is about one woman’s meteoric rise and catastrophic fall. It begins at the ceremony where Harriet Law receives her honors, and is made Lady Law. With the assistance of Mr. Horace Holly, Lady Law spectacularly foils an assassination attempt against Queen Victoria. But all is not as it seems.

In his younger years, Mr. Holly was an adventurer, just like the more celebrated Allan Quatermain. Even more interesting, Mr. Holly’s assistant Josh is missing. And Josh has been studying the houses in Lady Law’s neighborhood for emissions of a strange substance known as psammeticum. Whatever this energy is, some house on Lady Law’s street is sending out a lot of it.

A girl named Georgina is brutally murdered the night of Lady Law’s honors. Lady Law promises Georgy’s sister, Julia, that she will personally find justice for Julia. What Lady Law doesn’t say is that she knew Georgy herself because Georgy was her housecleaner. And Georgy saw too much.

Julia wants justice for her sister. The police want to know how Lady Law always manages to get one step ahead of them. The police sergeant who is handling Julia’s case wants to know why Lady Law wouldn’t help him find out who murdered his wife several years ago. But mostly, he wants to keep Julia safe. And Julia, she thinks Lady Law is a little too good to be true.

So when Horace Holly discovers that Lady Law is trying to throw all the suspicion for Georgy’s murder onto his assistant Josh, Holly, Julia and Sergeant Al Grant set Lady Law up for a fall. Finding out what those psammeticum emissions were all about? Well that turned out to be the biggest surprise of all.

Escape Rating C+: I enjoyed this story, but I wanted to know more about this particular steampunk London. The problem I usually have with the very short novellas is that there just isn’t enough space to explain how we got where we are. The good ones like Lady Law tease me too much.

Characters and agencies from Lady Law do appear in Prehistoric Clock. It’s definitely the same world, so I’m glad I read Lady Law. I’m hoping that between the two stories I’ll see enough of the underpinnings of Mr. Appleton’s steampunk world to satisfy my cravings.