Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Review | The Great Game - Lavie Tidhar

The Great Game is likely best introduced by just one word: steampunk. For those unfamiliar with the term, you've got a lot to look forward to. Steampunk is a vision of a past that never was: Victorian technology taken to the extreme. Clockwork computers; airships; and lots of gleaming brass prevail! Along, of course, with more than a few Victorians... It's the fantasy of an alternate past, and The Great Game's setting is very alternate: the British Empire is ruled by alien lizards, Mycroft Holmes runs the shadowy Bureau, and France is run by a council of automatons.

Sound different? It should. And it also sums up the whole attitude of The Bookman Histories (of which The Great Game is the third novel): bold steampunk elements, an eclectic setting, and more than a few (artfully reinterpreted) literary - and real - characters. Harry Houdini as an agent of the Bookman; Sherlock Holmes a retired Bureau operative (who does indeed keep bees); and Charles Babbage is - well. But what about the plot?
The story is told from a number of different viewpoints on the action, which keeps it fresh - but just to mention who they are would entail some spoilers. But we can safely say that it all starts with Smith. An obtrusively unobtrusive name - which fits, as he's an agent (closer to assassin) for the Bureau. But when Mycroft Holmes is murdered, along with another top agent, Smith is brought back from retirement to find the killer - and the plot. The other perspectives, meanwhile, provide a less bland perspective. Smith is fun to read, but his identity as a rather shadowy figure make him less engaging in himself, which the others remedy.

It's not a character driven story, however - although they pique interest, we never remain with a single character for long. It's not even driven by the events and mysteries - which are alien, and occasionally just incomprehensible. The only conclusion is that it's simply driven by experience: the discovery of how a particularly loved character comes in or is altered in addition, the bold steampunk additions (Lizardine Empire, anyone?), and what on Earth happens to Harry Houdini. (Don't ask. I won't tell.)

Though it's a lot of fun, the ending is likely this novel's weakest point: there's little resolution, true to my description of The Great Game as a novel of exploration. Things happen - but there's no huge climax, or at least not one that's built up to for a single character, so there's not a lot of emotional involvement when the end finally comes. This is likely steampunk epitomised in the form of a whistle-stop tour - just don't expect much high drama when things take a turn for the serious.

You can find The Great Game on Amazon.com: here
Or on Amazon.co.uk: here


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