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Book Review: The Bound Soul by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #3)

Woman holding a giant eagle.Summary:
The group from the first two Halcyon adventures are resting up in Marrakesh, albeit in their own separate mini-groups, when a mysterious assailant with a fiery sword shows up and manages to kill Don Lorenzo.  Immediately bent upon revenge, Qhora takes Mirari and an old enemy with an interest in the famous seireiken (flaming swords) on a new airship piloted by Taziri on a chase not just to avenge the Don’s death but also to free his soul from the aetherium.

Review:
I discovered the hidden gem in the steampunk world that is Joseph Robert Lewis’s indie series The Other Earth back when he offered me the first copy in the series for review.  The series consists of two trilogies and a set of companion novels.  He sent me one of the trilogies for review, and I picked up the fourth book in the series (first in the second trilogy) on one of his frequent 100% off coupon code/giveaway days he has on his site (which you should definitely follow if you’re into the series and want a chance to flesh it out without buying them all at once).  All of which is to say, I clearly am a fan of the series.  I would certainly hope so.  I can’t imagine reading a series beyond book 1 or 2 if you didn’t like it.

In any case, I’ve come to expect two things from Lewis’s writing that make me enjoy it so much: strong world-building and editing and creative stereotype-defining characters.  Alas, these weren’t quite so strong in this entry.  I think perhaps the book suffers from the classic third book in the trilogy problem that is seen in many many trilogies.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it. I simply found the earlier books to be better.

Part of what I enjoyed about the earlier books was the unique marriages going on, particularly Qhora and Lorenzo’s.  They had just finished sorting out their differences, so killing off Enzo felt a bit like an odd choice to me.  While I enjoyed the plot of the seireikens and discovering more of the East in this reimagining of the world, I wish that we hadn’t lost the unique pairing of a religious, pacifistish Caucasian man with a fiery, independent Incan woman.  I know characters die, but it still took that unique aspect out of the book that I had so enjoyed.  In fact, we now verged a bit too close to stereotype, what with a terrorist-style Aegyptian and a revenge-seeking Native.

Similarly, I don’t feel that Aegypt was as creatively built as the other alternate history areas of Marrakesh and Espani.  Espani keeps some semblance of its Catholicism with its more conservative culture and following the “three-faced god,” but it still is creative with its vastly different climate of ice and culture that creates.  In contrast, Aegypt is still a desert. It is full of undesirables and criminal culture from everywhere. People wear what appears to be the same clothing as one would expect in Egypt today, and women are still oppressed.  If we’re imagining an alternate vision of Earth, why couldn’t we have a progressive Middle East?  Maybe one where the women wear scarves for a practical reason (such as to keep dust out of their hair) but hold positions of power within the culture and city.  That’s the sort of thing I was expecting from Lewis, so I was a bit disappointed to see such a stereotypical portrayal of the Middle East.  Remember. This is an alternate history series.  The whole idea is how things might be different if a few aspects of history were changed, such as weather and disease transmission.  He’s not tied to reality, which leaves room for a lot more creativity than is seen in this reimagining of Egypt.

In contrast, the fantastical and scientific concepts are still strong.  The idea of the seireiken–a sword made from aetherium that steals the soul of those it touches–is a great addition to the world Lewis has built.  Similarly, Taziri’s new airship is yet again surprising, in spite of seeing two airships from her before.  Another element of fantasy enters that I won’t reveal, because that would ruin the surprise and flair, but that I felt fit in well with the world and was a nice touch.  Similarly, the fight scenes are well-written with neither too much description nor too little.  Also, although more new characters are added, it never feels overwhelming or hard to keep track of them.  Readers with an interest in having differently abled people represented will be pleased to know that one of these new characters is a well-written Little Person.

One other thought, I have to say that I was disappointed in this cover.  Qhora does not look like a Native Incan woman to me.  She struck me as Caucasian.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was reading the book and realized that Turi (the eagle) only rests on Qhora’s arm that I realized this woman is supposed to be her.  (Google Image Search “Incan woman” to see what I mean).

Overall then, although this book is not as impressive or thought-provoking as the first two in the series, it still tells an engaging story with lots of action.  I’m hopeful that Lewis’s ability demonstrated in the first two books to see multiple possibilities for various cultures and peoples will return to its previous strength in the next books in the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Previous Books in Series:
The Burning Sky (review)
The Broken Sword (review)

Book Review: The Broken Sword by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #2)

February 6, 2012 1 comment

Man with sword in front of tiger.Summary:
The international bunch from the first book is back, this time with their lives intersecting in Espani.  Taziri is now flying the Halycon 2, which is an airplane instead of an airship.  Major Zidane is working as flight security, and Keenan is her copilot.  Qhora and Lorenzo are married and living in Madrid running a fencing school.  One day, Taziri’s flight drifts a bit off-course, while bringing passengers from Italia to Mazigh, and they happen to spot a brand-new Espani warship that promptly shoots at them.  Forced down over Espani, Taziri takes her passengers to Lorenzo’s home, where they stumble into the middle of his personal quest to find the skyfire stone.  A stone that fell from heaven in the frigid northern part of Espani, and that is supposed to emit heat that Lorenzo hopes will save the faith of his fellow Espanis.

Review:
In the first book, Lewis surprised me by writing a steampunk that I actually enjoyed.  In this one, he managed to do that with a fantasy.  Definitely impressive.

Whereas the first book focused on Taziri and the Mazigh steampunk science, this one focuses in on Espani–a culture that shuns science and instead trusts in faith.  This is certainly not a set-up that would lead me to be sympathetic toward Lorenzo at all, and yet.  It’s hard to blame someone for having faith in a country where people routinely interact with ghosts and water spirits.  Eventually it comes to make sense why the Espani are so steeped in their faith and why it’s important to Lorenzo.  It is his culture, after all.  His culture, his land, his people.  He’s afraid that the steampower and innovations from the southern nations are going to overpower and ruin Espani.  It’s a culture clash from history only turned a bit on its head with Europe being the one to cling to the old ways.  I think addressing the issue this way makes it more understandable and thought-provoking for the reader.

My complaint in the first book was there was too much exposition and it took too long to get the action going.  Not a problem here!  The plot jumps right in with both feet and sweeps along at a good, steady pace.  The method of switching character perspectives in each chapter also works better in this book than in the first one.  Perhaps this is because we know and understand them better, but I also think that the overall plot is just better and more tightly structured this time around.

The settings evoked are again stunning, only this time the direct opposite of Mazigh.  The frozen north is something I have an affinity for myself, having grown up near the Canadian border in Vermont, and Lewis demonstrates how weather affects culture quite well.

Not to be outdone, Syfax imitated her [taking a shot of vodka] and almost choked on the burning in his throat, but he held it back and managed a grin. “You drink this for fun?”
“No, I drink it to get drunk, major. When you live in a climate like this, some nights are best spent with your brain on fire, burning your blood from the inside out.” (location 1929)

Can I also say, this book has a very hot, sex-positive, sex scene, and I like it, and can we get more of that please? 😉

Two things I didn’t like quite so much.  First, Taziri’s plot again mostly involves her wanting to get back to her family and missing her daughter.  This feels a bit too much like a repeat of the first book.  Second, where were all the Espani women?  I cannot think of a single significant one encountered in a whole book set there.  This made me sad after the large presence of females in the first book.  Qhora talks about Espani female gentility and such, but we don’t ever really see it.

Overall, this is a fulfilling follow-up to the first book that does not suffer from the middle book in the trilogy plight that so often occurs to book two.  The setting is different, and the action is tighter.  I’m excited to read the final book in the trilogy and am certain fans of the first book will not be disappointed by this one.

Oh, and Lewis?  Can you please write something set in the New World?  I need more giant, purring tigers in my life.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from the author in exchange for my honest review

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Previous Books in Series:
The Burning Sky (review)

Book Review: The Burning Sky by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #1)

November 23, 2011 2 comments

African woman near gears and airships.Summary:
In an alternate vision of history, the Ice Age has lingered in Europe, slowing down Europeans’ rate of civilization and allowing Ifrica (Africa) to take the lead.  Add to this a disease in the New World that strikes down the invaders instead of vice versa, and suddenly global politics are entirely different.  In this world, steam power has risen as the power of choice, and women are more likely to be the breadwinners.  Taziri is an airship co-pilot whose airfield is attacked in an act of terrorism.  She suddenly finds herself flying investigating marshals and a foreign doctor summoned by the queen herself all over the country.  Soon the societal unrest allowing for a plot against the queen becomes abundantly clear.

Review:
Can I just say, finally someone wrote a steampunk book I actually like, and it’s a fellow indie kindle author to boot!  All of the possibilities innate in steampunk that no other book I’ve read has taken advantage of are used to their fullest possibilities by Lewis.

I love that Lewis used uncontrollable environmental factors to change the political dynamics of the world.  Anybody who has studied History for any length of time is aware how much of conquering and advancement is based on dumb luck.  (The guns, germs, and steel theory).  Lewis eloquently demonstrates how culture is created both by the people and their surroundings and opportunities.  For instance, whereas in reality the Native Americans had to rely on dogs for assistance and transportation against invaders on horseback, Lewis has given the Incans giant cats and eagles that they tame to fight invaders.  Similarly, in Europe the Europeans are constantly fighting a dangerous, cold environment and have dealt with this harsh landscape by becoming highly superstitious, religious people.  This alternate setting allows for Lewis to play with questions of colonization, race, and technology versus tradition in thought-provoking ways.

Women are in positions of power in this world, but instead of making them either perfect or horrible as is often the short-coming of imagined matriarchies, there are good and bad women.  Some of the women in power are brilliant and kind, while others are cruel.  This is as it should be because women are people just like men.  We’re not innately better or worse.  Of course, I couldn’t help but enjoy a story where a soldier is mentioned then a character addresses her as ma’am, without anyone feeling the need to point out that this is a woman soldier.  Her gender is just assumed.  That was fun.

Although Taziri does seem to be the main focus of this book, the story is told by switching around among a few main characters who find themselves swept together in the finale for the ultimate battle to save or assassinate the queen.  This strategy reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton’s Next where seemingly unrelated characters suddenly find how their destinies are all connected together.  Lewis does a good job with this, although personally I found the beginning a bit slow-moving.  It all comes together well in the end, though, with everything resulting in a surprising, yet logical, ending.

What kept me from completely loving the book is that I feel it needs to be slightly more tightly edited and paced.  Some sections were longer than they needed to be, which I can certainly understand, because Lewis has made a fun world to play around in, but as a reader reading what amounts to a thriller, I wanted things to move faster.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the steampunk world Lewis has created after a couple of years of loving the fashions and possibilities but finding no steampunk books I liked.  If someone were to ask me where to start with steampunk, I would point them here since it demonstrates the possibilities for exploring race, colonization, and gender, showing that steampunk is more than just an extended Victorian era.

Overall this is a wonderful book, far better than the traditionally published steampunk I’ve read.  I highly recommend it to fans of alternate history, political intrigue, and steampunk alike.  Plus it’s only 99 cents on the kindle.  You can’t beat prices like that.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Won on LibraryThing from the author in exchange for my honest review

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