Saturday, February 5, 2011

Balfour And Meriwether In The Adventure Of The Emperor’s Vengeance

Short Story by Daniel Abraham.
Read for PodCastle by Paul S. Jenkins

The titular characters are two British spies in 1919 London. The are hired for "special" assignments, in this case, it appears a Lord has released a mummy into the city. In tracking it down, they uncover a Jewish conspiracy to protect the world from a terrible, steampunk danger. And with a few daring action sequences and some help from a beautiful Jewish woman who is as capable as they are, they attempt to save London.

A note about the setting. I really like it. This is the sort of story on the hazy boundary of Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, and in such a way as to bring up debates about what does and does not constitute "steampunk" as well. The end of gaslight London and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is an interesting setting to start with, but we add a Stargate-like ancient Egyptian discovery, and some robotics that didn't exist, and wouldn't quite work in the real world (I consider fantasy robotics fantasy, but some insist that makes it Science Fiction). The Jewish conspiracy based on actual mythology is a pretty neat idea, and there are some excellent action setpieces.

The fact that the story is told from a viewpoint looking back on an adventurous youth is a nice frame, but by the end of the story turns out to actually be important. More than a mere framing narrative, it provides some context and additional insight that might be missed otherwise. This frame makes for a creepier, more ambiguous ending, which serves to make the overall story that much more interesting.

I can't say they were especially well-characterized here, but I do look forward to more adventures of Balfour and Meriwether (this is the first). The long title, heroic duo, reference to earlier unwritten adventures, and pulp-action-fantasy feel remind me of Sir Hereward and Mr. Fitz and that isn't a bad comparison. Enjoyment of the two stories probably overlaps a lot, although I prefer that one, I can imagine it going the other way. Both are pretty good.
3.5 steampunk scarabs out of 5.

Originally published in Postscripts #19: The Enemy of the Good.

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