01/12/2009. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
pub: Abaddon Books. 304 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK), $ 7.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-905437-10-8.
check out website: www.abaddonbooks.com
Abaddon Books is a relatively new imprint from the UK, specialising in the kind of pulp fantasy, Science Fiction and horror that has been relatively sparse on bookstore shelves in recent years. Their range of titles includes series about biological and zombie apocalypses, as well as sword and sorcery and military tales.
The 'Pax Britannia' series has an interesting premise. What if, towards the turn of the new millennium, Queen Victoria was still alive and head of a vast British Empire, fuelled by steampunk robots and other such wonders? Initially, the writing tasks were split between Jonathan Green and Al Ewing but now Green writes all the books in the series.
'Unnatural History', the first in Green's attempts at the series, introduces us to hero Ulysses Quicksilver, an altogether larger-than-life character blending together Sherlock Holmes, Bruce Wayne and Indiana Jones. A rich aristocrat with a penchant for adventure and cognac, Ulysses arrives back to London just as his brother is about to take over the family estate from his assumed dead sibling.
No sooner has Quicksilver returned than he is thrust into a tangled web of intrigue. Assigned by one of the government ministers to investigate a break-in at the Natural History Museum, he finds a professor missing and a guard dead.
Things rapidly spiral from there as Quicksilver finds the professor in the sewers de-evolving from his own serum into first ape then lizard then proto-slime. With terrorists already having released the dinosaur zoo into the city with one attack, what will happen if they unleash the professor's discovery onto the unsuspecting inhabitants of London?
This is very much a pulp fiction book, packed full of one ridiculous action sequence after another. Over the course of barely 300 pages, Ulysses wrestles a T-Rex, befriends a Neanderthal, boards and destroys a Zeppelin and fights on top of a train... The list goes on.
Ironically, the action scenes aren't the most unbelievable part of the book. as the novel's writing is at times poor, with clichéd dialogue that reads like a Roger Moore 'Bond' film. Villains and hero alike are prone to spouting lines of speech so stilted they feel silly.
Even worse than that is the very nature of the book's hero, Ulysses Quicksilver, a one-man noble deus ex machina. Ulysses can shoot, fence, fall from great height and drown with seemingly little difficulty. He jumps on the backs of T-Rex's and subway cars with glee abandon, performing acts of bravery on every page that make the reader cry out for realism.
The most frustrating part of this is Quicksilver's psychic insights, which crop up at least every chapter and explain why the book is so short. Whenever the hero is presented with a puzzle or mystery, he magically thinks up the solution within a couple of paragraphs, with no explanation given other than his sheer brilliance. It's a tactic that grates the first time and quickly becomes infuriating.
This is a lazy book based on an idea of a Steampunk British Empire that could be great fun... indeed its sister book 'El Sombra' by Al Ewing, set in the same world but in a Nazi Germany occupied Mexico, was a fantastic read, full of gritty action.
Tomas L. Martin
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