01/01/2011. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
pub: Abaddon Books. Pax Britannia 4: Human Nature by Jonathan Green. 331 page paperback. Price: GBP 6.99 (UK), $ 7.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-905437-86-3.
check out website: www.abaddonbooks.com
You can say one thing of Jonathan Green’s ‘Pax Britannia’ tales of dandy detective Ulysses Quicksilver – they never stop. Barely a pause for breath from his last adventure in the aquatic ‘Leviathan Rising’, Quicksilver and his trusty butler Nimrod are at it again in ‘Human Nature’. Whereas the first book ‘Unnatural History’ had ‘The Lost World’ as its major influence and the second dipped into ’20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ and ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, this third adventure strays to more British influences, such as ‘The Hound Of The Baskervilles’ and ‘Frankenstein’.
After a ‘mermaid’ goes missing from a London museum, Ulysses travels to the industrial town of Whitby where it was found, at which point bodies begin to be found on the local moor, along with reports of a large dog-like creature, the Barghest beast. After rescuing his latest love interest, Ulysses finds more than he bargained for in the tunnels and caves below the estate of the mysterious industrialist Joseph Umbridge.
It’s all as silly as we’ve come to expect, lacking in any true emotional depth or characterisation but paced so frenetically and plotted so ridiculously that it is at least mildly diverting. Ulysses gets hurt virtually every chapter and this doesn’t seem to affect his heroic performances bar the odd wince. In this book, he even manages to defeat his enemy after having a limb removed. The world-building remains frustratingly sparse, too. It feels like we’re given a over-ambitious broad story in the foreground with only lacklustre hints of a greater world, rather than a tight specific story that alludes to an exciting bigger world. I frequently found myself wondering if the world of ‘Pax Britannia’ still continues outside of the room Ulysess is in, such is the focus on the dandy’s every movement.
That said, the quality of Green’s prose has improved markedly since his debut in this series and the dialogue is beginning to get some wit and banter. The plot is also a little more structured than before, with less of a runaway train feel to it. It’s starting to feel like I’m having some fun with the books, albeit fun that comes with a large number of caveats. These books still feel like a wasted opportunity to me. In a world that should be pitting the political machinations of a vast steampunk Victorian Empire against the mechanically augmented Third Reich, why do we keep getting sidetracked by the misadventures of a dashing one-dimensional detective like James Bond playing Sherlock Holmes, but without the best attributes of either? ‘Pax Britannia’ feels like a case of missing the wood for the trees and although ‘Human Nature’ is Jonathan Green’s best yet, it still feels like a disappointment.
Tomas L. Martin
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