01/01/2011. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
pub: Abaddon Books. Pax Britannia 3: Leviathan Rising by Jonathan Green. 328 page paperback. Price: GBP 6.99 (UK), $ 7.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-905437-60-3)
check out website: www.abaddonbooks.com
I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Abaddon Books. I like the idea of the imprint, which promises penny dreadful horror, Science Fiction and dark fantasy novels of the kind that used to exist in the early days of the genre. Big, brash and disregarding of the laws of nature or self-restraint, they hark back to the age of ‘B’ movies that entertained and shocked without much thought for anything beyond immediate gratification.
I’m on board with the premise. I love a good zombie story as much as the next guy and who doesn’t love silly steampunk detective yarns? In practice, however, I find that although many of Abaddon’s novels fulfil on the premise, the craft is somewhat lacking.
Jonathan Green’s first contribution to the ‘Pax Britannia’ series, ‘Unnatural History’, was a terrible book. The world promised a lot, but the writing failed to deliver. In a world where the industrially preserved body of Queen Victoria still rules the British Empire and the Nazis employ mechanical monstrosities to dominate those parts of the world Britain can’t reach, flamboyant detective Ulysses Quicksilver embarks on a series of increasingly implausible adventures. The first book centred around dinosaurs and zeppelins, but the over-use of clichéd dialogue and unrealistic escapes weighed it down like the Hindenburg’s burning carcass. The world had so much to give, as Al Ewing demonstrated in the incredibly fun Nazi versus Zorro spoof ‘El Sombra’.
The second of Green’s books in the series, ‘Leviathan Rising’, does improve on the first and is easier to enjoy. Here we see a mash-up of classic sinking ship disaster movie ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ and the Titanic mythos with a little of video game ‘Bioshock’ thrown in for good measure. Quicksilver and his faithful manservant Nimrod have been invited to join the maiden voyage of the Neptune, the world’s greatest submersible cruise ship, although how that is physically possibly, the book never truly explains. As we all know, the maiden voyage of stately cruise ships is never a good place to be and soon the characters are in a race to survive.
After a brief excursion at an exotic underwater city, some China-Britain spy intrigue and a shocking murder, the ship is plunged into chaos and begins sinking to the seabed, where it is attacked by a huge Kraken. Fighting their way through the flooding decks, Ulysses and the other rich members of the murder mystery sub-plot escape the dying ship to a conveniently located underwater research lab nearby. Some three thousand passengers perish in a few lines during this part, never to be mentioned again. Accused of murder, Ulysses must clear his name, kill the giant squid and defeat the real murderer, all without getting his shirt ruffled.
‘Leviathan Rising’ is much better than Green’s first book. The cheesy clichés are more restrained and less obvious and the characters at least attempt to move away from stereotypes. Parts of the sinking ship escape is particularly thrilling and they are some nice allusions to ‘B’ movie references.
It’s still not great though. The world of ‘Pax Britannia’ seems to have too little rules, that the great civilisations can invent whatever they like and certain characters can escape every situation no matter how implausible, while others meet their grisly demise exactly on cue and in appropriately corny manner. The world is so vaguely preposterous that even for a ‘penny dreadful’, I could never suspend my disbelief, as it felt like the author could just wish his characters into or out of any situation without any sense of rigour. The ‘Pax Britannia’ series is definitely improving, but I still wouldn’t choose to follow Ulysses Quicksilver on his next unlikely adventure.
Tomas L. Martin
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