Read Recently — August — August continues to fail to provide useful categories for groups of books

Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel

Sequel to Airborn, this takes up a while later, finding Matt Cruse studying at the Airship Academy in Paris. During a training flight on a slovely airship, Matt is on the bridge when the ship rises to a dangerous height (these airships are not pressurised) to avoid a storm and spots one of the legends of the airways: the Hyperion, a famous ghost-airship, long lost with all hands but known to be still flying. The creation of a demented millionaire genius, she is commonly held to be a flying treasurehouse. And with the rest of the crew down due to oxygen deprivation, and the navigator dying shortly thereafter of “respiratory failure”, Matt’s the only person who knows the coordinates . This brings him to the attention of a man who claims to be the millionaire’s son, but isn’t, a young Romany woman who saves him from the man and his henchmen, and Kate deVries, from the first book. In fairness to Kate, it should be said that she was already aware of Matt, and seems very fond of him. But she’s a scientist, and she wants to see the Hyperion‘s labs. So she connects with a man who has his own airship, a skybreaker designed to travel into the high atmosphere, manned by Sherpas. He wants the treasure. He also wants Kate. Matt wants the same things. Can they get along long enough to find the treasure (if, indeed, there is any)? And what does Kate want? And what will they find, 20 000 feet up?

Recommended.

The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston

Try to imagine a high-fantasy version of the X-Men. Sounds interesting, right? Probably more interesting than this book. Basically, the land is at war with giant insects who come from no-one knows where, and once they take over territory enclose it in a form of paper. The Emperor, who is immortal, has the ability to share that immortality with anyone he chooses, so he shares it with a circle of individuals with unique abilities. Comet, aka Jant, our narrator, is the only member of the circle who can fly (this is explained in terms of his unique physiology (all people from the kingdom of Aiwia have wings, but Jant is a half-breed with a people who are all muscle and fairly light, so he’s the only aiwian who can get off the ground)) and is thus the Emperor’s messenger. He’s also a drug addict who believes that on his ‘trips’ he enters another world, even less pleasant than this one. The bugs are there, too.

The rest of the book is unpleasant people being unpleasant to each other, when they’re not actually trying to kill each other. While you’re thinking about the X-Men, go read some X-Men comics. It’ll be more fun than reading this.

Not recommended.

The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling

In the late 19th century, Earth was bombarded by some falling spatial object: a broken-up comet or a meteor shower. Most of the objects hit the oceans, but the ensuing “nuclear winter” renders the northern areas of the world rather tough to inhabit. The British Empire moves its capital to India, while the Russians turn to cannibalism and devil-worship. Technological change did not occur in the 20th century at the rate it did in our world, so the 21st century still runs on steam and airships. Cavalry Captain Athelstane King gets caught up in the Great Game when a Russian spy sets out to kill him because — you know, it’s effin’ complicated. And finding out what’s going on is a lot of the fun. The rest lies in the world-building, which is excellent. Stirling manages to impart the world background casually, so that one is not overwhelmed. Only one thing kept throwing me out of it: the use of “Stirling-cycle Engines”–which are real devices, and appropriately period, but as they share a name with the author it just kep throwing me.

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