“They do have toilets in their air-ships…”
… and they are actually using them. If nothing else that made the world real to me.
But let’s not rush ahead, let’s start at the beginning. If you pick up this book based on the blurb, you are most certainly in for a disappointment. Sure, everything mentioned on the back cover happens over the curse of this story, but it doesn’t do it any justice. Those events are not the essence of the story. It’s not so much a mystery or an adventure story, it’s more like a travel report, giving the reader a first impression of a new and fascinating alternate earth, where the last ice age never ended and Europe is nothing more than icy, barbarian wilderness.
Luckily I didn’t take the book up based on the back cover. Being a big fan of all things Steam-punk I’m always searching for new reading material. So, some time ago I came across “The Burning Sky” by Joseph Robert Lewis which was the first part of the “Halcyon-Trilogy”. The description sounded quite interesting and I marked that book as to be read. Then many things came in between and I all but forgot about the book. When I came back to it just a few weeks ago I had to realize, that those books were no longer available. Out of interest I looked up what other books Lewis might have written and stumble upon “Assassins of the Steam Age” being the first part of the “Aetherium-Series”. What caught my eye was the blurb because it was the exact same as the one of “The burning Sky”. Lewis obviously took the “Halcyon-Trilogy” and the following “Europa-Trilogy” and “Chimera-Duology” which are set in the same world, gave them new titles and a new order as the series “Aetherium”. I really wanted to read “Assassins of the Steam Age” then, but when I found out, that there was a prelude (and that I might get the whole series for free if I read and review said prelude) I decided to start at the beginning and took up “Wreck of the Frost Finch”. And I think that was a good decision. Writing/Storytelling:
The Story is told from the hero’s point of view. The narrative voice however is mostly unjudging, free of anything what might be the hero’s personal opinion or emotions, regaling anything that happens on the airship journey in the same neutral, slightly distant tone. Landscape or murder seemingly doesn’t make any difference to the narrator. As I said, the whole story seemed more like a travel report, than an adventure or mystery. On the one hand that made it difficult for me to connect with the hero, one the other hand it gave me a great, unbiased view of the narrative world.World/World building:
Being a builder of fantasy and science fiction worlds myself, the world and the way it’s build are of great importance to me in any book I read. A wonderful and care-fully crafted world with an inherent logic can do much for me, even amend for a not so well crafted story. I don’t expect a fictitious world to follow our universe’s laws of physic, but I ex-pect it to have its own “natural laws” – how strange they ever may be – and stick to them. And in that expectation, this book rewarded me greatly. I will not say its world is perfect for I have never encountered one so far (Not even Tolkien’s Middle Earth), but from the glimpse I got in this book, it sure as hell has the potential.
It’s fresh and inventive, with a premise I’ve never encountered before: The last ice age never ended. Europe is mostly buried under tons of ice and snow, with only very few coastal valleys being inhabitable. There never was a Roman Empire, nor the many middle age kingdoms or the vast British Empire. The centre of Civilisation in the world are the kingdoms – or more accu-rate “Queendoms” for they obviously have female succession rules – of northern Africa and the Middle East. These countries are technologically advanced, having airships and being able to generate electricity from sunlight or wind. No timeframe is given for reference, but from the feel of it, it seemed like late nineteenth century to me. And while there are nations highly advanced there are other regions of a merely barbaric technology level with prehistoric creatures still roaming the vast, cold wilderness. And with the “Aetherium”, the sun-steel, and the souls of the dead wandering the earth and even interacting with the living the world holds an interesting mystical and even magical element that waits to be fleshed out in the following novels.
The world building didn’t seem too obvious to me, but then, sending the hero on a trip into the unknown, letting him tell what he sees, what he encounters on his travels is a neat trick. Albeit I have to say if seen this gone wrong many times. Not so here. While the narrator gives the reader lots of information of this world, there are no info dumps and never once the narrative voice tells something just to inform the reader. So even if many facts about the world are told, others remain hidden or at least vague for the narrator never explains in detail what the hero already knows or is common knowledge in the world. Hero/Heroine:
The main character is Omar Bakhoum, nicknamed “Omar the Immortal”, some kind of a scholar from the Empire of Eran. He is on a quest to discover the origin of the “sun-steel” and its mystic qualities. He is sure, the answer to his questions lays on the island Ysland far up in the North and he accompanies an airship expedition across the frozen wilder-ness of Europe. As I said narrative voice made it a little difficult to really connect to Omar, to understand what’s driving him for it’s too impassionate and distant. From what little the reader got to know his quest for understanding one of the founding pillars of his world sounds definite-ly interesting. But for now one can only hope that his story will continue in one of the later books since there are most of the questions still open.Conclusion:
This book is not so much a story on its own but more a prelude to a much bigger story, opening up quite a few story lines but resolving almost none of them. It gives a first glance of a new, inventive and quite intriguing world and it most certainly got me hooked.PS:
For anyone who wonders: This book was first published under the title “Omar the Immor-tal” as first part of the “Europa”-Trilogy.