(2006) Chris Roberson, Pyr, US$15.00, trdpbk, 400pp, ISBN-13 978-1-591-02444-6
From 1960s Russia and Paragaea follows the fate of a female Russian cosmonaut, Alikina Chirikov, who sets off on what should be a routine flight but, as is the case with many a novel, turns out to be anything but. After encountering a strange flash of light and losing communications, Leena finds herself crash landing in an unfamiliar environment and then gets captured by a group of Jaguar men.
She is rescued by an unlikely duo, Hieronymus "Hero" Bonaventure from the Napoleonic era and Balam who is an outlaw noble of the Jaguar men. It turns out that the world Leena has found herself in is a parallel dimension of Earth and that Earth is an entity found only in myths and legends. The pair of adventurers have little purpose to their existences so when Leena asks them to help her find a way home, they agree and find themselves encountering many a strange race of metamen who comprise of species related to crocodiles, fish, birds and other creatures. The here travellers find themselves taking on work of varying descriptions, encountering an artificial being who helps them with their quest.
The best way to describe this book is as a good old-fashioned adventure yarn set in a land full of ancient histories, myth, legends and diverse cultures. The fact that the central characters' story involves their travelling does the book no harm as it is the perfect way for the author to weave together a varied backdrop with plenty of substance. This includes nomadic cities, mysterious lost temples and an underground city which as been constructed as a series of rings and has endless red tape as Leena, Hero and Balam find to their cost when they attempt to procure employment. The methods the travellers utilise along their way are equally inventive as they range from airships, water going vessels and large beasts of burden. They encounter colourful characters along the way that only serves to enhance the backdrop while providing the characters with plentiful opportunities for interaction.
The cover blurb describes the book as "a planetary romance" but I feel that is selling it short somewhat. While there is an element of romance, it is much more of an inventive adventure tale with the kind of twists and turns you don't see coming, and when they seem a touch predictable it is written in such a way that it compliments the story's plot development. The book is well paced and successfully motivates the reader as the mysteries of the world of Paragaea start to fall into place as the characters proceed with their quest.
The finer details of the characters are also there. For example, Leena's lack of well practiced English and her devotion to her country and duties as a Russian citizen. The character of Balam is written effectively enough for him not just to be a token alien character but to give him a personal history, values and characteristics. Hieronymus Bonavenutre is a classic swashbuckler with his own faults and failings as well as proving the book with a dashing hero with a backstory that is used to tantalise the reader and then once revealed falls into place.
The conclusion of the book works well as it makes use of the backstories and cultures encountered along the way and is handled in an original, inventive and interesting fashion which not only shows that the author has put a lot of thought into how everything in the novel fits together. It also provides the reader with a rewarding payoff as it ties in the various elements of the plot perfectly as well as having a bittersweet twist.
This book would appeal primarily to readers who enjoy fantasy novels but I can imagine it having a wider appeal in terms of appealing to anyone who likes a good old fashioned adventure yarn with its use of inventive twists and turns of the plot and varied cast of central and peripheral characters.
I found the storytelling effective enough to conjure up images in my mind as well as inspiring interest in the characters and the world they inhabit. I found it a shame to get to the end of the book as I could have gladly read more - and it was perfect to lose myself in as I sat on a train that was delayed for several hours to the point when I lost track of time. So, on that note, I would recommend it as an enjoyable, well written and an engaging fantasy adventure with a consistently developing story.
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