(2013) Rod Rees, Jo Fletcher Books, £18.99, hrdbk, xi + 554pp, ISBN 978-1-849-16508-2
This is the stupendously imaginative climax to the highly inventive Demi-Monde quartet. To cut to the chase, the book's last third is simply brilliant: midway through the book, just when you thought you were galloping to the sequence's conclusion, Rees ups to a gear you did not know existed. It gives you one of book-readings bitter-sweet moments as on one hand you can't wait to turn the page but on the other as the book cover looms you do not want it all to end. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's start again
If you have not yet read the preceding three titles in the Demi-Monde titles, especially if you like science fiction, are a fan of steampunk, and indeed are profoundly in love with SF, then I ever so gently suggest with firm solidity that you get these! I emphasise the SF twice because while the first three titles are emphatically steampunk novels firmly embedded in a hard SF surround, the final third of this last title turns this around by making it clear that this sequence's concepts are very firmly SF and the steampunk is just (welcome) frippery put there to make Demi-Monde's visitors feel vaguely at home while clearly being in an alien and possibly hostile environment (after all Demi-Monde was ostensibly meant to be for military training).
OK. Now if you are new to Demi-Monde then I strongly advise you to stop here and go to the first book: The Demi-Monde: Winter. In fact, skip the review, simply order it now and order it direct from Jo Fletcher Books at Quercus or your favourite high street bookshop (do not give tax debatable, high-street non-level playing field Amazon your dosh). Above all, do not read any more of this review as there are spoilers ahead.
Spoilers ahoy. (You were warned.)
And so we are poised with events within the Demi-Monde quantum supercomputer model world and the 'real world' set for the transportation of the essences of a good proportion of the Demi-Monde population into the bodies of a similar number of folk in the real world, each of whom have been given a microchip brain implant. That each of these real world people also carry a gene relating to a different branch of humanity means that the stakes are not just high for society but our species too!
And so the battle starts to get fierce and even principal characters start to fall. This adds to the couple of principal character deaths we had in the last book. One bit of good news is that Vanka is back. Effectively he is simply an avatar of Demi-Monde and so death for him is meaningless as long as the Demi-Monde computer is functioning. Sadly, there is no obvious get-out-of-jail card for our other protagonists and so their deaths add to the tension with the body count slowly but relentlessly mounting as the book's second half proceeds.
With Demi-Monde now more or less fully explored in the previous books, Rees turns to plot development. What is happening in the real world comes more into focus. In the last book, The Demi-Monde: Summer, we learned that the 'real world' was not our 'real world', and The Demi-Monde: Fall begins with our learning more about Rees' 'real world' and how it relates to our 'really real world'.
Also at the end of the last book we bumped into the military team originally sent to extract the President's daughter, so it is not much of a spoiler to let you know what you clearly suspected that The Demi-Monde: Fall sees early 21st century military tackle Demi-Monde's steampunk armies.
And that is really as much as I want to give away other than, as previously mentioned, this book's final third really ramps up the hard SF and science fantasy as the entire rationale as to what we thought was going on (only part of which we assumed correctly) is revealed. This brings together a number of earlier details that many (well I did) thought were simply there for colourful decoration: in fact these details are fundamental to what is going on.
Even without this final book, Rod Rees had given us a remarkable genre contribution. However The Demi-Monde: Fall clearly ensures that this quartet is more profound a body of work. What I say next is truly not hype: to my mind the Demi-Monde quartet is as inventive a body of genre work as Asimov's original 'Foundation' trilogy and, dare I say it, Iain Banks' 'Culture' novels, only here Rees' work comes in steampunk, rather than space opera, flavour. I have been bowled over by The Demi-Monde. My one fear is that in this age of short-run titles with print-on-demand, self-publishing, and, of course, e-books, there is so much out there that, what with the economic depression and all, I do fear that these The Demi-Monde books will not get the recognition that they truly deserve. If by any chance you agree with me then do blog and social-network your thoughts. Heck, you can even Tweet a link to this review.
Meanwhile I also genuinely fear for whatever it will be that Rees gives us next. I can't comprehend him doing anything better as he has set the bar so high for himself. Equally I'd hate it if this was one his one and only venture into literary SF. But then who said that life was easy be it here or in the Demi-Monde.
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