No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, October 21, 2005

#94: Popes and Phantoms -- John Whitbourn

I don't think the individual chapters of this novel were ever published as standalone stories, but they have that episodic feel. And, like a collection of linked stories, some hit and some miss. (One, in which Admiral Slovo averts the onset of modern business, is based on an appalling pun.)

Slovo himself is an intriguing character: a Stoic by inclination, fighting not to be affected by the events that surround him, his detachment is aided by having half of his life-force stolen when, in his youthful pirating days arrrrr, he picks on the wrong victim. Stoicism serves Admiral Slovo well, since he is fated to live in the interesting times of the Italian Renaissance. Removing inconvenient bodies for the Borgias, acting as gun-runner for the last of the Elves [er, yes, this is fantastical alt.hist], encountering most of the heavyweight players in European history (Luther, Henry VII plus princely ghosts, Michelangelo etc etc) and hardly assassinating anyone, much, Slovo only slowly realises that he's a pawn -- or perhaps a more significant piece -- in a long game played by the Vehme, an ancient and shadowy organisation who keep some very interesting prisoners.

There's something not quite satisfactory -- perhaps just a feeling that there's a lot more to tell? -- about the novel, for me. An enjoyable read, though, and Whitbourn's wit doesn't feel half as intrusive here as in Downs-lord Dawn.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

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