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Thursday, October 6, 2016

“Pax Britannia: The Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus, Volume Two”, by Jonathan Green

800 pages, Abaddon Books, ISBN-13: 978-1781083833

Pax Britannia: The Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus, Volume Two by Jonathan Green brings together the steampunk adventure novels Evolution Expects, Blood Royal and Dark Side and the short stories Conqueror Worm, White Rabbit and Proteus Unbound, all set one year after the stories from the first omnibus, in an alternate 1998. Ulysses Quicksilver is back, continuing his service to Queen and Country as he fights ever-present threats to his beloved Magna Britannia from both within and without. Again, I enjoy these books as a retro-pulp series of stories, but I see precious little “steampunk” action involved; indeed, if that was the point, it probably would have been better to set these novels during the actual Victorian era, rather than in an alternate future. In my review of the first omnibus, one of my complaints was that the world Green creates was full of tantalizing points – the “United Soviet States of America” was a thing, the Russian Empire was still around, there were National Socialists in Germany, and others – but few actual details. Well, in the second omnibus he does provide details…and I didn’t like them. To my way of thinking, the only possible way the British Empire lasts for as long as Green wanted it to was if the Brits didn’t face the material and spiritual exhaustion of fighting two world wars, but even in Green’s world, these conflicts still occurred. I can’t see how the a thing like Magna Britannia could exist in this regard, seeing as how the actual thing didn’t last but a few years in the real world.

Evolution Expects is the first of the three novels in this omnibus and serves as a kind of sequel to Unnatural History from the first omnibus. After nearly 160 years as the supreme power on the planet, the British Empire has become stagnant and corrupt. The new Prime Minister, Devlin Valentine, promises change, but some lack the patience for politics. With a dangerous vigilante stalking the streets, a monster on the loose in the East End and rival gangs fighting for control, there may be nothing Ulysses – trapped in the notorious Bedlam Hospital – can do to prevent a catastrophic metamorphosis. Blood Royal sees Ulysses Quicksilver racing across Europe and the Russian Empire to thwart yet another plot against his beloved Britannia. With the city, and the Empire, reeling from the transformations of a month before, a twisted new religion rises from the devastation. In the meantime, in Europe, the specter of war rears its ugly head; and rumors hint at monsters, things of myth, on both sides. Ulysses Quicksilver, fighting for peace and for reason – for civilization itself – follows a path that leads him from the shattered streets of London to the icy wastes at the heart of a secretive, bloody empire. The third (and, I believe, weakest) novel is Dark Side and it finds Quicksilver searching for his brother Bartholomew on the British Lunar colonies. The trail leads him and his faithful butler into the path of unsolved murders, battling robots, shady millionaires and uncanny inventions. Stalled when he ends up on the wrong side of lunar law and hunted by a mysterious eyepatch-wearing stranger, the dandy adventurer will uncover, in a secret base on the dark side of the moon, truths that will challenge everything he knew about Britannia. The short stories were, in some ways, more enjoyable than the novels. Conqueror Worm shows us just how the Quicksilver clan came to be, White Rabbit describes how the ancient Queen Victoria spends her sleeping hours, and Proteus Unbound is a sad coda to the novel Leviathan Rising. Here’s looking forward to omnibus #3.

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