Thursday, 29 January 2009
‘Human Nature’ – Jonathan Green (Abaddon Books)
Sometimes I like to read books that really challenge me and get me thinking. At other times, I prefer to read a book that gets me thinking but is the equivalent of sitting in a comfy sofa and watching a Sunday afternoon film on the TV. You know the ones that I mean... (I’m thinking ‘Zulu’ and ‘The Time Machine’ amongst others)
After finishing ‘We never talk about my brother’ I was in the mood for just such a book and as luck would have it Jonathan Green’s latest instalment in his ‘Ulysses Quicksilver’ series was perched at the top end of the reading pile. I’d very much enjoyed the last two ‘steampunk pulp’ exploits of the gentleman adventurer and was eager to pick up where ‘Leviathan Rising’ left off...
The Whitby Mermaid has been stolen from Cruickshank’s Cabinet of Curiosities and there’s only one man who can crack the case. No, not consulting detective Gabriel Wraith (although there’s more to him than meets the eye...) Whenever there’s a mystery to be solved you can be assured that Ulysses Quicksilver is never too far away! Who stole the mermaid? Does it have anything to do with the mysterious House of Monkeys? Who is the enigmatic master criminal known as the Magpie? The answers to these questions will lead Quicksilver to the town where the mermaid was found. On bleak moorland, haunted by a demonic hound, and in a reclusive industrialist’s mansion Quicksilver will find the ultimate truth behind the robbery and will find himself in the fight of his life...
‘Human Nature’ takes all that was good about ‘Unnatural History’ and ‘Leviathan Rising’ and combines this to form a book that all fans of the ‘Pax Britannia’ series will enjoy. There’s plenty of action to be had and it’s dealt out with break neck pace as our heroes dash across England in an attempt to solve a mystery that promises to be so much more than it’s humble beginnings. The background to the plot is worth mentioning here as Green does a fine job of portraying a grim and industrialised Britain that sits right at the centre of a mighty empire. Ulysses’ surroundings are bleak and smog ridden (while Green also does well to show the plight of the working class that keeps the empire running) which lends an oppressive weight to the plot itself.
It’s not just action that the reader gets as, with any ‘Ulysses Quicksilver’ tale, there is also a mystery to be solved. Actually there’s more than one mystery to be solved... It kept me guessing but only up to a point where it became obvious who the guilty party was, it then became a question of guessing the reasons behind his actions... The ‘Ulysses Quicksilver’ books are very much cast in a ‘boys own’ adventure vein and once you get your head round that then you can have a pretty good guess at how the plot will turn out, ‘Human Nature’ is no different in this respect. If you make a point of playing by the rules then there’s a danger that things will get predictable. To be fair though, the whole point of the book is that it makes a point of playing by these rules. It depends what you’re after I suppose. I for one was able to put the issue of predictability to one side and enjoy the book for what it was.
Ulysses Quicksilver himself is as dashing as ever, almost to the point of pastiche as Green seems to toy with the idea of turning our hero of the empire into a headline hungry fop! This doesn’t last long however as Ulysses is soon back to doing what he does best. I interviewed Jonathan Green a while ago (click on the ‘author interviews’ link and scroll down) and he described ‘Human Nature’ as one “that’s really going to put our hero through the wringer”. Having read the book I can see exactly what he means! There are some particularly tense moments for our hero (and one very horrifying moment) and it was good to see that Green isn’t afraid to send Ulysses down dark paths. He’s not invincible and it will be interesting to see how the ramifications play out in future novels.
‘Human Nature’ does veer towards becoming predictable but above all else it’s very much a fun read (dark though) that fans of the series will get a lot out of. There’s enough background filled in so that it can be read on it’s own as well. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what else Jonathan Green has to offer...
Eight and a Quarter out of Ten