Absynthe by Brendan P. Bellecourt
Head of Zeus, H/B, £18.99
Reviewed by Steve Dean
Please note: The word ‘absynthe’ is spelt this way in the title and throughout the book, presumably as a play on the words ‘absinthe’ and ‘synthetic’.
Chicago, 1928. This isn’t the city or the world as we know it but an alternate timeline with a different history. In this world, technology has developed faster than in our time. This is the late Steam Punk age with huge cities linked by monorails and intelligent machines for servants.
The Great War (a different one, held in North America, although some of the antagonists were the same) ended some years previously. Liam Mulcahey was there, although he doesn’t remember much about it. He was a Hopper soldier, one of only a few who used exoskeletons to give them an edge in battle. He manages to get a job working with Morgan Aysana, the son of a very rich family, although the two soon become good friends. Together with Morgan’s droid servant Alastair, the three attend an appearance of the country’s president as he speaks at a railway station. The station is attacked by terrorists, and things happen that should be physically impossible. This opens a whole truckload of worms, and Liam starts remembering things he’d rather stay forgotten.
The story is split into two threads; the main story follows Liam and his chums as they fight the forces of evil, and there’s a minor thread set during the war involving the development of the hoppers and their pilots. The threads are cleverly contrasted, so one is mostly action and the other mostly revelation.
The book is very well written, very descriptive and easy to read. The characters are all filled out appropriately, and the author is very good at delivering any information needed on time and not a second sooner. The world-building is probably my favourite part. It’s original, expansive, logical and acts as a foundation for the story, as a good setting should. The book is also a whole and complete story from beginning to end and not part of a trilogy.
I do have one minor criticism; Liam, particularly near the beginning, is a bit indecisive when he really should be taking action. When someone points a gun at you, it’s probably a good idea to duck or run and not think about it or start asking questions.
Apart from that one thing, I can’t fault this book. I found it very inventive, entertaining and satisfying. It made a nice change to be able to read the whole story and not have to wait for the next book.