Phileas Fogg and the heart of Osra by Josh Reynolds. Book review

Phileas Fogg and the heart of Osra by Josh Reynolds, Meteor House, h/b, $27.00 / p/b, $16.00, Website

Reviewed by Dave Brzeski

Back when I reviewed Phileas Fogg and the War of Shadows, I mentioned that I was eagerly anticipating further sequels to the tale. Here, at last, is the second book in the series and the back cover even has a quote from my review of the previous book.

The only thing better than an eagerly awaited follow-up is one that is actually better than the first. I began reading late at night, and within a couple of pages, I knew that I wouldn’t be sleeping until I’d finished. Granted, it is a fairly short book, but even so…

As with the previous volume, this book is set firmly within Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, and as such it’s much more than a sequel of sorts to Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. This time, Fogg is joined in his adventures by Rupert of Hentzau. I’m sure most will immediately recognize the hero of Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda and it’s eponymous sequel. The setting of those books is Ruritania, which in this book is surrounded by numerous other notable fictional principalities from sources as diverse as the Marx Brothers and Robert E. Howard.

The Eridanean-Capellan conflict is now long past, but it has left those who find themselves somewhat cast adrift with no war to fight. Colonel Sapt of Ruritania is one such. Also, it seems that neither race were by any means the first aliens to visit the Earth. There are even hints that the series may eventually drift into Lovecraftian territory in later volumes.

A letter, written in an Eridanean cypher, that Fogg knows full well is probably a trap, brings him to Ruritania, where he quickly finds himself embroiled in a complicated plot involving the legendary crown jewel, the Heart of Osra, which he is soon accused of having stolen. The only person he can rely on for help is the somewhat impulsive Rupert of Hentzau, who teeters close to being more trouble than he is worth at times.

Josh Reynolds has always had a talent for capturing the feel of those classic 19th century adventure novels and he’s getting better and better at it as time goes on. As for all the crossover references, no one is better at slipping in this sort of literary Easter egg without it ever hampering the flow of the story. Simply put, if you don’t recognise one, then you won’t even notice that it’s there, so it won’t worry you. While a familiarity with the directly referenced works of Jules Verne, Anthony Hope and Philip José Farmer may certainly add to the reading experience, this book still has a great deal to offer readers who’ve never read the earlier works.

The limited, signed edition hardcovers and paperbacks are available directly from the publisher’s website. At some point it will also be available in Kindle format from Amazon.

Fans of Verne’s Phileas Fogg, irrespective of whether or not they approve of the continuations of his adventures by Farmer and Reynolds, may be interested to know of the existence of a chapbook, also published by Meteor House around the same time as the main subject of this review. Being an Account of the Delay at Green River, Wyoming, of Phileas Fogg, World Traveler, or, The Masked Man Meets an English Gentleman’, by Win Scott Eckert takes advantage of an inconsistency in the timeline of Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days to tell how Fogg and his companions shared a brief adventure with a certain masked man (who was he?), which revolved around the anti-Chinese racism in Wyoming (and indeed the entire USA) in the latter half of the 19th Century. The mysterious head of the Sublime order of the White Peacock may also seem familiar to many readers, but it’s safer not to speak of such matters. The chapbook was issued in a numbered, limited edition of just 200 copies. It may not be all that easy to find a copy now, but it’s well-worth the effort of tracking down.