Sgt. Janus Returns by Jim Beard. Book review

Sgt. Janus Returns by Jim Beard, Airship 27, p/b, £10.35/Kindle, £3.13/pdf, $3.00 (from website)

Reviewed by David Brzeski

I’d very much enjoyed the first volume, ‘Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker’, which I reviewed here. So much so that I bought myself a Kindle edition of the follow up as soon as I saw it was available.

Many readers, myself included, loved the storytelling form of the first volume, which had each tale told from the point of view of a different character. In his afterword, Jim Beard states that he was a little worried that he’d decided not to approach this second volume in that way, but rather have the entire book narrated by one person. I have to say, I don’t think it’s as big a change as one might expect. You see, this volume is actually a novel, albeit an episodic one. Granted some of the stories within would work individually, but not all of them.

The last book left Sgt. Roman Janus in no fit state to continue his “spirit-breaking” career, so I was intrigued to see how Jim Beard would continue his saga. As it turns out, the Sgt. doesn’t even appear for most of the book. Instead, we follow the adventures of the mysterious “dark lady”, who previously acted as the major domo of Janus House. With the loss of Janus, she finds herself disconnected from the world; she has no memory of who she is, but she feels compelled to attempt to fill Janus’ shoes and carry on his work.

We pick up the story when the narrator of the book, Joshua Hargreaves, first meets her. Joshua, an almost Wodehousian upper class layabout, had done little since his graduation from university other than listen to his beloved Jazz music. In the dark lady, who he eventually dubs “Lady Janus”, he finds a strange new purpose in life. They move into the weird and wonderful Janus House, and Lady Janus proceeds to answer various requests for help, which doesn’t always go down well with the clients, who were expecting Sgt. Roman Janus. As their adventures continue, she begins to become more and more like Roman Janus.

I won’t say much more. We do eventually discover who she actually is, and it’s no real spoiler to mention that the real Janus does eventually return, and I suspect most readers won’t work it out before they get to that point.

However, I can’t be totally positive. As is so common with the smaller presses, there are a few more typos than I would like. The biggest problem, however, was the Kindle formatting. It’s by no means so bad you can’t read it, but it looks like it was never checked on an actual Kindle before publication. I’ve looked at the book on my computer, in the ereader that comes with Calibre, and some of the problems don’t look as bad as they do on the Kindle itself. For instance, the font size for the contents page is huge, compared to the main text. While they looked fine on the computer, the drop-caps on the first letter of each chapter were positioned too low when viewed on the kindle. For the most part though, the book simply would have looked much neater with a few formatting tweaks, rather than there being any faults that actually affect the reading.

The cover and internal illustrations are nice enough, although I much preferred the style of the cover art on the first volume.

The story is the main thing, though, and I liked this book a great deal, maybe even more than the first volume. I’m genuinely looking forward to volume 3, and hope to see more of Joshua Hargreaves, as well as the good sergeant.