Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

December 6, 2009

Triumff, Her Majesty’s Hero – Dan Abnett

Filed under: review — Tags: , , — Sam @ 4:56 pm

The premise of this particular alternate history is that the discovery of Scientific Principles of Magick means nothing much has changed since the 1590s or so. Elizabeth I did end up marrying Philip of Spain, and now Elizabeth XXX[1] (“Three Ex”) rules over the Anglo-Hispanic Unity. People still drink sack and musket, the top ten hits are all played on the lute, and doublets are still very much in fashion. None of this makes sense in a historical sort of way, but this sort of cheerful just-take-this-part-for-granted-so-we-can-get-on-with-the-story is completely within the grand traditions of SF, so who’s counting.

The year is 2010, and Sir Rupert Triumff has just discovered Australia. Well, “discovered” in the sense of “visited”, at least, given that they have quite an impressive technological civilisation going on – the level of real-world 2010, in fact, with VisageBook, ThyPlace, and reliable sanitation[2]. Unlike your usual run of explorer, he’s quite keen on leaving them to it, even though that means missing out on Rather A Lot Of Money. This is one of the big plot points; the other, almost inevitably in alternate Elizabethanism, is an attempt to assassinate Her Majesty.

One of the back-cover quotes describes it as “Blackadder crossed with Neal Stephenson”, and I can see the resemblances, but frankly it’s more like 90% Blackadder.

There’s only one thing that really threw me, and that’s the authorial voice; it veers from omniscient narrator to first-person, and it’s all the same person. We look into the sealed room where people are conspiring, we go to the bath house with Triumff, we follow him as he visits with officials – and then the narration zooms in with an “And I was there, too – yr humble servant Wm. Beaver”. Normally I’d start wondering whether the details of the conspiracy and the heroic capers were Vastly Exaggerated, Improved Upon for Artistic Verisimilitude, or simply Made Up, but
that sort of unreliable narrator tends – for reasons of simple common sense – to be a main character, whereas Wm. Beaver is extremely marginal. So I’m just going to put it down to it being Bloody Weird, which given that it’s Dan Abnett writing for Angry Robot books is probably par for the course.


[1] One of my favourite passages is the description of the royal portraits of various Elizabeths, in appropriate styles. (Even if the dating is a little peculiar in places.)

There was Elizabeth IX, a Mannerist madonna, her elongated, dreamy face averted heavenwards; there was Elizabeth XIV, Barbizon-style, a dot in the middle of the rolling landscape; there was the Moralist Elizabeth XX, with her rosy cheeks and her comical courtiers; there was Pre-Raphaelite Elizabeth XXV, dressed as a winsome Maid of Orleans with a dainty, lethal estoc and a consumptive frailty; there was Elizabeth XXVI, a Futuristic blur of speeding gown and streamlined tiara; and there, apparently, was the De Stijl Elizabeth XXX.

[2] This is Rule No. 1 for writing about the mediaeval or early modern periods. Everything is dirty, torn, badly laundered, and/or covered in shit.

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