Kage Baker & Kathleen Bartholomew,
Nell Gwynne's On Land & at Sea
(Subterranean Press, 2012)

With Kage Baker's untimely death, I feared the adventures of the women of Nell Gwynne's would be limited to a single tale.

Fortunately, Baker had another story in the works, and author Kathleen Bartholomew -- Baker's sister -- stepped in to finish the work, working with Baker's notes.

It's good to be back among the ladies again -- the women of Nell Gwynne's are, for those who missed the previous volume, a group of extremely high-class prostitutes in Victorian England who also serve as spies for the Gentlemen's Speculative Society, who work behind the scenes for the betterment of the British Empire -- a precursor to The Company, the subject of an earlier series of novels.

In On Land & at Sea, the ladies are on a much-deserved month's holiday in a quiet seaside town. There, they stumble on a plot to trigger a new war with France by means of a submersible, steam-powered gun platform. Of course, they immediately fling themselves into action -- which, among other things, involves seducing the jingoistic American who wants to earn his place among Britain's great heroes.

The characters here are as delightful as ever, and their proper approach to the mission makes the story even more fun. There is plenty of humor, although it's often understated; it never becomes outright comical, which suits the tone of the story well.

There's also a whole thing with the chef, and a bit with a dog.

The steampunk elements here, too, are fairly understated. Beyond the submersible, there are only a few anachronistic elements of note -- smacking more of James Bond's Q branch than outright science fiction.

While the denouement felt, to me, somewhat anticlimactic, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and welcomed this return to Baker's world. I hope Bartholomew continues to carry the torch for further adventures.

book review by
Tom Knapp

23 November 2013

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new