Saturday, April 13, 2013

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Wolfhound Century
Wolfhound Century
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $11.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic of the roman a clef, alternate-history, urban-fantasy 1940s Russia genreApril 12, 2013
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This review is from: Wolfhound Century (Kindle Edition)
Vissarion Lom is a police officer working for the state in strange version of an alternate 1940s-era Russia. Lom lives in Lezarye, which around thirty to forty years before, experienced some kind of take-over by the Vlast - a Russian word meaning "authority." The Vlast is presently governed by the Novozhd, an avuncular man, with a bushy mustache. The Vlast are at war with the Archipelago, which seems like a titanic struggle, involving massed attacks with planes and tanks. The Vlast maintain domestic control through informers, meticulous records of its citizens, and the willingness to liquidate troublesome members of society.

Clearly a part of the fun is decoding the roman a clef of the story. Lezarye is Russia; the Novozhd is Stalin; the Vlast is the Communist Party. The capital of the Vlast is Mirgorod and seems to be St. Petersburg based on the story about how the "Founder" - Peter the Great, perhaps - founded it on the muddy marshes of the Mir. Likewise, the character Joseph Kantor may very well be a Lenin who didn't realize his destiny, although, if so, he shouldn't be a contemporary of the Novozhd, so, perhaps, he's Trotsky.

That's the familiar part, albeit any fantasy story based on Slavic roots is going to be alien, but then the world turns 90 degrees into fantasy. It seems that angels have been falling on Lezarye for the last 300 years. These angels seem to be gigantic beings who arrive dead. The angels don't seem to fall outside of Lezarye. Besides being awesome signs of something outside this earth, the flesh of the angels seem to have remarkable effects, the skin can be used to craft mudjhiks - from the Russian for "peasant" - golem death machines. There also seems to be a natural magic whereby some people can control the elements and the elements - wind and rain - have a personality. There are literal giants, suggesting - maybe - that the Nephilim didn't die out in this alternate history.

In addition, there is a strange kind of alternative-history, science fiction substory, as Vishnik, and some others, start to notice that the alternate history of a world without angels seems to be breaking through into their world.

Lom is reassigned from a dreary backwater far to the east of Lezarye, past the impenetrable forests, to Mirgorod in order to find a terrorist. The terrorist is Joseph Kantor, whose father led a rebellion and was executed. Kantor was sent to the gulag, escaped and made his way to Mirgorod. In Mirgorod, Kantor set up a terror cell and is apparently working for a living angel, trapped on earth, in the impenetrable forest, and the angel wants to escape. The angel sets Kantor the task of destroying the Pollandore, a seed of a possible future where there were no angels, crafted by the old gods before they fled in the face of the angels.

So, Lom is looking for Kantor and Kantor is looking for the Pollandore. Lom's pursuit of Kantor is assisted by the deus ex author of coincidence as Lom reunites with his old friend Vishnik. Vishnik knows Maroussia Shoumian, who knows Kantor, because he is - or is supposed to be - her father.

As Lom closes in on Kantor, all hell breaks loose in the Vlast. There are plots within plots as the angel's conspirators pull the trigger on their own power play. Lom and Maroussia go on the lam with the plan of activating the Pollandore. They get the help of a giant. There is giant versus golem action. Lom begins to remember that he shouldn't be as loyal to the Vlast as he has been...

..and then the story ends. This seems to be the first part of a multi-part story.

Fore-warned is fore-armed. If you are looking for a self-contained story, this is not it. I was surprised by the fact that this is only the first part of complete story. I think the book should have been clearly advertised as part of one of a larger book.

In addition, it seems obvious from this review that the back-story is complicated because there is so much going on with the alternate history tropes and the fantasy tropes. On contrast to the complex, crowded backstory, the main story of Lom looking for Kantor is comparatively simple, until the political coup happens and then the unanswered question is, "what's going on?"

Obviously the answers will come in the next installment or installments.

For all the complexity, I liked the story. I liked the use of Russia as the departure point for this alt-hist/fantasy. I liked the use of Russian words and terms, which caused me to break out the dictionary. I found the author's writing to be clear, direct and engaging, and his use of short chapters as keeping the story moving along. I became involved in Lom's story and I want to know where it goes from the end of the story. I want to know about the angels and the giants and the Pollandore and the rest of the complicated back-story.

So, since it kept my attention and made me want to follow the characters, I think that the book is worth my investment of time, and I'm giving it four stars.

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