Thursday, March 31, 2011

Early Review - Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar (4.5/5 stars)

Camera Obscura (Angry Robot)Reading level: Adult
Genre: Steampunk/Fantasy
Size: 416 pages
Publisher:  Angry Robot
Release Date: April 26, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0857660947
Stand Alone or Series: 2nd in Bookman series
Source: E-Galley from
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

I got an e-galley of this book through  I was drawn to the interesting description and the mysterious title of the book.  This was an absolutely fantastic book, but definitely not something everyone will enjoy.  Those who like quirky characters and worlds that are gritty and a bit ambiguous will find a lot here to love.  Those who like their stories happy with well-defined storylines should probably look elsewhere.  I didn't know it when I picked this up but this is the second book in this series: the first is The Bookman.   This book seemed to provide a good stand alone story; but I am sure I missed some background by not reading the first novel in the series.

The Lady DeWinter works for the Quiet Council as an investigator.  Her current assignment is to find the whereabouts of a jade statue for them.  But then people start turning up dead and DeWinter is being hunted by shadows.  There are a lot of factions in town looking for this jade statue and none of them are afraid to kill for it.  When the Phantom (a fellow agent gone serial killer) starts on the trail he may be the biggest and deadliest thing standing between DeWinter and her goal.  This book is set in a Victorian like France, where a lizard-like people rule Great Britain, and automatons roam the streets.  There are small sections of the book that are told from a boy named Kai's point of view; he is the one who originally has the jade statue.

The book moves quickly and is incredibly engaging; it was very hard to put this book down and I found myself staying up way too late reading it.  Tidhar does an excellent job with description; making the surroundings and characters easy to picture.  The world built is incredibly interesting.  You have Great Britain occupied by a race of lizard people and complex politics woven around all of that.  The action scenes are plentiful and exceedingly well done.

The characters are all quirky, unique and very interesting.  That being said there isn't a lot of emotion in this book; DeWinter never really has a love interest and that is just not what this book is about.  This book is more about the investigation going on and finding deeper hidden truths beneath all of the layers of deceit that DeWinter comes up against.   It is also about creating a unqiue and intriguing world.  People who are very into emotionally driven stories may not enjoy this book as much.

The setting throughout the novel is very dark and gritty.  DeWinters is constantly scrapping through the underworld and in a state of almost being completely run down.  Again this dark style may be a turn off to some.  The plot is very complex involving multiple factions and layers of intrigue and I really enjoyed it.  The book ends well and wraps things up nicely.

In general this is a strange book, but midway through it gets even stranger.  This is the only part of the book that gave me pause.  Midway through our heroine goes through massive destruction; I am not sure why this had to happen.  I do believe DeWinter came out the other side of it all more interesting, but the emotional damage she would have gained from that trauma wasn't represented all that well (as I said not an emotional book).  Things get even stranger toward the end and start involving alien space travel and gates to other realities.  I really like weird books; but towards the end this book bending towards the too weird region of weird for me.  It was getting to the point where the story was a bit contrived and outlandish...luckily it never got to that point for me but it was close.  Some readers may not enjoy the absolutely strange twists and turns; but if nothing else the book will keep you guessing.

Overall I really, really enjoyed this book.   The completely unique world and the crazy twisting plot really pulled me in.  The characters are interesting and unique (if never really emotionally involved) and the mystery and action absolutely spot on.  The dark tone to the book and the strangeness of it all towards the end of the book may be a turn-off for some readers.  If you like dark stories, with a little amibiguity, and a lot of strange this is definitely the book for you.  It was very well done and very well thought out.  I will definitely be picking up more books by Tidhar in the future.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- 100+ Reading Challenge
- Get Steampunked!
- E-book Reading Challenge

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