Book Reviews: The Osiris Curse by Paul Crilley and Assignment: Nepal by J.A. Squires

The Osiris CurseThe Osiris Curse
A Tweed & Nightingale Adventure
Paul Crilley
Pyr, October 2013.
ISBN 978-1-61614-857-7
Hardcover

Sebastian Tweed, seventeen-year-old reformed con artist, has dedicated his phenomenal brainpower to foiling the schemes of mysterious evildoers. Octavia Nightingale, Tweed’s best (and only) friend, is an intrepid newspaper reporter, intent on finding her kidnapped mother. Together, Tweed and Nightingale roam the streets of early 20th-century London. It’s the London of an alternate universe, though, featuring sentient automatons, invisibility devices, and “Tesla guns” that shoot electrical rays.

Over the course of The Osiris Curse, the second Tweed and Nightingale Adventure by Paul Crilley, our heroes stow away on a massive airship to Egypt, visit The Great Pyramid (which has been hollowed out and turned into a hotel for the enjoyment of the rich), and discover a hidden civilization inhabited by a (sort-of) alien race. This is the kind of book where Nicola Tesla is murdered by Osiris-worshipping cultists in the first chapter and that’s not even the novel’s big mystery.

You would be forgiven for thinking that Crilley has simply cobbled together every trendy cliché he could think of from neo-Victorian steampunk sci-fi, and . . . truthfully, that seems pretty accurate. Yet this ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach is responsible for much of The Osiris Curse‘s considerable charm. If Crilley stuck to one or two familiar tropes, Tweed and Nightingale might get lost in the crowd of similar stories. Instead, the author throws high concepts together with such maniacal glee, it’s hard to avoid being swept along.

The Osiris Curse, like its prequel The Lazarus Machine, is marketed to young adults, and it might be particularly enjoyable to readers encountering some of its sci-fi concepts for the first time. However, this series should also appeal to seasoned fans of steampunk, Doctor Who, or any of the recent Sherlock Holmes retellings. In fact, the novel’s characters share a connection to Holmes himself. (Holmes and Moriarty are real people in this universe, just as H.G. Wells is really a time traveler.) I don’t want to give the connection away in this review, though, for the sake of anyone who wants to read The Lazarus Machine first; it’s a plot point in that novel, and it’s far too good to spoil.

If you’ve been reading too many novels lately where it seems like nothing happens, this book’s breakneck pace might be just what you need in your life. It’s not all about mindless fun, though. Crilley takes time to address the moral quandaries that the plot raises in a way that manages to be thoughtful without stopping the story dead. The Osiris Curse doesn’t claim to solve all the dilemmas it raises, but that’s another nod to the narrative’s complexity. I’d be glad to see the consequences unfold in future Tweed and Nightingale books.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Caroline Pruett, November 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Assignment NepalAssignment:Nepal
An Irene Adler Mystery
J.A. Squires
Echelon Press, October 2011
ISBN 978-1-59080-854-2
Ebook

Readers of this review should be aware that this press has published some of my crime fiction and I am acquainted with the publisher, though not with the two authors writing under a single pseudonym.

The protagonist is named Irene Adler. Not the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes at his own game, her modern namesake, a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology at Boston University. Adler has a demi-cynical outlook on life and it turns out she supplements her income by playing poker; specifically Texas Holdem in the gambling parlors around the New England area. Irene Adler is a bright, smart, single woman, an endearing protagonist.

Her former advisor, a fellow faculty member, prevails on Ms. Adler to travel to Nepal to inquire into the life and times of a former fellow undergraduate student of Irene’s, a Margot Smith, who’s in Nepal doing research on one of that country’s goddesses, one Chwwaassa Dyo. The problem is that there appears to something awry with Margot and her physician husband and Adler is supposed to sort things out. What needs sorting turns out to be only part of the story. Irene agrees to go half-way around the world to see a woman she barely knows. From this most unlikely beginning, the plot drives poor Adler into one complexity after another.

Her assignment clearly has unstated dimensions about which neither we readers nor Irene Adler herself are clear. Now, Nepal is an exotic nation from which assaults on Mount Everest are mounted and the ubiquitous Sherpa play a  important part, as do digital cameras, former Cold War adversaries, political unrest in the country, and a whole series of meddlesome individuals who seem to still show up on the fringes of the former English Empire.

The novel winds its way through a variety of conflicts among wanderers, a boorish American tourist couple, and murder and bomb blasts. At times the narrative suffers from a pedestrian pace and some lapses of editing discipline over the point of view. Still, the story is interesting, Irene is definitely a character to build a series around, the exotic setting in and around Katmandu is, well, exotic, and a satisfactory conclusion is fashioned. I think four stars in too strong a rating, but the novel is more enjoyable than three stars would indicate. Sample the novel and make your own judgment.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: Little Princes by Conor Grennan

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Conor Grennan
William Morrow, January 2011
ISBN 9780061930058
Hardcover

Conor Grennan signed up to work in an orphanage in Nepal so that he could, at some point, impress other people with this item on his resume.  He’s pretty up-front about this, as well as his total unpreparedness for dealing with children, especially children in Nepal.  The lack of table utensils throws him for a loop, for example.  He comes to love these kids, and promises them (against the advice of every other adult connected to the orphanage) that he WILL come back and see them.  And he does.  His life is changed by this experience.

Conor learns that these orphans are the result of child trafficking  The children have been given, along with money, to a man so that they would not be conscripted into the Maoist armies fighting in the northwest part of Nepal.  The man promises these families their children will be educated, fed, and taken care of; he then abandons them or sells them in Katmandu.   He is stunned when one of the mothers comes to Katmandu looking for, and finds, her child.

Conor decides to set up his own orphanage, along with a man he worked with at the Little Princes Children’s Home.  Their first group of children is all set to be delivered when disaster strikes.  The man who brought them to Katmandu discovers Conor’s plan and spirits the seven children away.  Conor decides he must find them all, and bring them to his orphanage.  Then he decides that he must try to find their families and, if possible, reunite them.  Can you say Don Quixote?

Fans of Three Cups of Tea will find some major similarities between these two books.  Grennan is honest, not just about himself and his flaws, but about the realities he must deal with in Nepal.  His growing relationship with a woman from New York is chronicled, mixed in with his discoveries about what he wants to do with his life.  All in all, an uplifting without being dull, amusing without belittling the overall situation, very readable book.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, February 2011.