In this sci-fi–influenced twist on a political thriller, new Vice President Theodore Roosevelt finds himself embroiled in an international conspiracy involving robots.
Imagine a world where Abraham Lincoln survived that fateful night at the theater and his first choice for vice president, Benjamin Butler, helped lead the country into an era of technological advancements beyond even the 21st century’s wildest dreams. Tesla and Edison are partners, an elaborate underwater rail system connects New York and London, Brooklyn is a center of entertainment that far exceeds Manhattan, and robots are attacking world leaders. The only person man enough to take them on is Theodore Roosevelt himself. With the help of British superspy Sidney Reilly and numerous fantastic gadgets such as freeze grenades, Roosevelt assembles a team of the bravest and brightest minds of the era to uncover the truth behind the metal menace. Debut author O’Brien has an enviable imagination and a keen eye for detail; his version of the world circa the turn of the 20th century will enrapture history fans and sci-fi buffs. However, the story would have benefited from fewer plot strands; the further into the book, the more confusing things get. So many historical characters are shoehorned into the plot in so many different ways that eventually this alternative America starts to feel less like a fascinating lens through which to tell a story and more like a gimmick. Fortunately, O’Brien’s wild world manages to remain so engaging that even at the story’s weakest moments, when so many famous names slide across the page so quickly that it becomes difficult to keep track of who is plotting with whom, readers will still want to stick around to figure it all out. It helps that the sprawling cast of characters contains a number of compelling, powerful women who not only participate in society, but control it—a far cry from the Victorian era chronicled in history books.
A steampunk fever dream that will entertain readers even as it overpowers them.
Walkley pits CIA agents against a maniacal Saudi prince intent on starting World War III in this debut thriller.
Delta Force operative Lee McCloud, aka Mac, finds himself in Mexico, trying to rescue two teenage girls kidnapped by a drug cartel. But things go from bad to worse when the villains don’t play by the rules. Framed for two murders he didn’t commit, Mac has two options: go to prison or go to work for a CIA black-op group run by the devious Wisebaum, who hacks into terrorists’ bank accounts and confiscates millions of dollars. However, there’s more going on than meets the eye; Saudi Prince Khalid is in possession of nuclear canisters, with which he hopes to alter world history. Khalid also dabbles in trafficking young women, and harvesting and selling human organs. When Wisebaum’s black-op team targets Khalid’s father, the action becomes even more intense. With so many interweaving subplots—kidnapped girls, Israeli undercover agents, nuclear weapons and a secret underwater hideout—it could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. But the author’s deft handling of the material ensures that doesn’t occur; subplots are introduced at the appropriate junctures and, by story’s end, all are accounted for and neatly concluded. Mac is portrayed as a rough and ready action-hero, yet his vulnerabilities will evoke empathy in readers. He finds a love interest in Tally, a hacker whose personality is just quirky enough to complement his own. All Walkley’s primary characters are fleshed out and realistic, with the exception of Wisebaum—a malicious, double-dealing, back-stabber of the worst ilk; the reader is left wondering about Wisebaum’s motivations behind such blatant treachery.
Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.
Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.
Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?
With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.