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Friday, July 20, 2007

"Set the Seas On Fire" by Chris Roberson

Read An Excerpt HERE

Author of many short stories & novels, the three-time World Fantasy Award-nominated and two-time John W. Campbell Award-nominated Chris Roberson is also a co-founder of the writers’ collective Clockwork Storybook and owner/operator of the indie publisher MonkeyBrain Books (Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Jeff VanderMeer). “Set the Seas On Fire” is part of the Bonaventure-Carmody universe which includes the books “Cybermancy Incorporated” (2001-Clockwork), “Here, There & Everywhere” (2005-Pyr), “Paragea: A Planetary Romance” (2006-Pyr) & the forthcoming “The End of the Century” (2008-Pyr), and was originally released in 2001 via Clockwork Storybook. The new edition of “Set the Seas On Fire” is a “considerably expanded and revised version” of the original novel and is being released courtesy of Solaris Books.

Set in the late 1700s/early 1800s, during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Revolution / Napoleonic Wars, and King George III, Chris Roberson’sSet the Seas On Fire” is an engaging blend of historical & speculative fiction, with a dash of coming-of-age tale thrown in for good measure. So, following in the footsteps of protagonist Hieronymus Bonaventure – what a great name! –, readers can look forward to some good old seafaring adventuring including an informative & realistic glimpse at how a British Naval ship is run; explore an undiscovered island where cultures will clash between the natives & the sailors, with love inevitably blossoming – think Christopher Columbus or Pocahontas; journey back to Hieronymus’ childhood to learn about the art of swordplay and how our hero’s early life lessons relate to Bonaventure’s current dilemmas; and prepare yourself for events both fantastical & terrifying, with the majority of the good stuff reserved for the end of the book.

Honestly, I’m not that big on period pieces and in particular, stories of the nautical variety, so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy “Set the Seas On Fire” that much even with the promise of mystical happenings. Surprisingly, I had a really good time reading the book and I think a lot of it had to do with the author Chris Roberson. Since I’ve never read anything by Mr. Roberson, I didn’t know what to expect, but the writing turned out to be quite accomplished, and even though the novel deals with a lot of familiar story elements, the skillful prose, scholastic knowledge of the historical material, and a ripe imagination, really elevated the book to another level. Of course, having a main character like Hieronymus Bonaventure really helps too – he’s easy to relate to, somewhat flawed as every person is in real life, and well developed by the author. Thankfully, Hieronymus also shows up in “Paragea: A Planetary Romance”, which I wouldn’t mind reading, and I hope to see further adventures with Hieronymus Bonaventure.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, this edition of “Set the Seas On Fire” is a revised & expanded version of the original. Because I haven’t read the original, I can only speculate on what might have been changed or added on, but according to the author’s notes, the new version is “some twenty-five percent longer, but contains the complete texts of the earlier version”. For me, about the only issues I had with the book was that a couple of flashbacks seemed a bit out of place, but other than that, the story seemed to flow along pretty nicely, the pacing was up-tempo, and everything was resolved satisfactorily at the end. Personally I think it would be interesting to compare the different versions with one another, but that is probably a project for another day.

In short, Chris Roberson’sSet the Seas On Fire” is an impressively written and confidently realized novel that may appeal more to the historical fiction crowd, but embraces enough of the unknown to make it worthwhile for speculative readers as well... Up next for the author, “The Dragon’s Nine Sons(Solaris Books), a promising sci-fi set for a 2008 release.

FYI: For a second opinion Ken over at The Neth Space recently posted his thoughts on “Set the Seas On Fire”. You can check out that review HERE.

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