Book Review- Black Chamber


BLUF- If you like alternate history, you should enjoy this.

Usually I pick out books that I know I’ll probably like. Most of the time my guesses are OK- it’s pretty unusual that I get a dog. Also, there are a few authors that I’ll read darn nigh everything they put out, regardless of book description. And those authors rarely fail me.

For me, S.M. Stirling is one of those guys. And this book is not a dog. In fact, this is a book I’ll probably end up reading a few times. Stirling has a few of those titles. I’ve read In the Courts of the Crimson Kings and Conquistador over and over again. His latest, Black Chamber, may fall into the aforementioned book category.

This book has an excellent alternate-history premise. I won’t go into a lengthy description, you can click on this link to find out more in that regard. I will say that it involves the First World War, a hardcore US femme fatale, and an overseas plot that she must foil to save the United States from utter disaster.

Black Chamber does not suffer from a lack of action or tedious descriptions. The tension starts fast, and is maintained admirably throughout the work. There were a number of scenes where I found myself mentally skipping ahead, just to see what happens next. This is a good thing on the author’s part, and I had to force myself to slow down and appreciate what was happening.

Something I liked about this book is that the bad guys usually weren’t caricature evil-doers. In their own way they were brilliant or brave people caught up in monstrous activities. And what they have planned is pretty damn bad. No spoilers here, however.

I will say that I was jarred out of the story a few times by some minor attention to detail slips. Some examples include a “.445 Webley” (Webleys were .455) or “the ribbon of an Iron Cross, First Class worn in his second buttonhole.” An Iron Cross First Class does not have a suspension ribbon, the Second Class does. However, I’m being picky, I just came off a spate of beta reading for a friend.

To wrap things up- I was gratified to see an alternate history involving WW1. Far too little is written about this period, there should be more. If you’re interested, Harry Turtledove did an alternate history of WW1 as well, give it a read sometime. But back to Mr. Stirling’s worthy book- his premise is plausible, his writing is superb, and I enjoyed this work a lot.

You don’t have to twist my arm to read the kick-off to a new universe by Stirling, and I was delighted to see that he did not disappoint in any fashion. By all means, go out and put some dinars in his pocket. If you like quality alternate history, there’s an excellent chance you’ll like what he’s selling.

Entertainment well worth the price of admission.




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