The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi: A Burton & Swineburne book: Pyr; 2013; 438 pages; cover illustration, John Sullivan; cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke. Mark Hodder is the author of A Red Sun Also Rises and the Burton & Swinburne books, which also include The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon.
The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi first puts us in 1859 on a British dirigible, the HMA Orpheus, with the feverish Captain Burton, recovering from malaria. He feels like two people, and each persona remembers history in a different way.
The young man Laurence Oliphant, Lord Elgin's private secretary, enters the room and talks with the delusional Captain Burton, telling him the real history of who is alive and who died. He calls in Sister Raghavendra, Burton's nurse and fellow explorer, who says the Captain's misconceptions stem from the medication, and he’ll be better soon.
When Captain Burton does feel a bit better, he wakes up to hear chanting in a far-away room. Staggering, he grabs a bottle of Saltzmann's tincture from a drawer, which has cocaine as a major ingredient. He swigs half the bottle. Burton feels this snake oil is the best cure for any ailment one has. Next Burton sees Oliphant's walking stick that has a hidden sword inside, and he takes it with him.
Captain Burton staggers down to his friend Stroyan's cabin and finds the cabin empty — with blood on a pillow. Burton enters a different cabin and finds Oliphant standing in the center of a pentagram drawn on the floor, chanting and hovering over a kneeling and dazed Stroyan. Oliphant then slits Stroyan's throat. The walls are covered with symbols and numbers. Oliphant sees Burton and declares that Burton can't stop him now because the master has been summoned. Burton whips out the sword from the walking stick and attacks Oliphant eventually knocking him out, despite Burton's wild state of mind. Fortunately, the airship captain, 2nd officer, and Doctor Quaint enter the room to help Burton. Oliphant is shackled in a cabin to await further questioning when he gains consciousness.
Around this time the telegraph develops problems. It is disconnected but still works as it reveals a disjointed message with English words and "nonsensical balderdash," which no one understands. Also, strange lights are in the sky, similar to an extraordinary aurora borealis.
Meanwhile the dirigible lands in Vienna to pick up Lord Stanley, Lord Elgin and Prince Albert, widower of Queen Victoria.
Captain Burton discovers that he will be knighted when they land in England. Burton hears about the difficulty England is having with China, concerning silver and opium. Lord Elgin says, "Trade is warfare and warfare is trade."
Lord Elgin discusses details about his secretary Oliphant with Captain Burton. Apparently, the murderer Oliphant had become overly involved with a book called Wisdom of Angels, which stated that there are multiple levels of existence that can be seen by using mind-altering drugs. Burton says, "Utter claptrap," to this concept.
The airship lands in London's Royal Navy Air Service Station, which is beside Battersea Power Station. Upon landing, Prince Albert, Lord Elgin, and Lord Stanley climb into a six-wheeled armor-plated carriage pulled by two steam horses. As they leave, a voice in the murky smog yells, "Ahoy there, Orpheus! Welcome back to the civilized world!"
Mage's Blood: first book in "The Moontide Quartet." Jo Fletcher Books; 2013; 686 pages; cover art by Patric Carpenter, Jem Butcher, and Paul Young. The second book in this series is titled Scarlet Tides and the third book is Unholy War. David Hair had published two YA fiction series: The Aotearoa and The Return of Ravana.
Mage's Blood, epic fantasy, takes place on a world with two continents: Yuros and Antiopia. The continents are "divided by...300 miles of impassable sea," which, according to the Yuros people, the God Kore created to keep East from mixing with West. However, 23 years ago, an industrious Antiopian named Antonin Meiros built The Leviathon Bridge (or Moontide Bridge) between the two continents. This 300-mile bridge is only accessible once every 12 years, during Moontide, when the tides are low enough. People from both continents can cross the bridge and trade and intermingle during that time.
On the continent Antiopia, a centuries-old witch named Sabele replenishes herself by inhaling the energy of animals and people as they die. When she does this, she can commune with ghosts and her spirit guardian. After inhaling the energy of a doomed baby, she discovers that Antonin Meiros, who she dislikes and distrusts, is coming to attempt to avert an upcoming war. Both Sabele and Antonin are Diviners, who can commune with the ghosts, thus gaining knowledge of what is happening in both continents.
Meanwhile in Yuros, a celebration is taking place to canonize the Emperor's mother Lucia as a living saint. The next day, there is a secret meeting between some noblemen, the Emperor of Sacrecour, his mother Lucia, and three magi who hail from the country of Noros.
The people of Yuros have a history of war and destruction. During one of the wars came the beginnings of the Magi, or the mages, who have the gnosis power and can destroy with a thought. Many people since then are mage-born from the proliferous co-mingling of mages and commoners. However, with each generation, some of the mage power is diminished. Most mage-born people wear channeling gems that enhance their power. During meetings, mage-born are asked to leave their gems at the door.
At a meeting with the nobles and the Noros mages, Lucia (the Saint) spouts her anger and bigotry against the people of the continent Antiopia. She declares that many people need to be killed. She rages against the merchants and bankers who grow rich from trade with Antiopia. Her whiny son the Emperor defers to his mother while she rails against others who don't meet her standard. The plan to destroy the Moontide Bridge is about to be revealed.
The Battle: An epic fantasy Mage's Blood battles an alternate history steampunk novel The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi.
Mage's Blood delves immediately into the fantasy with the witch Sabele who can talk with ghosts across the planet. I find that to be a clever means of communication. The concept of seeing the dead has been around forever, but having this as a way to know what's happening in the world is unique.
The maps at the front of the novel are clear and easy to follow. The Moontide Bridge that is only open during special low tides is another distinctive concept, especially because the seas are too wild to sail or cross. However, we were introduced to Lucia who was literally flying from window to window, so I wonder if that was a trick or a real power.
The continents Yuros and Antiopia feel distinct in both the people and government. Not much has been revealed about Antiopia at this point. However, the people seem more intent on enjoying the trade between the two continents when the bridge is open. The Yuros government, on the other hand, consists of arrogant supercilious self-involved people who want to destroy the bridge and eliminate the mutual benefit of Moontide trade.
I like the idea of the diviners on Antiopia as well as the gnosis power on Yuros that is enhanced when wearing the "periapts" gems.
A few events in Mage's Blood parallel things that happened in "real" life, such as the legend of King Albrett and "his knights of the round table." I wonder why the author included this fact that is so close to our history. Also, Yuros's newly-sainted woman Lucia is ready to get involved with a holy war against Antiopia. The holy war is called a "Shihad," which is too close for me to "Jihad" in our world. These similarities pulled me out of the story.
I wish the first 25 pages of story details in Mage's Blood were written in a less disjointed manner. Inserting historical events seemed misplaced. Interesting to read, but sometimes it stopped the flow of the story.
The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi immediately pulled me into the story with Captain Burton and his confusion of reality. The introduction of the supernatural in a steampunk world takes the alternate-reality novel in a different direction, according to my limited steampunk experience.
My unfamiliarity with British history was a negative for me, but I still enjoyed the first 25 pages. Anyone reading this book with knowledge of the historical background will probably enjoy it all the more, extra gravy. On a positive note, the book includes an appendix of sorts — a quick reference — that explains the important historical people and events as they happened in the "real" Victorian era. This is a definite plus in understanding some of the book's alternate realities.
Both books have political and trading issues. However, one novel will pull in the occult and the other deals with a holy war.
After reading 25 pages of each, I (Jackie) like both novels, so this is a tough decision. Unfortunately, I'm not yet drawn to any of the characters in Mage's Blood, although I wanted to learn more about Antiopia.
I do like Captain Burton from The Secret of Abdu El Yesdi. I’m not excited about a demon-mixed-with-steampunk situation, unless the demon is atypical. I am, however, looking forward to reading more about Burton and the so-far-elusive Swinburne.
THE WINNER: The Secret of Abdu El Yesdi by Mark Hodder
The Secret of Abdu El Yesdi advances to the second round to take on The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord.
To see the whole bracket, click here.