I have to admit that any author who can make me laugh out loud before the first line of a novel will have a loyal reader on his/her hands. The first chapter title of Silver Tomb, the second novel in The Lazarus Longman Chronicles, sets the tone admirably: “In which our hero is unperturbed by the sound of an exploding horse.” This image brings to mind Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” one-liner jokes and many, many moments from Monty Python. It is the mixture of the words “unperturbed” and “exploding horse.” It is the way that the hero, Lazarus Longman, continues shaving with a straight razor while the rather slap-dash iron horse contraption explodes outside his hotel room. (Shame on anyone who thought it was a real horse. This is a steampunk novel!)
P.J. Thorndyke’s novel begins a year after the events of Golden Heart. Lazarus, the British archaeologist-turned-secret agent, heads to Egypt for a “quick job to get back on his feet.” His mission is to bring home Eleanor Rousseau, one of France’s leading Egyptologists. She is also the wayward fiancé of Henry Thackeray, a British politician and a former friend and now a bitter rival of Lazarus. Added into the mix is Katarina Mikolavna, the Russian agent and ally of Lazarus who was introduced in Golden Heart, who has her own reasons for being in North Africa. She arrives in the nick of time to get Lazarus out of trouble with local Egyptian authorities, but they are soon on opposing sides in the clandestine war between empires.
Thorndyke creates a very in-depth story world in the novel. He presents the steampunk elements right from the start, as evidenced by the exploding iron horse. The dilemma of the bio-mechanicals (part human-part mechanical slaves) also appears early in the novel. Part of the reason Lazarus needs to find Rousseau is her connection with Professor Lindholm, one of the pioneers of the mechanite revolution, who is working to create mechanical-men who can serve as soldiers, pilots, and in other military functions.
When Lazarus first encounters Rousseau, she is guarded by one of Lindholm’s monstrosities and has to flee for his life:
It was tall—taller than a man, but clearly not a man. It had parts of a man, and from the yellowed bandages and brown, shriveled flesh, Lazarus knew exactly where Lindholm had got those parts. One leg was a bandaged spindly thing, but the other was a mass of gears and pistons that elicited the occasional jet of hot steam. Its arms were mechanical too, ending in viciously serrated pincers like those of a giant crab, and powered by pistons that looked like they could crush a man’s skull with ease. Two things in the bandaged abdomen of the creature stood out in the darkness. One was where the heart should be, but was a glass orb filled with a misty greenish vapor fitted into a brass grommet. The other was the furnace below its ribcage that heated the boiler it no doubt carried on its back. Lazarus knew this, for he had encountered similar creatures in America. And like those, this one’s furnace glowed with the purple light of burning mechanite.
Lindholm has used mechanite along with other Egyptian practices to raise the dead and appears to be creating his own army. But everything is not as it seems.
Here is where I leave you. To tell any more would lessen the impact of the story. But I will add just this—you will not understand the importance of the title until you read to the very end. You will not understand how the phrase “another time and another place” cuts deeply for all of the romantic couples in the novel until then.
I enjoyed Silver Tomb quite a bit. The storyline is complex, profound, rewarding, and it ties into Golden Heart seamlessly. The language is rich and textural. It has more romance (in the truest sense of the word) and more devotion between people than you would expect. All of the characters are so fully developed and charismatic is as if you become fast friends with each of them immediately. And you want to visit with them again . . .
Learn more about P.J. here: The Lazarus Longman Chronicles
Categories: Book Reviews