BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Balfour and Meriwether, special agents to the British crown, deal with extraordinary and fantastical threats to their monarch, and the world.
PROS: Light, fun atmosphere, breezy dialogue, clever action and appealing protagonists in a fine Secret Fantastic Victorian Era.
CONS: The stories are a bit short, and feel a bit constrained in word length.
BOTTOM LINE: Two fun stories that show yet another side to one of Genre’s best and facile writers today.
Balfour and Meriwether in Two Adventures, published by a new digital publisher called SnackReads, collects two Victoriana stories by Daniel Abraham, one of the most facile and flexible writers today. The title characters are agents for the British Crown in the late 19th century. The two stories deliberately obscure in time, and are told from the perspective of Mr. Meriwether looking back on the adventure from a journal written after the first world war. The stories have a fantastic Victorian feel, but with the twist of it being a secret history. Ordinary people have no idea the extraordinary threats and dangers Belfour and Meriwether face.
“The Adventure of the Emperor’s Vengeance” has a sort of Professor Quartermass feel, as the two agents deal with a long slumbering force bent on recapturing its hold on mankind with its uncanny steampunk technology.
“The Vampire of Kabul” deals with a Czarina moonlighting as a femme fatale secret agent, and an Afghani sorcerer’s most dire plot for the heads of Europe.
The stories are extremely self-contained, and I could have read them in either order. This is a curse of course, not allowing for the characters to develop and change over the two stories. On the other hand, this does mean that you can pick up one of these stories and get in and out of the world within the sole boundaries of that particular story. The author’s fluid and effective writing allows him the trick of, each time, dunking us into his secretly fantastic Victorian London, and out again, in short order. The stories are breezy, casual, and read quickly. The action beats and dialogue feel authentic and entertain. Also appreciated are the secondary characters in both stories, strong female characters who help avoid the problem of a “boys club” situation stories set in this period can suffer from.
The only downside to the stories is that they do feel artificially short, as if they could and would have gone on longer. And the glimpse of the fantastic world the two gentlemen have a foot in is something that you can find yourself wanting much more of. The second story, in particular, makes strong implications of as yet unrecorded adventures the pair have weathered.
Together, the two stories were well written, and a quick, light read. They served as a palate cleanser between novels for me. The publisher’s aims of creating ‘quick bite ebooks’ are more than met, and I gained a new appreciation of the range and talents of the author.