News Ticker

[GUEST REVIEW] Bryan Thomas Schmidt on ‘Camera Obscura’ by Lavie Tidhar

REVIEW SUMMARY: If you had to choose a steampunk milieu, this is a pretty good one.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Milady Cleo de Winter, an agent of the Council, searches out a mysterious object before it falls into the wrong hands.

PROS: A great combination of steampunk, historical setting, and even martial arts-type action; multi-layered.
CONS: Author’s sparse prose lays out bits and pieces, so can take a while to grasp what’s going on at points.
BOTTOM LINE: Camera Obscura is a fun read.

Having not read The Bookman, the prequel to Camera Obscura, I have no basis for comparison between the two, but the start of Camera Obscura feels almost like something out of a Jackie Chan film, but instead set in a steampunky Paris. As it develops, there are elements of Verne and Wells, even, as well as a purely Tidharian aspects.

A mysterious object of great power has gone missing and several parties are after it, some for nefarious purposes. Agent Milady Cleo de Winter is sent on a mission to find it and along the way finds herself investigation a series of murders connected with the object. As she delves deeper into her chase and investigation, she herself faces great danger, torture and revelations about the world she lives in which rock her world.

Camera Obscura is an entertaining read all the way through, though I did find Tidhar’s tendency toward choppy sentences led to some difficulty following things at times. Combined with a complex plot with many interacting characters representing various interests (from the Chinese government to the Victorian court to the Parisian underworld), that can make for a lot to process. But the book moves at such a quick pace, I was never lost for long and there was always some interesting new twist to keep me intrigued and turning pages.

Don’t let my reference to Jackie Chan mislead you, while there is humor here, the book is mostly dark and some of the torture scenes and murders are hard to read. The reader certainly suffers along with the character. At the same time, the characters never cease to be fascinating and I found myself intrigued by the settings, which become characters in themselves. From the underwater squid-like dwellings of Scab to the Little China of Paris, each location is richly detailed, dripping with nuances and characters which bring it to life. It’s easy to feel “there” along with Milady throughout her journey.

It did take me a while to catch on to the purpose of the Interludes. They deal with characters whose connection to Milady and her journey is only revealed later in the book, and they often have a different tone to the chapters dealing with her. Don’t let this mislead you though, there is a purpose for everything Tidhar does here and he does an admirable job of bringing it all together in time.

Altogether I found Camera Obscura a fun entry into the world of Lavie Tidhar. I may have read some short stories before but this really got me into this author’s mind and made me want to seek out and read more of what the Israeli writer has to offer.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince (blog), the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also hosts of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter.


About Bryan Thomas Schmidt (68 Articles)
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children's speculative fiction. His debut novel, THE WORKER PRINCE received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club's Year's Best Science Fiction Releases. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. As book editor he is the main editor for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta's WordFire Press where he has edited books by such luminaries as Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Jean Rabe and more. He was also the first editor on Andy Weir's bestseller THE MARTIAN. His anthologies as editor include SHATTERED SHIELDS with co-editor Jennifer Brozek and MISSION: TOMORROW, GALACTIC GAMES (forthcoming) and LITTLE GREEN MEN--ATTACK! (forthcoming) all for Baen, SPACE BATTLES: FULL THROTTLE SPACE TALES #6, BEYOND THE SUN and RAYGUN CHRONICLES: SPACE OPERA FOR A NEW AGE. He is also coediting anthologies with Larry Correia and Jonathan Maberry set in their New York Times Bestselling Monster Hunter and Joe Ledger universes. From December 2010 to June 2015, he hosted #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer's Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter as @SFFWRTCHT.

1 Comment on [GUEST REVIEW] Bryan Thomas Schmidt on ‘Camera Obscura’ by Lavie Tidhar

  1. Thanks, Bryan.

    At a recent con I visited, Lavie’s work was praised highly, especially Osama but a mention of his steampunk stuff, too. I chat with him on twitter, but haven’t bought and read any of his longer than short story stuff…yet.



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: