Space lizards, robots, shadow governments and a spattering of the more obvious steampunk influences adorn this story. This book works very well stand-alone but there are a few references to The Bookman that will resonate more if you have read that book first. In simple terms this book is about a race to gain control of a powerful alien artefact. All the powerful empires and criminal organizations of the time are all racing and battling to take control of an object that none of them understand. I love the air of mystery that surrounds the Shaolin clans and how this is similar and yet different from the governmental spies of the British, French, Native American and Chinese. Add in a barking mad serial killer and a kick ass female main protagonist and you will start to get a feel for this story. Cleo is a strong female lead that is not sold to you on her sexuality or lack of it. She just happens to be a woman with certain talents that the Council (the shadowy machine government of France) can make use of to destroy their enemies.
This book is just so effortless to read. There is a lot going on and yet it all seems to be explained so easily. Everything just works, every reference to a historical or popular fictional figure adds to the background without taking over the story. I am not going to pretend that I got all the references and quirks in this book but I will give you one example. The Marquis de Sade in several pieces I’ve read is supposed to have a horrible smell. This comes across quite subtly but is there. For me this reminds me of modern Disney films that reference things like bullet time from the Matrix but for the erudite readers (hence why a lot of them passed me by), but not in a snobbish way that would annoy anybody. As usual for a Tidhar points of view from other cultures are portrayed so well that I found myself Googling nomadic tribes and chinese gangs after I finished reading this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and more importantly it made me want to go and find out more about people that I know almost nothing about.