Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: The Long Past & Other
AUTHOR: Ginn Hale
PUBLISHER: Blind Eye Books
LENGTH: 317 pages
RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2017
1858 –Warring mages open up a vast inland sea that splits the United States in two. With the floodwaters come creatures from a long distant past. What seems like the End Times forges a new era of heroes and heroines who challenge tradition, law, and even death as they transform the old west into a new world.
–In the heart of dinosaur country a laconic trapper and a veteran mage risk treason to undertake a secret mission.
–A brilliant magician and her beautiful assistant light up stages with the latest automaton, but the secrets both of them are hiding test their trust in each other and pit them against one of the most powerful men in the world.
–At the wild edge of the Inland Sea, amidst crocodiles and triceratops, an impoverished young man and a Pinkerton Detective must join forces to outmaneuver a corrupt judge and his gunmen.
Historical Western Steampunk with Dinosaurs…need I say more?
Well, ok. I guess I can say a bit more.
Lately it has felt like I haven’t read anything really unique in quite some time. Sure there have been some good stories, but it has been a while since I’ve looked at a book and gone…well, didn’t see that coming. That is pretty much what happened when I saw the cover for this story, though. It is kinda exciting when you open a book and honestly have no clue what it is hidden in the pages below you. And it doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like it to.
Here in this book are three steampunk stories that take place in alternate world where mages–those who wield magic innately–and theurgists–those who use it in context of religion and tradition–clash and create chaos around them. Both with good and bad intentions and results. The world is better explained as it goes on from story to story, but the basics are thus:
A group of rifts in time and space where opened up around the world. Through those rifts came catastrophic amounts of sea water, causing massive flooding. The world map was drastically changed by it. England and large sections of Europe and Asia have practically vanished. Huge inland seas have opened up in both North and South America. Needless to say, it created havoc, killed millions, and drastically altered the political landscape of most of the world. And then the dinosaurs showed up–doing pretty much what dinosaurs do.
While I enjoyed all three of these stories, the first is probably my favorite. If only because it is the longest and had more time to really flush out the characters and the world. But the way the history of this world, as well as the political and social atmosphere, grows over the 40 or so years from beginning to end, made these stories seem grounded in reality. Even if that reality is one in which dinosaurs exist alongside humanity.
There is also a great cast of multi ethnic characters here–both main and secondary–which only made the stories all the better.
I’ll give a review of all the stories individually, but on the whole I would like to say this is well worth the money. The characters are all well written, and while the two shorter stories could have been fleshed out a bit more, I didn’t have a hard time reading any of them. And really, when was the last time you read a book with real live dinosaurs in it? How could you say no to dinosaurs?!
The Long Past
Colorado Territory, 1864
The world might have been turned on its head by the sudden and devastating rifts opening around the globe, but some things don’t change. Being a black man in the wild west of the United State (or what parts of it that are not under water) is still not an easy prospect. But Grover has to admit that for all the damage done by the rifts that brought the floods and dinosaurs, the freedom he has in his little backwater town is not something he’d easily give up. Change is on the move once again, though, when an airship comes to town bearing some fancy mages and mysterious tidings. And one man he never thought he’d ever see again.
The first of the three stories told in this book is by far the largest. It centers around the lives of Grover and his first love Lawrence. It was an excellent set up to this world. While I would have liked a bit more explanation up top about how the rifts happen and how they are connected to what has happened to this world, I think the slow unfolding of the truth over the 150 or so pages, actually worked well. It wasn’t info-dumpy, and help build the tension between Grover and Lawrence. As well as helping make the two(ish) bad guys in this story be a distant if constant threat to the MCs as well as the rest of the world.
I am a little mixed on the accuracy of some of these dinosaurs coming thru the rift existing in the same time period though. I’m pretty sure that some of these totally didn’t live along with some of the others. But in all fairness, I don’t actually care all that much about the scientific accuracy, because DINOSAURS!!! The ten-year-old boy inside of me is just totally in love with this steampunk/Jurassic Park fusion of sorts and will stand no haters.
This was an excellent set up to the rest of the book. I’m certainly curious what the other two stories have in store for me.
The Hallow History of Professor Perfectus
Ashni Naugai and her assistant, Geula Mandelbaum, are in Chicago performing their magic show to the masses in town for the World’s Fair. A show full of slight of hand may not have drawn much attention in the past, but after a catastrophic event involving two mages, that ended with hundreds dead by burning, the country has banned all “unlicensed” mage work, so the titillation of magic without any of the danger is worth a few pennies and a half hour of people’s time. They must never, though, know that Ashni is in fact a mage. Because if they do it is very likely she will be arrested and put under the “care” of a theurgist. But times are hard–and train tickets to a freer west are expensive–so when Geula is approached by a group of theurgists to help find a missing woman, they both see their freedom and their doom on the horizon. Which way their fates will turn is unclear though.
This second story was the shortest of the bunch. While I really liked the characters and the plot, I don’t think it really got quite enough time to grow to its full potential. A lot has happened in the thirty years between the two stories, and I would have loved to have spent more time flushing out all those changes. Ashni and Geula were interesting, and I would have loved more on both their backgrounds, but the story did give enough so that they could function in the plot. Their romance was a bit lacking, however. Where with Grover and Lawrence I could feel their connection, here I had to go on simply what the book was telling me. Maybe if they had not been already together at the time of the story it would have been better. I don’t know.
The theurgists are still dicks, as far as I can tell, though. And Edison…still a massive asshole no matter what universe he exists in.
Riverain County, Illinois 1896-1900
When Dalfon Elias made his way into Edgewater the first time, he was after a bounty on a killer. And while he certainly got his man, he also stole the heart of one Luc Spivey, otherwise known as Lucky. Now three years later, Lucky hasn’t forgotten the man who stole his heart…and then left him without so much as a goodbye. When Lucky spies the man back in town, he knows he shouldn’t trust the newly minted Pinkerton Detective, but old habits–even short-lived ones–die hard. Unfortunately he can’t say the same about either himself or Dalfon.
This third and last story in the collection is pretty much a good ol’ western. Gunslingers, lawmen, and shootouts over land, money, and prestige. I really dug it. And unlike the last story, this one did a lot better job selling the romance between the two MCs. I do wish we had gotten a bit more before the time-jump, but there was enough of that part of their tale retold in the main portion of the story that it worked well enough. The subplot between Lucky and some of the other people from Edgewater was a nice addition, and while it was a bit obvious where it was going once the situation became clear, I didn’t mind all that much. Overall it was a very nice wrap-up to this short collection of stories.