Review: Luminous Chaos, Jean-Christophe Valtat

January 20, 2014 Reviews 3 ★★★★½

Review: Luminous Chaos, Jean-Christophe ValtatLuminous Chaos by jean-christophe valtat
Series: The Mysteries of New Venice #2
Published by Melville House on October 2013
Genres: Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Time Travel
Pages: 528
Format: ebook
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon • Amazon UK • Book Depository

It's 1907 in the icily beautiful New Venice, and the hero of the city's liberation, Brentford Orsini, has been deposed by his arch-rival -- who immediately assigns Brentford and his friends on a dangerous diplomatic mission to Paris.

So, Brentford recruits his old friend and louche counterpart, Gabriel d'Allier, underground chanteuse and suffragette Lillian Lake, and the mysterious Blankbate--former Foreign Legionnaire and leader of the Scavengers, the city's garbage collecting cult--and others, for the mission.

But their mode of transportation--the untested "transaerian psychomotive"--proves faulty and they find themselves transported back in time to Paris 1895 ... before New Venice even existed. What's more, it's a Paris experiencing an unprecedented and crushingly harsh winter.

They soon find themselves involved with some of the city's seediest, most fascinating inhabitants. But between attending soirees at Mallarmé's house, drinking absinthe with Proust, trying to wrestle secrets out of mesmerists, and making fun of the newly-constructed Eiffel Tower, they also find that Paris is a city full of intrigue, suspicion, and danger.

angelyas_reviewA year has passed in the polar city of New Venice, and recent elections mean that Brentford Orsini is no longer the Regent Doge. His successor decides to remove him and several of his supporters from the picture by sending him to set up a diplomatic mission in Paris. Psychomotive travel is dangerous, though, and the group find themselves thrown back in time to 1895 – some years before the construction of New Venice. Eventually arriving in a unusually snowy Paris, the travellers find themselves not only trying to find out how to get themselves back to the right time, but they also end up embroiled in various political dramas that could affect the founding of New Venice itself.

Please note: This is my review for the second book in this series. My review for the first book, Aurororama, was posted on The Oaken Bookcase.

If the hermaphroditic conjoined twins and polar kangaroo from Aurororama didn’t scare you off, then there’s plenty more of the bizarre in this sequel. At its heart, this story is a  lot like a travel guide to 19th-century Paris, albeit a steam-punkish alternate dream-Paris. From the architecture and the excesses of the wealthy, to the city’s dark underbelly, it’s all described in intimate detail. These strange and beautiful descriptions made the first book a delight to read and they only improve in the second.

The writing style is very prosaic but I found it took lots of concentration to understand what was happening at times. Not the ideal book to read while you’re looking after a newborn (*yawn*)! In addition there are still concepts from the original story that I don’t really understand – for example, I’m still not sure how far ahead of 1895 the “present” New Venice is supposed to be. I don’t remember if the altered timelines were ever explained properly in Aurororama. It doesn’t make a lot of difference to the story of Luminous Chaos, though.

The characters are mostly familiar and once again Brentford and Gabriel have some very entertaining banter, both with each other and with almost everyone else they encounter. Each of the seven New Venetians have their separate stories in Paris, so we are treated to many points of view to make up the whole picture. I’m told that the released versions of this book have sketches throughout the story that my e-ARC didn’t have – the illustrations in Aurororama added an extra dimension to the story so I’m sure those in Luminous Chaos will do the same!

As well as the beautiful and witty writing, there are plenty of technical discussions on spirituality and timey-whimey existentialism so if you’re looking for a light read, you might like to try something else. For an amazingly beautiful trip to a wintry Paris with a steampunk twist, I’d highly recommend Luminous Chaos, but read Aurororama first or you may end up as lost as an arctic explorer.

four-half-stars – A gorgeous and occasionally dark adventure in an alternative 19th-century Paris.

Anni lives in Brisbane, Australia with her young family. She loves everything fantasy and science fiction and believes sleep is really very underrated.

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