Those who enjoyed their first steampunk outing, The Angels of the Abyss, will not be disappointed. Iain Grant's mastery of the steampunk tone has returned with the adventure once again narrated by Cadwallander. A typical Victorian gentleman, Cadwallander is pompous, prudish and very un-PC but ultimately loyal, lovable and unintentionally hilarious. Also, fans of the first novelette will finally learn the fate of Cadwallander who was left in a precarious situation at the climax of the original. The resolution is very satisfying and offers a further dalliance with the steampunk setting.
This is not just more of the same and Grant happily ups the ante, as you would hope from a follow-up. The action is relocated to an alien planet, Mars, which offers a change of scenery from the spaceship of the original. Instead of a battle against alien forces, the action here is a battle of words against an alien diety which presides over an eternal party beneath the Martian surface.
There are also new characters to meet, such as Chioa Khan, a reference to English occultist Aleister Crowley, and most importantly we are introduced to Mina Saxena. In my review of its predecessor, I referred to Professor Sedgewick as a Doctor Who figure, which would make Mina Saxena the River Song of this series: a brave, beautiful and brash adventurer, both a foil and equal to Sedgewick himself.
The description of the Martian party is ominous, chilling and grotesque, and Grant's experience as a horror writer is put to good use. The diety figure of Aiwass is similarly unnerving, described expertly as bestial, aristocratic, pious, all at the same time: "Like a spinning thaumatrope, like the flickering image in the corner of a picture flip book, like the multitude of names and titles Chioa Khan had piled on his master, Aiwass was all of these things at once."
The Pearl of Tharsis is an accomplished second instalment in this steampunk series and fans will be pleased to hear that the third novelette will be released in July 2014.
Expect big things from this franchise. The Pearl of Tharsis, like its namesake, is a hidden gem worthy of discovery.