In ‘The Red Plague Affair’ by Lilith SaintCrow we meet our intrepid heroes Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime, and Archibald Clare, registered mentath, now both in the employ of Britannia, a few years after the events of book one, ‘The Iron Wyrm Affair’. The novel starts with Clare descending into the sewers of London, hot on the trail of his nemesis, Dr. Vance, a criminal mentath. Dr. Vance escapes once again and Clare is rescued by Valentinelli, who after the events of the first book has become Clare’s bodyguard and servant. He brings Clare to Bannon’s home to be nursed back to health, thus interrupting her preparations for the evening. Still, Emma apprehends her target and takes him to the tower after working some mending magic on Clare.
The next day, Bannon is called to the court of Her Majesty and ordered to find the genius level physicker John Morris and bring him to justice. Clare, not being really well at first, occupies himself with finding clues to Vance’s whereabouts rather than helping Bannon. But when one of her shields dies from an unknown disease in the course of the investigation, Bannon asks Clare for his help. Together, they track down their elusive prey, while the physicker is on his way to the continent with two containers of some pathogenic agent. Once again, albeit reluctantly served by the royal gryphons Bannon and her still living shield Mikal are able to get to Morris before he can set foot on the continent. They bring him back to Britannia, unknowingly sealing his fate and that of Britain.
Clare, meanwhile, figures out that the pathogen has to be some modified form of the plague as more and more Londoners fall victim to the Red Plague. He is reluctant at first but, in the end, accepts the help Dr. Vance offers him because he was an ignorant helper in Morris’s plan to take revenge on mankind. Will the mental power of two extraordinary mentaths working together bring the solution for the crisis? Read for yourself.
‘The Red Plague Affair’ is a really good sequel to ‘The Iron Wyrm Affair’. It elaborates on the dark points in Bannon’s history, gives Mikal a secret and Clare’s nemesis a name and a face, so to speak, and even furthers the struggle between the illogic of magic and the logic of the mentaths. Both lead characters are further developed and, once again, the novel is told from both their viewpoints, though this time Clare’s is preeminent, which is fitting because the problem is more his kind to deal with. Nearly all the cast of the first book are present again, with the exception of Baerbarth, who as an engineer, has no real role to play in the proceedings of this novel. Speaking of roles, the only thing which irritated me was the introduction of the colourful new character Kim Rudyard, who only seems to be there to hint at Mikal’s secret. But maybe he gets more to do in the next novel?
What I like about this novel is for once that in its world, a few years have passed since the first incident, not one catastrophe every year, like it seems to be in other series. Here the world actually stays saved for more than five minutes. The unique setting and the fact that Lilith Saintcrow takes her time to develop the characters, even the minor ones, are further points in favour of ‘The Red Plague Affair’. If you are interested in steampunk with a touch of fantasy, you should definitely read this novel and its prequel. Again I am looking forward to the next case of Bannon and Clare!
(pub: Orbit. 294 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-500093-5)