Thursday, December 3, 2015

Phileas Fogg and the War of Shadows (Josh Reynolds, Meteor House Press, 2014)

In a sense, it could be said that I read The Other Log of Phileas Fogg so that I could read this volume; Meteor House was kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of Josh Reynold's sequel novella, and Win Scott Eckert, realizing I hadn't read the original novel, was kind enough to send me a copy to ensure I had the full story.  Having enjoyed The Other Log, I was eager to dive into the continuation of the story of Phileas Fogg.

Taking up the story more than fifteen years after The Other Log, War of Shadows finds Fogg married and retired to his country estate.  Things do not remain peaceful for him for very long; he soon finds himself surrounded by gunmen and escorted into the presence of his old nemesis, now going by his birth name...Professor James Moriarty.

Moriarty makes his case plainly.  Though the war between the Eridaneans and Capellans has been over for years, there's a new threat: someone has become aware of the Eridanean-Capellan conflict, and is kidnapping former agents of both factions and torturing them for information.  Recognizing the threat, Moriarty demands Fogg investigate - under threat of his wife being murdered by Moriarty.

Fogg is dispatched to France, accompanied by the devilish and murderous Colonel Moran, to investigate.  He soon finds himself in the clutches of a terrifyingly human villain, one intent on positioning himself as the savior of the human race from extraterrestrial interference.

I don't want to spill the beans on the identity of Fogg's new foe, but I imagine the readers will be familiar enough with the literature of the period in which this is set to guess his identity pretty handily.  Suffice to say it's a character that has seen considerable revision over the years and one that has been presented as everything from an idealized romantic hero to a tormented Byronic antihero to an unspeakable villain.  Personally, I feel like Josh Reynolds captured the character perfectly, bringing to the fore elements of the character that appeared in the source novel but which have been largely neglected in media since, while plausibly extrapolating what that character would do upon becoming aware of a alien-guided shadow war on Earth.

In terms of villainy, even more than this overarching villain, I love Reynolds' presentation of Moriarty and, especially, Moran.  Reynolds really plays up the foresight of Moriarty, gives us a taste of Moriarty's talent for manipulation and the ease with which he moves through complex webs of schemes and contingencies, always keeping his own interests first and foremost.

But Reynolds' Moran...Moran frequently gets the short end of the stick when it comes to characterization; he's Moriarty's thuggish gunman, a military-trained assassin, but ultimately he's presented with even less personality than his custom-made German air rifle.  In essence, he's always been the gun in Moriarty's hand.  Under Reynold's pen, Moran's sadism, bullying and English classism are brought to life and the character, loathsome as he is, is allowed to flourish.

I'd love to see Josh Reynolds pen a crossover between Moran and Count Zaroff.  Now there would be truly the most dangerous game.

Phileas Fogg and the War of Shadows continues the time-honored tradition of using newly-discovered manuscripts as a framing story; in this case, a series of journals, written in Eridanean, discovered in Fogg's country estate a hundred years later, translated by Patricia Wildman.  The postscript from Wildman notes that she's begun working on translating the subsequent volumes, and has discovered further adventures of Fogg's, taking him to Ruritania and beyond, and so I am absolutely salivating for the continuation of this story.

Phileas Fogg and the War of Shadows is available from the publisher here, and gets a hearty recommendation from me.

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