Jani and The Great Pursuit - Archieved Post

February 24, 2016 - 11:41 am No Comments

Jani and the Great Pursuit
Eric Brown
Publisher: Solaris
Page Count: 384pp
Release date: 23rd Feb 2016
Reviewed by Chris Amies

“Jani and the Great Pursuit” is the sequel to “Jani and the Greater Game,” an adventurous tale set in an alternative India in the 1920s where the British Raj is underpinned by alien technology. Jani Chatterjee is a young woman of mixed race who when this novel opens is being pursued by the villanous Durga Das, who is possessed by a lifeform he believes to be the goddess Kali. Jani is accompanied by her companions the houseboy Anand and British Lieutenant Alfie Littlebody. Durga Das is pursuing her because he believes her to be in possession of an artefact, the ventha-di, that when properly configured will allow travel between worlds. There is danger in the stars however: a predatory (could we say imperialist) race called the Zhell who have their sights on Earth, where the British, the Russians and the Chinese are contenders for world domination (this was the “Great Game” of the first book).

The novel starts, as steampunk often does, in the air. ‘Jani was aboard the “Pride of Edinburgh, somewhere over northern Greece, when she made the acquaintance of the mechanical dog.’ That made me want to read on (as well as putting me in mind of the first line of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”).

Could you describe this series as ‘steampunk’? That genre is usually associated with a late Victorian / Edwardian setting. But here we have Soviet Russia (post-1917), and De Havilland aircraft (a company established in 1920). The feel of the novel is definitely inter-war thriller (Wheatley, Charteris, Bernede …), which would make this Valvepunk. On the other hand you have the airships – definitely steampunk, but in a world where the existence of alien technology may have slowed the development of Earth’s own tech (because we didn’t have to bother), there might still be airships instead of aeroplanes.

The world Eric Brown describes is engaging. I could well imagine Londoners being enthused by rocket launches from Ealing. The secondary characters such as Sebastian and Lady Eddington are also memorable.

How to set a story within a world that is unjust and imperialist? Unlikely as it might sound, Dennis Wheatley (a kind of clubland Tory not read much nowadays) overcame this conundrum in the 1930s by making his protagonists foreign or outsiders (his ‘good companions’ are Dutch-American, French, Russian, and Anglo-Jewish). Here, Jani is an outsiders’ outsider: neither quite Indian nor quite British and not accepted by the British in India – she is once described as a ‘Chutney Mary’ (an Indian woman who adopts European ways). Nor is she some kind of unlikely superheroine but a courageous and intelligent young woman albeit one who feels out of place in Delhi and London and “was a product of both places … but … belonged to neither.” Which paradoxically makes her suited to the London she finds, a city where the wonders on show are “developed by alien minds … not the brainchild of the British but driven by otherworldly technology.”

“Various astounding and life-threatening escapades,” says the blurb. There are indeed.

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