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Shadows of Annihilation
Black Chamber #3
by S.M. Stirling
Ace, $18.00 TPB, 381pp
Published: March 2020

This is an alternate history story that hinges on President William Taft dying in office in 1912 rather than in 1930.  Because of this, Theodore Roosevelt, who served as President from 1901-1909, decided to run again and take back the Presidency. 

This put him back in charge during the days of WWI and he had some very definite ideas on how to conduct warfare.  One of his programs was a black ops unit called Black Chamber, a group of spies who were highly trained as operatives and assassins who could be sent anywhere.  The focus of the story is on a female operative named Luz O’Malley Arostegui. 

The U.S. has managed to steal a supply of the horror-gas and that alone is keeping Germany at bay.  But they know the stuff has a short shelf-life and if they wish to keep a balance of power, they must manufacture the evil stuff themselves.  So they build a factory in the wilds of Mexico.  And Roosevelt sends his most trusted Black Chamber operatives, Luz and Ciara, to evaluate the security.

In the meantime, Luz’s old nemesis, Horst, has escaped from U.S. prison and has made contact with Mexican revolutionaries. They have good intel that the U.S. gas factory is in Mexico. So the stage is set early in the story to engage Luz and Horst again.  And the gentle reader has to know it will be an epic smack-down.

On the surface, this plot appears to have plenty of action and violence and espionage.  And it has some.  It’s just a fairly small dose, blanketed with lots of exposition on the politics of the times, societal changes, Luz and Ciara’s relationship and society’s reaction to them, the life and times of Mexican peasants and other mundane topics.  It’s not entirely uninteresting, just slow.

The only real tension and excitement in the story occurred in the last forty pages.  And it was a good payoff, just not great.  After reading this third book, it now occurs to me that the author is more interested in presenting a plausible alternative history rather than focusing on telling a story.  The characters are engaging enough, just not very deep.  I’d read another if it came my way but I wouldn’t search it out.  ~~  Catherine Book

For more titles by S.M. Stirling click here

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