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 series is on two female operatives named Luz O'Malley Arostegui and Ciara Whelan. Luz and Ciara are personally asked by President Roosevelt to investigate another player on the world stage who might be on their way to creating a new v-gas factory. It's bad enough that besides the US of A and Germany having a knife at each other's throats, Japan also has it; but now an unknown entity is trying for a fourth; and the USA has no idea who it is. It's being financed by sales of previously unknown ultra-rare Chinese artifacts; so Luz and Ciara decided to 'follow the money.'
Their investigation starts in San Francisco where they make contact with a family of black marketeers who might be able to shed light on from where the Chinese artifacts originate. Luz and Ciara bring their four little girls with them on the assumption that not only do they provide color for an excellent cover story but along with two other Black Chamber agents traveling with them plus an excellently trained assassin as the nanny, the children couldn't be better protected. The entire entourage is female. Eventually, they end up in Shanghai where, theoretically, anything is for sale. All they have to do is discover from where the antiquities are coming, who's selling, and then figure out how to… discourage them.
I did enjoy the first three books as light espionage tales. Unfortunately, I think I'm done. This book is so light on the actual espionage, I doubt it takes much more than a quarter of the whole book. The rest seems to vary between a travelogue, an alternate history encyclopedia, and the diaries of two young gay women. The writing is beautiful and evocative…but I just don't need that much detail about their clothing, food or the current sociological state of the United States unless it relates directly to the story. It really feels like the author's true goal is to flesh out the entire history of the USA as it changed after Roosevelt started his second term and not to really tell a story. ~~ Catherine Book
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