Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown
It’s 1910 and the British rule the subcontinent with an iron fist – and with strange technology fuelled by a power source known as Annapurnite – discovered in the foothills of Mount Annapurna. But they rule but at the constant cost of their enemies, mainly the Russians and the Chinese, attempting to learn the secret of this technology…
This political confrontation is known as The Greater Game. Into this conflict is pitched eighteen year old Janisha Chaterjee who discovers a strange device which leads her into the foothills of the Himalayas. When Russians spies and the evil priest Durja Das find out about the device, the chase is on to apprehend Janisha before she can reach the Himalayas. There she will learn the secret behind Annapurnite, and what she learns will change the destiny of the world for ever…
Jani and the Greater Game is the first book in a rip-roaring, spice-laden, steampunk action adventure series set in India and featuring a heroine who subverts all the norms.
For me, there has always been something fantastically diverting about a good steampunk tale. I’m a bit of a daydreamer, and I’ve always found that this particular sub-genre is the most effective at capturing my imagination. I love that promise of far-flung locations, of rip-roaring adventure and of reinventing the familiar to make it strange and new.
In all honesty, I was pretty much sold as soon as I saw the cover to this novel. Kudos is due to artist Dominic Harman for such a wonderful image. Three words, people – steampunk clockwork elephant. If a machine-driven pachyderm isn’t enough of an incitement, feel free to add airship battles, fifteen foot high mechanical men, and strange humanoid creatures with their own enigmatic agenda into the mix. I quickly surmised that Eric Brown’s latest would be ticking all the boxes on my steampunk genre checklist.
It would be wrong however to dismiss this book as merely a simple adventure story with lots of evocative settings, chases and steampunk flourishes. This is much more than just some triumph of style over content. Brown’s writing also intelligently explores the imperialistic jingoism of the age. The British Empire, as well as its enemies, primarily Russia and China in this case, are waging a cold war of expansionism against one another. The writing touches upon the economic, religious and political implications of this. Our heroine, Janisha ‘Jani’ Chaterjee, is a perfect example of this. Her relatively modern upbringing as a child of two distinctly different cultures, finds her constantly challenging the preconceived notions of gender and racial stereotyping. She often finds herself at odds with both the rules imposed by the British, as well as those of the Indian nationalists. This gives Brown the perfect opportunity to highlight and pick apart all the social injustices that existed at that time.
There is a wonderful sense of familiarity to Jani and the Greater Game, I should stress that I mean this as the highest of compliments. Eric Brown’s writing does a splendid job of tipping subtle reverential nods to many of the classic serialised adventures that have gone before. It feels like Jani should exist within the same universe as other heroes and heroines like Flashman, Biggles and Adele Blanc-Sec. I’ll also happily admit Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom popped into my head on more than one occasion. It was the airships and the setting, I couldn’t help it.
It’s been a while since I’ve become so engrossed in a steampunk tale. This novel put me in mind of the Ulysses Quicksilver novels published by Abaddon Books and written by Jonathan Green. They both tap into that same sense of pure adventure, escapism and non-stop action. If you’re a fan of the Pax Britannia series, then I can guarantee you will adore this book.
I’ve always known that steampunk had a heart, but it’s a delight to discover that as it continues to evolve it has developed a brain too. Thoughtful, intriguing and more than a little bit entertaining, this is the first time I have read anything written by Eric Brown, it will not be the last.
Jani and the Greater Game, the first book of the Multiplicity series, is published by Solaris and is available now.