I just finished Newton’s Cannon,the first novel in a trilogy that Keyes calls his “Age of Unreason” trilogy. It was published in 1998, so once again I’m a bit behind the times. The narrative perspective shifts between France and the colonies (and London, after a young Ben Franklin escapes there), and posits a universe in which Newton invents something called philosopher’s mercury after identifying the math behind the forces of physics that are Newton’s other (/s) accomplishments…
- This felt like a really odd universe, and the novel spends a lot of time introducing characters who don’t know about some specific piece (the aetherscreiber – with the italics in the text – for instance) in order to have another character explain the device or concept.
- That said, the attempts to mate science and magic are interesting, even if it feels like the attempts are stretched. I haven’t read anything about Keyes, but he works hard narratively to try to justify all of the magic he places in this world with discussions of the basic math behind the magic he peppers this world with.
- He works hard to create female characters that have agency, even creating what I think is an imaginary society of female warriors/magicians/assassins that drive attempts to stop Louis XIV (?) from commissioning the redirection of a comet to hit London. And he definitely does not have a Puritan attitude towards sex.
- Finally, (SPOILER ALERT) he actually goes through with the death of one or two important characters *and* he wipes out London. Props.
- I struggled with this novel even though I read it quickly and wanted to turn pages. It felt shallow, with characters who are too clearly in tune with authorial values and too obvious evil folks. That said, he has point of view sections that feature someone (Louis) (SPOILER ALERT) who will be responsible for genocide, sections that although they clearly established Louis’s motives also made me rethink Keyes’s (or his narrator’s) sympathies. That’s an accomplishment, I think.