Newton’s Cannon – Greg Keyes

“Humphrey wiped the sweat from his forehead and paused briefly in his working of the bellows.”

There are some rather random books on my shelves, and as I’m trying to get rid of some of them I’m more likely to pick one up and give it a go – with the full expectation that if it hasn’t grabbed me after a chapter or two, it really should just go in the charity box. Much to my surprise, I found myself sticking with this one.

This is an alternate history, where Isaac Newton’s discovery of ‘Philosopher’s Mercury’ has brought alchemy into the field of science, rather than magic. It allows for inventions such as the ‘schreiber’, a device which can copy the text written on its twin, regardless of the distance between them, and with perfect secrecy – until, that is, an inventive young lad by the name of Ben Franklin (!) starts to experiment and picks up messages he should never have been able to read.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Sun King of France has discovered immortality. As his continued life plunges his court and country into chaos and war, a young woman finds herself caught up in dark plots. The two story threads are told in alternating chapters, with mysteries growing on each side of the Channel. Who is the mysterious man chasing Ben? Who was on the other end of the schreiber, writing those strange formulae? Who is pulling Adrienne’s strings, as she is manoevered into horrible situations?

I was pleasantly surprised by this book, enjoying it far more than I expected. The story plugs along at good speed, introducing enough mystery to keep me intrigued.

However, it finishes on more than a little of a cliffhanger, and perhaps by that point the twists and turns had started to lose my interest a little. Certainly, upon discovering that the series wasn’t carried by my library it was easy enough to decide not to continue rather than paying full price for a so-so series.

So: not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but not enough to make me read on through the rest of the series.

Paperback: 368 pages / 44 chapters
First published: 1998
Series: Age of Unreason book 1 of 4
Read from 28th October – 18th November 2017

My rating: 6/10

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