Set the Seas on Fire: Appealing historical fantasy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Chris Roberson Set the Seas on FireSet the Seas on Fire by Chris Roberson

Author of many short stories and novels, the three-time World Fantasy Award-nominated and two-time John W. Campbell Award-nominated Chris Roberson is also a co-founder of the writers’ collective Clockwork Storybook and owner/operator of the indie publisher MonkeyBrain Books (Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Jeff VanderMeer). Set the Seas On Fire is part of the Bonaventure-Carmody universe which includes the books Cybermancy, Incorporated (2001-Clockwork), Here, There & Everywhere (2005-Pyr), Paragaea: A Planetary Romance (2006-Pyr) and The End of the Century (2008-Pyr, shown below), and was originally released in 2001 via Clockwork Storybook. This edition of Set the Seas On Fire is a considerably expanded and revised version of the original novel and was released by Solaris Books.

Set in the late 1700s/early 1800s, during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Revolution / Napoleonic Wars, and King George III, Chris Roberson’s Set the Seas On Fire is an engaging blend of historical and speculative fiction, with a dash of coming-of-age tale thrown in for good measure. So, following in the footsteps of protagonist Hieronymus Bonaventure — what a great name! — readers can look forward to some good old seafaring adventuring including an informative and realistic glimpse at how a British Naval ship is run. You’ll explore an undiscovered island where cultures will clash between the natives and the sailors, with love inevitably blossoming — think Christopher Columbus or Pocahontas. You’ll journey back to Hieronymus’ childhood to learn about the art of swordplay and how our hero’s early life lessons relate to Bonaventure’s current dilemmas. Prepare yourself for events both fantastical and terrifying, with the majority of the good stuff reserved for the end of the book.

Honestly, I’m not that big on period pieces and in particular, stories of the nautical variety, so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Set the Seas On Fire that much even with the promise of mystical happenings. Surprisingly, I had a really good time reading the book and I think a lot of it had to do with the author Chris Roberson. Since I’ve never read anything by Mr. Roberson, I didn’t know what to expect, but the writing turned out to be quite accomplished, and even though the novel deals with a lot of familiar story elements, the skillful prose, scholastic knowledge of the historical material, and ripe imagination really elevated this novel to another level. Of course, having a main character like Hieronymus Bonaventure really helps too — he’s easy to relate to, somewhat flawed as every person is in real life, and well developed by the author. Thankfully, Hieronymus also shows up in Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, which I wouldn’t mind reading, and I hope to see further adventures with Hieronymus Bonaventure.

This edition of Set the Seas On Fire is a revised and expanded version of the original. Because I haven’t read the original, I can only speculate on what might have been changed or added on, but according to the author’s notes, the new version is some 25% longer, but contains the complete texts of the earlier version. The only issue I had with the book was that a couple of flashbacks seemed a bit out of place, but other than that, the story seemed to flow along pretty nicely, the pacing was up-tempo, and everything was resolved satisfactorily at the end. I think it would be interesting to compare the different versions with one another, but that is probably a project for another day.

In short, Chris Roberson’s Set the Seas On Fire is an impressively written and confidently realized novel that may appeal more to the historical fiction crowd, but embraces enough of the unknown to make it worthwhile for speculative readers as well.

Set the Seas on Fire — (2001) Publisher: Bonaventure is the hero in a later Roberson sci/fi novel called Paragaea. Publisher: 1808. While Europe burns and the Napoleonic Wars set the world aflame, the HMS Fortitude patrols the sea lanes of the South Pacific, harrying enemies of the British Crown. The Fortitude’s captain sets his sights on a Spanish galleon weighted down with a fortune in gold and spices, but Lieutenant Hieronymus Bonaventure thinks the prize not worth the risk. The ship is smashed by storms and driven far into unknown seas, the galleon and her treasure lost in the tempest. Bonaventure and the rest of the Fortitude’s crew find themselves aground on an island in uncharted waters. Beneath the island’s beauty lurks a darker secret: an ancient evil buried at the living heart of a volcano.

Bonaventura-Carmody — (2001-2009) Publisher:Normal men and women made mind-controlled zombies by a drug from another dimension. An ancient evil, fostered by occult Nazis scientists, unleashed to destroy the modern world. A gallery of rogues and heroes stretching back over generations. At the center of it all, Jon Bonaventure Carmody, the Cybermancer. With Cybermancy, Incorporated, Roberson introduces Carmody, modern-day pulp hero and scion of two proud families, both with centuries’ long histories of struggling against the forces of oppression. In two linked novellas and a series of shorts, mixing science fiction, fantasy, and adventure fiction, Carmody and his associates continue the fight begun by his ancestors in generations past. Nazi sorcerers, lords of the jungle, super-spies and scientific detectives fill the world of Cybermancy, Incorporated, unveiling a rich tapestry of explorers and adventurers, rogues and villains, danger and intrigue.

cybermancy Chris RobersonChris Roberson Here, There, & EverywhereParagaea: A Planetary Romance Chris Robersonfantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviews


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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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