Tuesday, September 25, 2007


New Review

Iain Emsley, he of Yatterings fame, has reviewed Set the Seas on Fire for the 212th issue of Interzone, out this month. Here's what he has to say:
An updated version of a previously published chapbook, Set the Seas on Fire is a virtuoso performance that combines the sea-faring story with fantasy set in the Napoleonic era. Roberson quickly sets the scenes with two intertwining stories.

First we are introduced to the young Hieronymous Bonventure, who is ostensibly being taught how to fence – but in the developing acquaintanceship with his tutor, he learns the deeper reasons for his tuition. The main narrative is set in 1808, with the HMS Fortitude (on which Bonaventure is Lieutenant) in desperate need of repair after a skirmish with a Spanish galleon. Coming across survivors from the galleon, they hear of an island of terror where the ship is beached. Once ashore, the crew meet the inhabitants, and embark on individual adventures – with Bonaventure getting more out of falling in love than he could ever hope for – before finally descending into Hell.

Roberson combines a sense of period with the strong sense of wonder and fear. Whilst the setting is Napoleonic, the reader is never left with a sense that the period is a backdrop. It oozes onto the page, not just in the warfare and hierarchy, but in the mannerisms and etiquette. At one level he harks back to the ‘Fantasy of Manners’ school – but at another, the action takes hold and really makes the story special.

Untypically for fantasy, his characters encounter the Other and are overwhelmed by it. The sheer alienness of Pacific native culture to Western minds (long the preoccupation of anthropology) is developed so well that, ultimately, it is both familiar and different. Roberson does not try to understand the stories, but he uses them brilliantly to demonstrate the strengths and shortcomings of the main protagonists.

Set the Seas on Fire is a thoughtful but rip-roaring adventure, combining Hornblower and Lovecraft with a subtlety certainly not seen in the ‘New Weird’ or other naval stories. The other writing of Roberson’s that I have read has left me astounded at his control of silences and muted responses amidst terrifying situations, and Set the Seas on Fire is certainly in that class. I cannot recommend this book too highly as an intelligent, readable novel.


Wow...that's a rave...congrats. Hopefully more people will check you out based upon the good reviews it's getting.
Thanks, Howard. And we can certainly hope so!
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