Himself and I heard Gareth read an entertaining slice of this science fiction alternate history romp at the World Fantasycon in Brighton last year, featuring Ack-Ack and afterwards we promptly went and bought both books in the series. Annoyingly, this one then went missing – not that we have too many books knocking about the house, or anything… So when it finally turned up, was it worth the wait?
In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence.
A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins circle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband.
The rest of the back cover blurb is into Spoiler territory, so I’ll leave it there. As you can see, we are into alternate history. But this is as different to C.J. Sansom’s grim reworking of our recent history in Dominion, as you can get within the same sub-genre, covering the same time – Powell’s breezy delivery scurries the action along at a brisk clip. While I enjoyed Ack-Ack’s exploits, he wasn’t the character that drew me into the plot. The character I really cared about was Victoria. Because she happened to be covering the Prince of Wales’ Falklands trip the previous year, she was on board when his helicopter crashed – and that single event not only changed her life forever, but drags her into this adventure.
Powell’s ability to write full-on action scenes where blood flies in all directions doesn’t prevent him from also managing to effectively depict a young grieving widow with power and economy. For all the gung-ho bravado, the plot steadily unfurls as Victoria and Ack-Ack continue creating different types of chaos – Ack-Ack’s version being more of the bullet-pocked, noisy sort – and with each action scene, we get closer to what is actually going on. I enjoyed the fact that Powell produces Ack-Ack’s flourishes as extra treats, rather than expecting them to stand in as plot progression, which so often happens in action thrillers.
Overall, this is a highly enjoyable adventure – and Ack-Ack’s gun-twirling and caustic one-liners provides plenty of light relief in a book with dark undertones that poses some hard questions Humanity will shortly have to start facing about the extent of medical intervention. If you enjoy reading entertaining science fiction that is intelligent and thought provoking but doesn’t take itself too seriously, then hunt down this offering – you’ll be thanking me if you do.