There are few places where you can read about a zombie army led by Napoleon that conquers England by walking under the English Channel, but Michael J. Martinez’s The Venusian Gambit is one of them. This is the third and final chapter in the Daedalus series where our heroes from two different parallel timelines must work together to prevent an ancient alien evil from conquering all of the realities. This has been a fun series to read and I enjoyed how it combined swashbuckling adventure of an earlier era with the hard SF thriller of contemporary times. So what did I think about The Venusian Gambit?
We find Lt. Cmdr. Shaila Jain of our (potential) 22nd century in hot pursuit of a hijacked Chinese ship as it rockets toward Earth carrying with it the alien plague it acquired from the remains of Enceladus and Shalia’s lover, Stephane Durand, who is now possessed by the spirit of an ancient Martian warrior (seriously, if you haven’t read The Daedalus Incident and The Enceladus Crisis, stop now because you won’t know what the hell I am talking about). Luckily she and the rest of Project DAEDALUS manage to stop the ship before it reaches Earth, but not before the possessed crew broadcasts a signal to unknown conspirators on Earth. The mystery on what the message contains, plus the clues given by a Durand (who overcame his possession) leads Shalia and her comrades to the hostile planet of Venus.
Meanwhile, in an alternate 18th century where magic exists and planets of the Solar System can support life, Britain is on the ropes, having been driven behind Hadrian’s Wall by Napoleon’s army of alchemy infused revenants. The only thing preventing the French from conquering the Known Worlds is the Royal Navy led by Thomas Weatherby, now an admiral and married to his long-time sweetheart. They have kept the French contained, but Weatherby learns that the French are mounting an expedition to Venus and after the reappearance of an ancient alien artifact, he becomes convinced that the only hope for his homeland lies somewhere on that jungle world. After setting off with his fleet, the two timelines begin to converge again as the final battle for the fate humanity begins.
As I have said before, I really enjoyed reading this series and The Venusian Gambit was a good way to end it. The world-building in the novel was excellent. For example, Weatherby’s timeline has always been more historical fiction than alternate history, as history played out as you would have expext even with the cosmological changes to reality. In The Venusian Gambit, however, we see most of England occupied and the King imprisoned, while the Prince of Wales leads a government-in-exile in Scotland, dependent on the Royal Navy to protect them at all costs. This scenario actually reminds me a lot of Greece circa the Battle of Salamis, which was a nice touch. Meanwhile, Shalia’s 22nd century has been fleshed out more. I especially like the interplanetary ship named after Chris Hadfield and the fact that Afghanistan reinvented itself as a corporate haven for the rich and corrupt. There are still aspects about the future I would have liked to learn more about, but that didn’t detract from the story at all in my opinion.
Martinez characters remain complex and I am happy he kept averting many over-used tropes. I was certain we were going to see some weird romance between Weatherby’s and Anne’s children (who each have a different set of biological parents), but thankfully their relationship remained platonic. Nevertheless, I was a little surprised we didn’t learn that Durand regaining control over his body was just a ruse. We knew the alien was still inside him and Durand did a lot of weird things that made me suspect that the tricky Martian was still in control. For example, at one point when their ship was collapsing around them, Shalia orders Durand to save a bumbling scientists. When she turns around she hears a scream and next thing she knows the scientist is dead and Durand can only apologize for not being able to save them. I’m sorry, maybe I’m just a suspicious person, but it would seem to the reader that Durand (or whomever is possessing him) had just murdered a guy! Perhaps this is just Martinez averting another ago old trope, but I could have sworn up to the very end that Durand could not be trusted.
Since I did read an uncorrected proof, I can’t speak about the spelling and grammar errors, only the story. Luckily, I can recommend The Venusian Gambit, but trust me when I say that you will want to start from the beginning with The Daedalus Incident or else you will be completely lost. The Daedalus series was a fun mash-up of different genres and The Venusian Gambit managed to have a satisfying conclusion while leaving us with just enough uncertainty to keep it realistic. Will Martinez write more books set in his multiverse? I don’t know, perhaps I will ask him when I get the chance, but whatever he writes I am sure to pick up a copy.