Cover Image: Absynthe

Absynthe

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Took too long to pick this one up because when I did I flew through it. Full of action, a bit of sciencey magic (is there such a thing) and set back in a time where you wore your fanciest dress out to parties. It was a little slow to start, to get into the flow of the writing but once I did I quite enjoyed it. The characters were easy to read and the world building was well written. I did appreciate how the author names each gun and car very precisely, gave it an extra boost to the description.
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Billed as a steampunk/ art deco mystery, Absynthe only lives up to the description sporadically. Set in an alternate 1920's, and using the "alternate" part to allow for irreconcilable tech and communication (but only sometimes), the story is a disappointment. Slightly ripped off from the Manchurian Candidate, traumatized veteran Liam is pulled into a dangerous world after meeting former commander and now-President Leland La Pere. Multiple personalities and mass delusions follow. Not recommended, unless you really like anti-vax ideas grafted onto incoherent political thrillers.
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I loved the premise for this book, but didn't enjoy the execution. I found most of the characters to be flat, and Liam to be a bit ridiculous - instantly good at everything, and even when he isn't good at things (like illusions) in practice, he is immediately good at them in the heat of battle. The Liam/Colette relationship reads very much like a Steve/Peggy AU fan fic. The reduction of Dissociative Identity Disorder to a plot trope is gross, and could be exceedingly triggering for some people. 

1.5 stars because I cared enough to finish it.
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This book is a standalone, Deco-Punk story told in a Prohibition-Era adjacent USA shortly after the conclusion of WW1- a WW1 fought in the USA. I enjoyed this book for it's prose, setting, plot, characterization and worldbuilding. 
What is Deco-Punk? In short, an art-deco aesthetic, perhaps involving Mafias, Prohibition, Post-WW1 depression, Jazz and the like.
Basically, I'd say video games like 'Bioshock' and 'Dishonored' are Deco-Punk. Similarly, books like 'The Craft Sequence,' 'The Divine Cities,' 'Gods of Jade and Shadow' and 'Amberlough' are Deco-Punk. 
Spoilers Below! You've been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own. I'm writing this review as an author critiquing another author's book, in an attempt to improve my own writing.
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BIASES STATED
To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.
I am a fan of this author's. I signed up for an ARC copy of this book. I got my ARC copy only a week or two before release, so I didn't have time to read it given my fairly crowded reading schedule. Instead I waited for release and bought the audiobook version, and listened to that. I do not regret that purchase.
All that said, you should bare in mind that I am a fan of this author's work and that I got an ARC. I will not let my being a fan/getting a free copy influence my review, but as this is the 'biases stated' section, just remember that those biases exist.
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WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE?
•	Adult, but YA can read it.
•	Alternate History Sci-Fi
•	Deco-Punk, WW1, Conspiracy Fantasy
•	Battle Mechs
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READER'S EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR
I feel as though I am in this book's target audience, as a result I had more fun reading this book than someone who is not in the target audience. That said, I feel that this book is an all-around excellently written story. 
Overall, I give the story's Emotional Resonance: (4/5 Stars)
(5 Stars= Perfect, 4=Great, 3=Good/Average, 2=Fun but Flawed, 1=Not Recommended)
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SIMILAR BOOKS
•	‘Gods of Jade and Shadow’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
•	‘The Ruin of Angels’ by Max Gladstone
•	‘City of Stairs’ Book Review
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CONCEPT AND EXECUTION
Spoiler time! The first third of this book is a conspiracy novel. The protagonist lives ignorant of 'The Masquerade' of a government secret. The secret is that to win World War 1 the government used a mind-control bacterium, which allows certain people to generate illusions with ESP. Since then, a shadowy cabal infected the US population with that bacterium, in a quest to replace the government and take over the world. The heroes must now pierce the illusions of everyday life (a la The Matrix), find the cabal, and free the enslaved psychics integral to their schemes.
This is a good concept.
Execution wise, I thought it was largely well-executed... with one minor problems. I liked the pacing of the first third of the book (during 'The Masquerade') and the final third (when every layer of illusion has been ripped away), but I felt that the middle third was a bit sloggy. 
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CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:
MAJOR SPOILERS!
I really enjoyed the protagonist, Liam. Liam is a retired soldier from WW1, who suffers from major PTSD and memory loss as a result of his trauma. Liam lives with his Irish grandmother, who gives him useful advice at various points in his story. Nothing to strange about that... except it's all lies. 
Early in the story, Liam pierces the veil of The Masquerade and sees through the illusions of the magic system. He realizes his 'grandmother' is a PTSD hallucination. His PTSD/subconscious interacting with the mind-control bacterium to generate this hallucination, trying to heal itself by bringing his grandmother back to 'life' to keep him company in his loneliness. And guess what: even after he knows his grandma is a hallucination, Liam still listens to his grandmother's advice. This was a great bit of characterization, showing the conflict native to Liam's personality. I simply loved the dynamic between Liam and his grandmother/hallucination.
Similarly, his 'amnesia' was caused by an enemy psychic trying to cover up cabal secrets during the war. Liam's personality at the beginning of the book is really a product of a cabal coverup. Watching Liam recover his memories and true personality as the story progresses was absolutely fascinating.
The antagonist is fascinating. 
•	At first, before we pierce the Masquerade, we think Grace us the antagonist, because she leads the rebellion against the government and the rebellion is the enemy.
•	Then the protagonist's love interest Grace helps Liam see through the Masquerade. With Grace's aid, we learn that President De Pere is leader of the cabal, and that he killed Liam's old WW1-era girlfriend Colette. 
•	And finally, as the last act dawns, we learn that De Pere, Grace and Colette are all the same person. After Colette injected herself with the mind control bacteria, she suffered a personality break, and created multiple rival personalities. She is now the leader of the cabal, De Pere; the leader of the rebellion, Grace; and also the bacterium hivemind, Echo.
Personally, I thought this was a brilliant antagonist. I really liked how the merging of the theme of mental illness with the 'magic system' of mind control and illusions resulted in the multiple personalities. When every layer of Colette's madness is peeled away and revealed, was I blown away. At points I guessed that De Pere was Grace. Similarly, at points I guessed that De Pere was Colette. But I never guessed that all of them were the same person. I especially loved the twist of the hivemind of Echo- an emergent gestalt hivemind made up of everyone who is infected with the bacterium. But it was all clearly foreshadowed, so these conspiracy twists felt authentic and earned by the narrative.
And finally, the side characters.
They all had personal histories, personalities, friendships, loves, ambitions and memories. They were better than the average Fantasy side character I've read over the years. No complaints, they were great.
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PACING AND STRUCTURE
I will be analyzing this book's structure with the three act format.
•	Act 1 is when the protagonist Liam is completely trapped by The Masquerade. 
o	The story begins with Liam and his friend Morgan going to see De Pere at a train station for a political rally/vaccination campaign. The rally is attacked by the rebellion. Liam helps De Pere fight off the rebellion.
o	Liam and Morgan go drinking at a speakeasy bar. They drink Absynthe... which has been drugged by Grace. The drugs in the absynthe restore some of Liam's repressed memories.
o	Morgan suffers a negative reaction to the vaccine. His condition quickly declines, and he needs medical help. But before they can get that help, strange people attack their speakeasy. Liam and Morgan escape, but the people they're partying with die.
o	The next day Morgan is taken captive by the cabal's mechs. Morgan feels forced to turn to Grace for aid.
•	Act 2 is everything between when Liam has pierced the veil of the Masquerade and the reveal that Colette is De Pere and Grace.
o	Grace takes Liam into her confidence, and reveals the truth of De Pere's cabal. Liam takes more absynthe, and remembers more repressed memories.
o	Liam, Grace and the rebellion go under cover (using illusion psychic powers) to try to get Morgan back. They fail, but the learn more about De Pere's plans for domination.
o	They try to get Morgan again and again, and fail again and again, but each time they gain some information.
o	Eventually they get Morgan back, but too late: he's turning into a monster.
o	And finally, after a final batch of memory-restoring absynthe, more memories are revealed. Liam finally remembers that Colette and Du Pere are the same person.
o	Grace reveals that she is Colette's repressed 'good' side, as compared to Du Pere's 'Evil' side. Grace tells Liam to go assassinate herself/Du Pere/Colette.
•	Act 3 is everything after that final reveal.
o	The rebellion sends out assassins to go kill Du Pere and end the war...
o	But on the way there Liam is told by Du Pere's second-in-command that not only does Colette have three personalities (Du Pere/Colette/Grace), but she has a fourth- the psychic hivemind Echo. Echo is the true villain, not Du Pere. 
o	Not only that, but when Grace told Liam to assassinate her at the end of the last act, that was really Echo. Echo wants Colette to be assassinated, because if Colette is assassinated, it will free the hive mind Echo from Colette's moral code, allowing Echo to mind control the entire planet.
o	Liam then captures Du Pere, and saves both of his love interests Colette and Grace from being assassinated.
o	Colette gets some therapy, and no longer has extreme split-personality syndrome. 
Pacing wise, I felt act 2 lasted too long. The protagonists went through too many try-fail cycles trying to get Morgan back. First they attacked the dinner party, then they attacked the university, then the pier, then they went to Nova Solus, then they were ambushed... yada yada... it was too much. One or two try-fail cycles would have been good enough. This is a small quibble overall; the book is only 400 pages long, so having a slightly protracted middle isn't too great a problem.
('Try-fail cycles' are events when the protagonist tries to achieve something, but fails. The protagonist then repeats this plotpoint again and again, failing again and again. The purpose of an author using try-fail cycles is to build up tension so that when the protagonist finally succeeds that that success feels more 'earned.')
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PLOT, STAKES AND TENSION
I enjoyed the plot here on both a thematic level. It had a mildly slow start, until the rebel attack on the political rally, and it was slow again when the heroes were trying to regain Morgan. Other than that, I really enjoyed almost every moment of this story.
I enjoyed the book's tension. Liam was an ethical person who refused to kill people needlessly (his enemies were mind controlled, so killing them would be cruel), so the tension was naturally raised by the fact that Liam struggled to not kill his enemies, while his enemies were actively trying to kill him. I also enjoyed the tension of the unknown: this was a conspiracy story, so unravelling the various layers of illusion, propaganda and conspiracy innately had strong tension to it.
I wasn't really sold on the book's stakes. If you read very many of my reviews you'll know that I don't generally like 'the end of the world' stakes. But that's a personal taste sort of thing; it bothered me but might not bother you.
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AUTHORIAL VOICE (TONE, PROSE AND THEME)
I liked the author's prose. It's beautiful, but not ostentatiously beautiful. Occasionally while reading this, I was left feeling jealous at the author's skill with the pen.
The book's tone was serious, but not particularly dark/grimdark.
The book had a theme of control, both direct control (via mind control) and propaganda. It had themes of mental illness across multiple characters.
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SETTING, WORLDBUILDING AND ORIGINALITY 
I liked the setting and worldbuilding. You don't see deco-punk every day. And the whole biological mind control bacteria reminded me of Bioshock's sea slugs in a big way, along with the battle mechs in this reminding me of the Big Daddies from Bioshock. 
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AUDIOBOOK NOTES
I listened to the audiobook, and it was very good. The narrator did a good job with the accents. 
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LESSONS LEARNED
•	If you have multiple try-fail cycles in a row, make sure there are consequences for each failed cycle. Perhaps by using the "yes, but/no, and" technique.
•	You can stage acts around reveals of important information. This book is a conspiracy story; so the reveals of secrets worked well as act breaks.
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SUMMARY
This is a great book, and at moments excellent. Read it if you're interested in a 1920's-inspired story with battle mechs, mind control and mental illness.
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In his sci-fi debut, Absynthe, Brendan Bellecourt (a.k.a. Bradley Beaulieu) explores an alternate roaring 20s where a shell-shocked soldier named Liam Mulcahey must uncover latent telepathic abilities to save himself and the people around him. This is a story that blends the lines between the best of historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy to tell the tale of a shell-shocked soldier with unnatural abilities. 10 years ago, Liam Mulcahey was part of a group known as the Devil's Henchmen. 
 
Each of the soldiers was injected with an experimental drug that enhanced their abilities in a war against the St. Lawrence Pat which included Germany, France, Canada, and England. Most of the war was fought on US soil. Unfortunately for Liam, his memories were suppressed, and those in charge claimed it was because of a head wound. Now years later, he works as a mechanic for the wealthy family of his closest friend Morgan. When he joins Morgan and his socialite friends at a Chicago speakeasy he meets the beguiling, mysterious Grace, and partakes of the hallucination-inducing spirit absynthe.
 
Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories which includes flashbacks to his time during the war. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but when his former Commander and current President De Pere learns of it, he orders his militia to eliminate Liam at any cost. But Liam’s abilities are expanding quickly. When Liam turns the tables and digs deeper into De Pere’s plans, he discovers a terrible secret. 
 
Liam must come to terms with what all this means, even as starts regaining some of his past abilities. As things become increasingly complicated by the unrest caused by a hidden power struggle between shadowy factions in the government, Liam must figure out who to trust before those who want him silenced can get to him first. The same experiment that granted Liam’s abilities was bent toward darker purposes. Liam must navigate both his enemies and supposed allies to stop the President’s nefarious plans before they’re unleashed on the world. And Grace is hiding secrets of her own, secrets that could prove every bit as dangerous as the President’s.
 
Overall, Absynthe is a fast-paced, high-energy romp through speakeasies and the jazz-infused culture of the 20s with unnerving parallels to modern times. Liam is a character who puts his friends first above all else. And, even though this book is allegedly a standalone, there is possibilities that a sequel could be written in the near future.
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Interesting and an amazing world building, definitely a wonderful read, however there is a lack of action that the book had some much potential
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Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt sounded like it was going to be exactly my cup of tea. I usually historical fantasy and alternate history, especially set during the Roaring '20s, but this just didn't quite hit the mark. It was solid, but disappointing compared to my expectations.
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Let’s just get this out of the way.  I loved this book.  I had a lot of fun reading it.  It’s set in an alternate history 1920’s after World War 1.  A war in which The United States were the aggressors.  That made for a very interesting plot point, let me tell you.   Liam and his squad were given an experimental treatment that allowed them to use telepathy between them.  It made them extremely efficient.  But somewhere along the way, Liam lost his memory, and when Grace comes along to unlock it, well, that’s when the fun begins. 

I really enjoyed the twists and turns in this book.  Some of them I saw coming, and others I did not.  I thought I had the big twist figured out, but alas, I was wrong.  It was nice to be wrong…for a change. 

This book does take you on a bit of a journey through Liam’s history.  It will flash back to his time in the service for a chapter, sometimes two, to help move the plot along.  But it does it well.  Sure, there are some overly done expositiony bits, but I actually enjoyed those.  And that’s a testament to how much I liked this book, because usually, I do not like those moments.

The characters were vibrant and engaging.  However, it does feel like Grace, who is an important character, doesn’t get enough page time.  Which is disappointing, but also makes sense given the scope of the story.  Liam is hopelessly lost at the start of the book, and it’s fascinating to watch him start to put his life back together as he searches for his kidnapped friend, Morgan.

The setting of an alternative America was fun to explore.  I loved getting to see prohibition era Chicago.  And it’s also kind of steampunk-esque, with its mechanized men and the hoppers they used to fight in the Great War.  To say anything else about the setting would give away plot points, so I’ll just avoid doing that for your reading enjoyment. 

I would say that you need to read this. It’s a very fun, twisty read that will leave you guessing until the very end. 5 stars.
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4.0
Bill
Absynthe: Read it with the titular drink in hand for some extra fun
Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt (Bradley Beaulieu)


Absynthe is the new novel by Brendan Bellecourt, the pen name of Bradley Beaulieu, author of the excellent SONG OF THE SHATTERED SAND series. Talk about a change.  Beaulieu leaves the desert far behind to head for the big noisy city in a complex Jazz Age/Psi-powers tale set in an alt-history US. 

A decade ago America fought the Great War with the St. Lawrence Pact made up of Great Britain, Canada, France, and Germany. Liam Mulcahey is a veteran of that war, now working as a mechanic in Chicago, hanging out with his best friend and employer’s son Morgan, and taking care of his grandmother Nana.  When he and Morgan attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new train and overseen by the current President, Leland De Pere (Liam’s former commander), violence breaks out via an attack by The Uprising, a group of rebels who seek “to expose the evils the government had committed both during and after the war.” Then, more violence at a party they attend leaves Morgan wounded and the two on the run.  

Soon Liam founds himself caught up in the conflict between the rebels and De Pere’s government, a conflict far stranger than he could have guessed, one that is linked to his activity in the war, which Liam had never been able to recall though now his memories are starting to surface. Joining him and Morgan are friends new and old:
Clay: a wounded veteran from Liam’s old unit who now is part of The Uprising
Max Kohler: another veteran of Liam’s unit, a brutal man who is now De Pere’s second in command
Bailey: Clay’s tough as nails wife
Allistair: a mechanika that worked as chauffer and bodyguard to Morgan’s family 
Grace: an heiress working with the Uprising
Colette: the scientist who, Liam gradually recalls, worked on a serum that gave psi powers to Liam’s old unit
Stasa Kovacs: another scientist, this one working with The Uprising

The novel moves at a good pace throughout and on a basic plotting level throws a number of exciting scenes at the reader, such as the aforementioned attacks at the train event and the party, along with more gun fights, tense infiltrations of guarded compounds, aerial combat, leaps onto the roofs of moving trains, and flashbacks to battles from the war. Some of these scenes are further heightened by the presence of inhuman or enhanced humans, such as Allistair’s form of mechanika (Allistair has a Gatling gun built into one of his arms) or far larger and more dangerous war machines called Golitaths.  Meanwhile, the slow reveal of Liam’s activities during the war adds a nice bit of ongoing suspense throughout and keeps the reader on their toes with regard to who can and cannot be trusted (including for at least a while perhaps even Liam himself).

But while the plot more than suffices for entertainment’s sake, the strength of the book lies in its subjects/themes.  As much as this is a glittering world of high-speed trains, zeppelins, and glimmering green drinks, it’s also a world where mechanika are thrown into dumps when no longer “useful” (something that becomes even more horrific the more we learn), where (in no echo whatsoever I’m sure) veterans are forgotten once the war is over, leaders take a “win at all costs” mentality, and the country is ripping itself into factions.  That glossy candy shell over a rotting core is nicely mirrored by the psi powers that lie at the center of the science fiction element (and it is more science than fantasy) in that that allow for not just mind manipulation but also the creation of detailed, massive illusions that affect entire populations, not just an individual or two.  Thus, the question of what is real (or is anything real) is a philosophical conundrum that Bellecourt/ Beaulieu spends a good amount of time exploring (it also makes the title drink particularly appropriate).

Somewhat tied into that is the idea of identity and personhood (after all, aren’t we products both of our realities and our illusions? Or maybe, for some of us, delusions?).  This comes into play in several ways besides the illusion vs. reality aspect. One is the loss of memory affecting Liam — how can he truly know who he is if he is missing large portions of his past?  Is he a product of experiences he doesn’t recall? Or is he a product of only those he can remember? And if he starts regaining memories, is he reverting back to an older self, staying the same, or becoming an amalgamation of selves?  What about the mechanika? Are they mere automatons or more?  To say anymore on the topic would take us into spoiler land, so I’ll just say I appreciated the thoughtful examination of these ideas throughout.  I’ll also note that the resolution also adds some depth of thought, i.e. goes beyond tying up plot points with a “climactic battle” where the good folks win, and the bad folks get their just desserts. But that even more obviously would involve spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.

So plot is exciting often tense, and richly complicated (I’d say in a good way, but some readers may wish for a little less complexity), while themes are serious and thoughtful. If there’s an element that felt a little weak, and it was only a little, it was the characters.  I can’t quite pin down why this is, but they generally felt a little flat to me. Not in the “I didn’t care what happened to them” fashion, nor in a “cardboard cutout” fashion, but they just didn’t feel completely full-blooded to me. Which is maddeningly abstract I know. But it’s all I’ve got.  That said, while I might have felt more fully immersed in the book with a stronger engagement with the characters, I can’t say I felt it detracted from the reading experience. Which is why Absynthe is an easy recommendation.
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I’m sure I’m not the only person to have missed the fact that Absynthe was written by Bradley P. Beaulieu under a pseudonym, which explains why I enjoyed the story so much. He masterfully crafted a whole world in his Song of the Shattered Sands series and though this is leagues different, it is once again a fascinating world. While I personally thought it was great, I can certainly see how this alternate history/sci-fi mashup could be somewhat polarizing in terms of enjoyment. 

First off, imagine a steampunk version of the 1920s where technology has advanced a fair bit further than in our own timeline. Lots of robots, flying is much more commonplace, and fancy bullet trains are the new hot topic. BUT, then imagine that the United States was the instigator of World War I and that we were facing off against an alliance consisting of Canada, France, Great Britain, and Germany. Much of the war was fought in the United States around the Great Lakes region and it all started because the United States decided to steal research from Germany, which would ultimately lead to the creation of a mind-altering drug. Initially, during the war the drug was tested on an elite group of soldiers who called themselves the Devil’s Henchmen and it gave them the ability to briefly use telekinesis to communicate which gave them an incredible advantage on the battlefield. By the end of the war, it was developed to the point that it became a permanent state.

Enter our main character - Liam Mulcahey - former member of the Devil’s Henchman and one of the only ones still alive. The kicker is that he remembers none of this because he apparently suffered a traumatic injury that stripped him of many of his wartime memories. When we first meet him, he’s accompanying his longtime friend Morgan to the inauguration of a new bullet train by the President himself. He’s excited because he served with President de Pere during the war and is looking forward to seeing both the new train and de Pere’s speech… until a rebel group attacks the event and Liam sees something he shouldn’t have. He’s then attacked while at a speakeasy, but is saved by a woman named Grace who introduces him to an old friend and clarifies some things about his past. What happens afterward is a wild ride, full of illusion, conspiracies, and trying to save Morgan from a terrible fate. 

This was such a cool, creative story and it was not what I expected on many levels. It was a far more alternate history than I was expecting, which I do think will throw some readers for a loop and possibly put them off. The synopsis doesn’t quite expound on how different it is, but I personally enjoyed that surprise after my initial WTF moment. I like the sci-fi/steampunk elements and the supersoldier aspect of the story, PLUS then you get into government mind-control stuff which was pretty wild too. This is hands down one of the craziest stories I’ve read this year and it was GREAT! The plot was unpredictable, mostly because this was very different from my usual reads, but I like throwing in something new and fun for my reading list. If this sounds like your jam, please do check it out!
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There are so many things I liked about Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt (a.k.a. Bradley Beaulieu writing under a pseudonym for his first foray into Science Fiction) that when I sat down to write this, I struggled to organize my thoughts into a coherent review. I had this overwhelming urge to gush and simply list all the disparate pieces of this book that resonated with me. But upon further reflection (and after tempering my initial impulse), I realized that these various elements all contribute to a singular purpose that can be summarized quite succinctly: to present the reader with a uniquely expansive and unexpectedly harsh world that makes the book’s simple message about love and the essence of humanity that much more profound.

More often than not, when I find myself captivated by a speculative fiction novel, intriguing world-building plays an especially significant role. I can point to several novels that have caught my interest due to their unique and imaginative world-building, and to this day these books stand out in my memory for their ability to transport me to a world so unlike anything I might have expected. The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams and An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock immediately come to mind; Absynthe now falls high on this list.

Imagine if WWI had taken place on American soil, the final, definitive battle on the shores of Lake Michigan in a suburb of Milwaukee. And then imagine that WWI warfare was augmented with mechanikal exoskeletons called Hoppers and performance-enhancing biotech. Absynthe provides readers with a well-crafted and vivid “decopunk” aesthetic, inventing a world where tommy guns and flights of absynthe in jazz-filled speakeasies exist alongside automata with human intelligence, zeppelins, and bullet trains that connect Chicago with the new capital of Nova Solis. The world-building is rich and encompassing from pinstripe suits and flapper dresses to the Saint Lawrence Pact of nations allied against the US. It transports you to a world with roots in our reality, but wholly reimagined, providng ample setting for the themes of the mysterious and winding plot.

(Aside: As a Milwaukee native, this book resonated with me in a very special way. If I said this book’s setting didn’t have anything to do with my interest, it would be a bold-faced lie! I never realized how satisfying it would be to read a genre novel set in the city in which I grew up and still utterly adore. The local references to places like Lake Geneva, the Kinnickinnic River, Whitefish Bay, and Dinkel’s were like a warm hug of familiarity that I didn’t know I needed.)

But it is also a harsh world in which veterans are used and discarded, where soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress, their mortal wounds often healed with mechanikal appendages and devices, citizens are injected with mysterious serums, and factions within the US undermine the trust of the government and each other. Bellencourt presents the evils of war and humanizes them through the struggles of his characters; Liam’s constant flashbacks, Clay’s inability to accept a life bound to mechaniks, and the revelation of Alistair’s true nature all contribute to a moral commentary on the true cost of war in the humanity that is lost in its aftermath.

The plot is a fast-paced mystery in which the main character Liam struggles to piece together the truth surrounding the tensions between, and intentions of, the government he fought for and the Uprising that is helping restore the vestiges of his shattered memory. The serums, their application, their evolution, and their interplay create an evocative SciFi plot that will have you theorizing and reading well into the night! As the truth about the serums is slowly revealed, and the pieces of the puzzle start to come together, Liam begins to question his actions and those of his leaders, the nature of his most important relationships, and ultimately what is needed to defeat the rising evil that threatens them all. His relationships are powerful in their diversity – he takes comfort from caring for his Nana, he’s devoted to his best friend Morgan, and he develops romantic feelings for Colette. But at the core of each relationship is an unconditional love, something that defines them as completely human and ultimately provides their deliverance. I found Liam’s realization and the subsequent ending heartfelt, infused with a message I think we all need right now.

Creative and intricate world-building and strong themes delivered through a griping and fast-paced plot are sure to capture any reader of Beaulieu’s debut Science Fiction novel.
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I think this one is going to be another one that you love or hate. I liked the characters and the science fiction feel but the alternative history was really weird.  The flow was good and the ending was ok.
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