Within several hours of writing my piece last week, I had already finished reading 1636: The Devil’s Opera, meaning that I went through it in slightly more than one day despite several interruptions. It’s an addictive delight, just as I had anticipated it would be. In that way, it is completely in keeping with what I’ve come to expect from Eric Flint, and from his 1632 series. And now I want to go back to see what else David Carrico has on offer. He seems promising, and if his other works are anywhere near as good as this one, I’ll be happy to read them. Now then, about this book…
I’m really not sure how to talk about this book without also talking about the other books in the series. You will probably enjoy reading this book on its own, but there are so many parts of it which play into the details of the other novels in the series that I can’t help but recommend that you read them all. If it helps any, I have to say that I’ve loved nearly every book in the series that I’ve read. If you like Eric Flint’s personal style, I suspect that you will like all of them too.
I feel a great deal of admiration for the pacing and denouement of The Devil’s Opera. Apart from one short scene (which I’ll discuss in a separate section with spoiler warnings) I was very impressed by how well they managed to foreshadow what was coming so clearly that I had no doubts, and yet still pull me along and engage me with the story and the characters. I envy their capability.
I’m also impressed that they managed to have both a Biblical parable / tragedy storyline and an investigative drama storyline running along in tandem without any dangerous sense of disunity. While there was certainly separation between the two story arcs, their intersections helped to mould the story into something even better. And their two very different focuses gave the authors a way to switch back and forth between scenes in a way that allowed them to build additional tension and heighten my interest very effectively.
And let’s not forget that the book also has revolutionary music to move the heart and soul of a nation! Now that I’ve finally seen Les Miserables, I have a better appreciation for the place of the song Do You Hear The People Sing. I really like it. But if anything the song takes on even deeper meaning for me in the context of The Devil’s Opera. There’s something that I find very moving about Flint’s persistent faith in the general goodness of humanity as represented by the people of the 1632 universe (speaking of stories that inspire us to be better towards each other). And in the socio-political context of that setting, I find this use of the song to be especially powerful. Rather than being a (heartfelt) song sung by the pampered revolutionary idealists whose revolution will fail (sorry Marius & co.), it’s a song that is embraced wholeheartedly by the working class of a newly rising nation and held as a symbol of their resistance against the reactionary nobility that wishes to turn back the clock. I don’t think I can do it sufficient justice.
Anyway, that short scene I said I had some trouble with? It’s the final resolution to the noir-mystery storyline. There had been moments earlier in the story when the narrator pulled back and revealed additional and unexpected information, mentioning that people were being watched or that unknown figures were involved, but nothing especially clear was ever laid out. I suspect that that would be fine on its own in a novel that is only about a murder investigation… and if I had truly been paying careful attention, I might have been more aware of who the secret observer / surprise-criminal was rather than simply guessing correctly based on who was present at the final scene of the investigation. But it felt odd and disorienting to have two very different styles of foreshadowing and revelation working alongside each other (one style for each storyline) without any clear attempt to make them more cohesive for the single novel.
The truth is that there was nothing really wrong with the way that they developed and foreshadowed either storyline. It’s simply that in combination they seem rather odd. And I, of course, settle in favor of the Biblical allusions, because those foreshadowings were the ones that I thought were more carefully crafted and which seemed more dramatically appropriate. You’ll have to let me know whether you think so as well.
p.s. I am currently visiting my family, and may thus miss a post or two in the upcoming few weeks.