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by Hannu Rajaniemi
Tor, HB $25.99, 302 pages
Published: June 2018

Alternative history gets served with a supernatural twist in this consideration of espionage in the late 1930’s. Russia and Britain are hard at the Great Game, but it is Iberia, rather than India, that is currently getting the attention of their best agents. If Spain becomes Communist, annexed by Russia in all but name, the menace to England will suddenly be much closer and more pointed. Not all the best agents are alive. It is possible to communicate with those who have passed the threshold via etheric devices like the ectophone, and crossing over into Summerland does not seem to radically affect the interests or allegiances of the dead, so they continue to serve their causes.

Rachel White is one agent and Peter Bloom is another, and of course it is extremely difficult to assess which side any player is actually on, especially since there are never merely two sides in the Great Game. The playing field is much more faceted than that, for everyone plays for personal goals, not just for the Side. Double agents and Sleepers are forever caught in a Mirror game.  Rachel has a tendency to play a very close game and to take gusty, gutsy chances, like interrupting a public duel of honor in an effort to keep a Russian agent alive. Not all her superiors like her or her work. As for Bloom, he is effectively a rogue agent. He is following a broken trail that involves the Winter Court, and his goals seem very much at odds with Rachel’s assignment, yet she comes to trust him more than her handlers. 

Riveting as the plot is, it is the characters who captivate you as you read this uncommon gem of speculative fiction. The ending contains, or perhaps ‘expresses’ is a better word, one of the quietest, most heartfelt statements of hope I have ever read (p 299). 

I loved The Quantum Thief trilogy by Rajaniemi, struck by how closely he weaves understated romance with time-and-spacefaring adventure. Summerland brings the sense of wonder, danger, possibility, and the soul-preserving power of love to a closer point in the contiuum.   ~~ Chris Wozney

For other books by Hannu Rajaniemi click here

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