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Theater of Spies
Black Chamber #2
by S.M. Stirling
Ace, $17.00 TPB, 449pp
Published: May 2019

This is an alternate history story that hinges on President William Taft dying in office in 1912 rather than in 1930.  Because of this, Theodore Roosevelt, who served as President from 1901-1909, decided to run again and take back the Presidency. 

This put him back in charge during the days of WWI and he had some very definite ideas on how to conduct warfare.  One of his programs was a black ops unit called Black Chamber, a group of spies who were highly trained as operatives and assassins who could be sent anywhere.  The focus of the story is on a female operative named Luz O’Malley Arostegui. 

Luz and Ciara are now lovers and happily creating a family in California when they are called by their country once more to save the world.  While the spector of the horrendous horror-gas still looms, the U.S. intelligence service now believes the Germans have yet another technological marvel to unleash on the world.  Luz and Ciara travel to Berlin crossing the war-torn continent having little adventures along the way by way of running into other spies; which gives Luz a lot of opportunity to drill Ciara in more tradecraft.  Once in Berlin, their job is to infiltrate a particular factory – which they do in style.  But time is not on their side as Horst and German intelligence have discovered that Luz is on the continent and it’s only a matter of time before Horst figures out their target.  Neither realizes just how close the race is until everything comes together.  Luz won’t let anything deter her from her purpose and Horst, who has developed a truly deep hatred of her, isn’t likely to let anything deter him from his purpose: to kill her.

This one was a lot more enjoyable than the first story.  This might be due to my deeper familiarity with the characters but I do think the author handled them better this time out.  There was a lot less exposition and the personal conversations felt less forced.  His focus seems to be mostly on world-building; we get a real up-close-and-personal view of a devastated Europe.  He’s also quite interested in presenting a gay relationship that is loving, stable and solid in a time when gay people would have been in terror of discovery every minute of their lives.  It’s also a bit of stretch to believe that so many around them would be so accepting of their blatant gay relationship.  It is quite charming if a little hard to believe.

As an espionage spy story, it is acceptable.  Not exactly on the same scale as the spy novels of the 1960s; it works better as an alternate history story, of course.  I wouldn’t turn down another story with Luz, depending on the plot. It isn’t my perfect cuppa, but I enjoyed it.  ~~  Catherine Book

For more titles by S. M. Stirling click here

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