Thursday, June 30, 2011

Musings: Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar
Lavie Tidhar's Camera Obscura is the second book in a series that started with The Bookman.  I did not read The Bookman, however, and did not find it difficult to understand Camera Obscura at all- it takes place in a different country, with an entirely new set of characters, and while it probably mentions some characters from the previous volume in passing, it is not done in any fashion that impedes your understanding of this book.

That said, I don't really think I understood this book at all.  There is a Milady, an agent for the Quiet Council, a group of automatons that has been in charge of France since the Quiet Revolution.  The Quiet Council has set Milady the task of finding an object that was stolen during a gruesome locked-room murder, an object that appears capable of taking over people's bodies and causing them to do strange things.  Concurrent to this is the secondary story of Kai, a young Southeast Asian who gets his hands on a jade statue that everyone in the whole world seems to want.  The two stories converge only near the end, though they reference each other throughout.

I really don't think I can confidently say what this book was about.  Like many steampunk novels, it centers around something that could potentially destroy the world, but I don't think this thing was properly explained, and the ending was so rushed that I can't say that I have any real idea of what happened.  There were also so many characters, many of whom lied or double-crossed or switched sides, that I didn't know what was going on.  I honestly finished the book without knowing if the plot was wrapped up or if it was left hanging.  Though I don't know if this is the book's fault, really, as based on other reviews, everyone else understood what was going on and enjoyed the book, but I just was completely lost!

One thing I did enjoy about this one were all the literary references.  They're not so integral that if you don't know your classics, it will impede your enjoyment of the novel, but they are there in a way that if you see them and understand them, it makes you feel as though the author is giving you a sly wink over a secret shared joke.  There are the Dumas references, starting first with the name of the main character, Milady, and continuing with many references to the Three Musketeers.  There's a man in the iron mask, a Gason, a d'Artagon.  That's not all, though.  The Marquis de Sade makes an appearance, as does Mycroft Holmes.  Dr. Moreau of the famed island is mentioned briefly and there is a man named Viktor who does some shady operations.

I also enjoyed the alternative Paris (and Chicago!) that Tidhar created.  There is much hinted at but not explained, much shown but not told.  Tidhar also has an entire world literally at his beck and call.  His first novel took place in England and this one took place in France, but he could go to Asia and the Americas (Vespuccias?) if he wanted, and have really fascinating worlds and alternate histories there.

I liked much of the background and asides of this story, though I am positive that I didn't understand the main plot.  I may well do a Google search for "Camera Obscura spoilers" to see if someone can explain to me exactly what happened.  There was also a lot of violence in this book- quite graphic violence, too, so it's possible I was skimming some pages that detailed exactly what was going on because I didn't want to read about the agony characters were going through.  Definitely an interesting book, but not my favorite.

Note:  I received an e-book of this novel to review.


  1. *gets confused too*
    I do not think I could enjoy a book where the plot is confusing

  2. Sorry to hear it was confusing, but all the literary references do sound fun. While I really like the concept of steampunk and the premises of a lot of steampunk novels, I've yet to find one that I REALLY love. Maybe I should just read Leviathan - it's been on my tbr for long enough, after all.

  3. I also think that this one sounds confusing, and just reading your summary paragraph, I could tell that there was a lot going on there, and that perhaps it was muddled. Another thing that turns me off about this book is that there are so many ill-defined characters. I just finished a book that had this problem, and it drove me batty. While I like the idea of reading a steampunk novel, and have a few of them on my shelf, I don't think this is a series that I will be taking a chance on, because frankly, if you didn't understand it, there is probably no hope that I will either!

  4. I like the premise of steampunk novels but I haven't read one yet that I truly love. This one sounds muddled, but intriguing nonetheless. Too bad there's so much violence.

  5. I can shed no light on the main plot and what it all means, BUT I am poking my head in to say, "Automaton" is a hilarious word. Say it. Say it. It's such a funny word. It's so fun to say. Automaton. Automaton. Even funnier? Use it as an insult. Oh my God I love this word.

  6. Hm, sounds interesting enough but a bit convoluted -- I've got this on my review queue but may bump it lower. Steampunk is appealing to me but not being quite a techy a fair bit goes over my head!

  7. This book sounds. . . complicated. If you didn't understand it, I know that I won't. I hope your next read is better.

  8. I also just read a book that left me confused as to what had happened and if the plot had been wrapped up. I'm too much of a wimp to to admit it though, since no one else seems to have this problem.
    I did read the Bookman and think you will enjoy it if you like the literary references and it wasn't a particularly confusing story though it did have some inconsistencies that nagged at me a bit.

  9. On the one hand, I want to read this, but on the other hand I think I should pass...

  10. This just sounds too confusing for my poor addled summer brain!


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