Much like this post, Rod Rees’ Winter is the first in a series. I found it, literally, in a box of new books I was unpacking. It looks delicious – shiny, with an old-fashioned globe on the front. It also has a killer series title – The Demi-Monde. Further inspection reveals it lives up to its promise.
The premise is that the United States military has developed a virtual reality training programme that fully immerses soldiers in a created world. Locked in a kind of Victorian steampunk era, the Demi-Monde is populated with historical figures, and not nice ones.
In order to replicate the reality of today’s ‘asymmetric warfare’, with its unholy mix of terrorism, warlords, drug cartels and factions, the world is divided into four quarters, each with a particular social or religious profile, then stacked with despots and megalomaniacs, from Crowley to Heydrich, Robespierre to Beria, and more.
It sounds complicated, but it isn’t, once you get the hang of it. The sympathetic lead is a young woman called Ella who (for various reasons) is the only one who can enter the world and save the President’s kidnapped daughter. From this angle, it’s a simple thriller adventure plot.
I have to say the characters aren’t as easy to bond with as I’d have liked, but the story and the audacious concept make up for this. It’s an incredibly detailed and beautifully realised world, and I’m hanging out for number two already. Oh, and as an ‘extra for experts’ kind of bonus, the website for the books is a thing of true beauty.
One out of the box is a regular series of new material available at your library.