Sometimes I wonder if I’m a little too generous with my stars given (in this case it’s a four), but I can’t deny that the Janus Affair was skillfully written with great depth and attention to detail. Any annoyances I suffered came as a result of my very niche tastes, and I know not everyone will agree with my views. I also tend to avoid giving reviews for any books below four stars, partly because of professional courtesy, and partly because I just can’t be bothered to finish anything less than a four star book these days anyway. I think I can even count on one hand the number of times I went so far.
First the positives: This is a very strong steampunk adventure novel. The world is rich and vibrant with imaginative technology. The characters are oh-so-very British (or colonial, depending on who we are focusing on) but it’s all great fun. I wonder why the authors insist on calling Eliza a “colonial pepper pot” when the story keeps focusing sympathetically on a feminist movement. I mean, wouldn’t she object? But the description is used less in this book than the last, I think. I read the first book right when it first came out, so I’m late to the party on the second. I actually like the plot better in The Janus Affair than Phoenix Rising, mostly because it maintains a level of fantastic adventure without somehow getting into an almost sleazy pulp-fiction quality I felt from the first. (Rutting nobles in a pseudo-cult out to dominate the world? Sure. I know you just wanted to write in an orgy, guys. It’s okay. We’re all adults here.)
Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris really do achieve a level of epicness in their books, both in the scope of their plot and characters. Their antagonists are decidedly villainous, and their schemes indeed both clever and dastardly. They weave in details with care, timing things to such a degree that you feel a sense of admiration at their story-weaving. What’s great about their stories is that you can envision them as blockbuster movies with their larger-than-life characters striking poses and making funny quips, while at the same time managing a depth and fallacy in their being that feels both sympathetic and real.
Now for the…possible negatives? Depends on if you’re like me, really. If you don’t care about these things, then The Janus Affair is really a five star book for you, and you should check it out. But me? I like to focus on the subjective. The sticky, tricky, icky relationships that people have with each other are important to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a romance or a mystery or a horror. It’s the relationships of the characters that allow me to best relate and sympathize with them. Not how they solve problems or how freaking clever they are. I will say this though: if I AM reading something that is going to bother with romance, then damn it, I want the romance to be central in some way, not a hanger-on to the “action packed plot”. Otherwise, don’t bother. I don’t like canned romance, like the variety you get from action movies. “Every cishet hero needs a girl to kiss at the end!” No thank you.
I don’t like it when stories go in between The Notebook level of romance, and the amount of romantic focus you get out of Big Trouble in Little China either.
Sadly, I feel this is exactly where The Janus Affair falls on the romance quality spectrum.
The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Book 2 picks up roughly close to where the first ended (apparently there was an interlude that I missed, but it seemed hardly important.) In the first adventure, Phoenix Rising, Books and Braun definitely exhibit signs of a mutual attraction to one another, but because of their adventure and their personality differences things just don’t get happenin’. In the second book, safe to say, we see a bit more movement there. I just wished there had been more…passion? Emotional connection?
For instance, and I’ll try not to spoil things, there is one portion of the book where Eliza does a pretty selfish, ditzy thing to Books, and though she realizes her mistake, there is NO RECONCILIATION for it, whatsoever. Nope, in Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’ book, we just pull up stakes and keep moving, missing a prime moment to really stop and focus on the developing relationship of our two lead characters. I mean sure, we get there towards the end with some catharsis, but would it really have killed the authors to inject a little more focus on the budding romance? It’s a major part of Books and Braun’s dynamic, I certainly don’t think it would have harmed their precious plot if they had.
But I digress. You see? This is a niche issue. Not everyone wants the same thing like I do. Some might accuse me of trying to squeeze blood from a stone. I’ve made my point, though. I still think The Janus Affair is a damn good steampunk story. MoPO was the first of the genre I read, actually. I’m glad I did. Looking forward to starting the next adventure!
And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!