David Hambling kindly informed me of his latest book, so I went out and bought it. I even read it. (I met an author once who told me, when I said I didn’t know when I’d have time to read his new book, “I don’t care if you read it. Just buy it.”)
Review: War of the God Queen, David Hambling, 2020.
David Hambling’s newest Cthulhu Mythos story is a radical departure for him. His previous Mythos stories have been in contemporary settings or in the London of the 1920s.
This one takes place in the Bronze Age in an area approximating Iran.
Jessica Morton, whom we last saw falling through the floor in Hambling’s “The Dulwich Horror of 1927”, ends up there.
The story opens with two old school chums of William Blake, the narrator of that story, showing up at Blake’s home. They’ve got a remarkable set of photographs: a carved-in-stone account by Jessica about her life in the past.
As pluck and luck would have it, Jessica plummets down some kind of dimensional wormhole and into a compound where Cthulhu spawn (known to the locals as Tulu) are keeping a bunch of slave women to breed with, but she falls in with a band of semi-nomads. Fortunately, the leader of that band is Amir, a relatively gentle warrior who mostly wants revenge on Tulu monsters. Amir regards Jessica as a goddess sent to help him in his revenge.
Jessica is careful to note she brings few skills to direct a war or help her to get home. She is no warrior like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. She has no loyal aide or supplies like Robinson Crusoe. (Hambling could have added that she also doesn’t have a pocket full of useful items like the castaways in Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island.) Her field of study was architecture, and her only practical skill is bricklaying.
The main turning point is when she convinces Amir to rescue some of the other women in the Tulu compound. They come from a variety of ages and place from Illi of the Paeolithic Age to Izabel, a Brazilian of the mid-21st century. They do have a variety of skills.
The book plots how Jessica and her handmaidens turn the semi-nomads into a group of sedentary, fortified people who wage war on the Tulu. Along the way, the locals get alcoholic beverages (wine and distilled), grave markers, opium and better medical care, and metal working.
Hambling does a good job portraying the conflict between the conservative men who resent the changes and those who like them, the political scheming of Nergal (Amir’s brother), the attempts by the nearest city, Stone, to subvert Jessica’s Wintertown, and the unification of the steppe nomads. Amir and Jessica end up leading the nomads, bandits turned fighters, and a sort of crusading order dedicated to fighting the Tulu monsters.
But it is not only the locals that are in conflict. The handmaidens are too. Should and can they get home? What should they specialize in? Will they marry or have sex with the locals? Do they object to the local versions of slavery or prostitution? Hambling makes his women and their accomplishments pretty realistic. Izabel comes closest to the cliché of the warrior babe with her athleticism and abilities with a spear and interest in military affairs stemming from being a hardcore virtual reality gamer in her time. But she isn’t depicted as besting a skilled man in single combat, just battling monsters. Illit is more of a stealthy hunter and scout than direct warrior.
While I liked the depictions of battling the Tulus, I was just as interested in Jessica’s and her handmaidens’ transformation of the world they have been exiled to.
While it’s not necessary to have read any of Hambling’s other stories to appreciate this one, speculations come to mind if you have. Are a mysterious figure and her acolytes spiritual or direct ancestors to Estelle de Vere and her shadowy TDS organization with its scorched-earth policy? Did the Daniel who shows up in Jessica’s dreams somehow survive his immolation in “The Dulwich Horror of 1927”?
So, this is not only a new direction for Hambling but a successful start to a trilogy. My sole complaint about this book is its dreadfully generic and unmemorable title which may hamper its exposure.