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The first novel in a brand new alternate history series where Teddy Roosevelt is president for a second time right before WWI breaks out and on his side is the Black Chamber a secret spy network watching America's back1916 The Great War rages overseas and the whole of Europe Africa and western Asia is falling to the Central Powers To win a war that must be won Teddy Roosevelt once again the American president turns to his top secret Black Chamber organization and its cunning and deadly spy Luz O'Malley Aróstegui On a transatlantic airship voyage Luz poses as an anti American Mexican revolutionary to get close very close to a German agent code named Imperial Sword She'll need every skill at her disposal to get him to trust her and lead her deep into enemy territory In the mountains of Saxony concealed from allied eyes the German Reich's plans for keeping the US from entering the conflict are revealed the deployment of a new diabolical weapon upon the shores of America

10 thoughts on “The Black Chamber

  1. says:

    I'm a big fan of alternate histories particularly when they are done well and Stirling creates an alternate universe in rather precise detail It's World War I and a nearly victorious Germany is dominating continental Europe Back in North America Teddy Roosevelt has just been elected president again tough charming knowledgeable And backed by a secret spy network known as the Black Chamber Move over James Bond the premier agent in this network is the stunningly beautiful Cuban Irish American Luz O' Malley who fights like Wonder Woman without the magic bracelets She's tough clever charming and thoroughly modern in outlook Annie Oakley in a dress The use of airships zeppelins including luxury cruise liners almost gives this a steampunk feel It is very detailed and thought out The action when it occurs is first rate although some may find it slows its pace at points Overall uite a worthwhile read and the start of a new series

  2. says:

    Posted to the Literary Lawyer A Great Example of Indulgent Writing 2 Stars My first experience with SM Stirling may very well be my last If you are looking for a novel in which you get to experience the author’s fantasies and have the privilege of the author explaining to your the MANY topics he researched to write the book this might be the book for you Synopsis Ignore the canned synopses you will find scattered across the internet Despite it’s claims this is not what I would define an alternate history novel Abandon any hope of a novel that features a larger than life Teddy Roosevelt and his exploits in some alternate time line The story focuses on Luz a female spy of the alternate history version of the Black Chamber the forerunner of the NSA She is tasked with getting close to a German Agent under the guise of a Mexican revolutionary fighter of who's identity she has stolen In a series of serendipitous events her life is saved by a stranger and she stumble upon a secret that is far greater than anyone anticipated On her wits alone she crafts a mission to save the United States from the most diabolical attack they have ever faced Frustratingly Misleading This is what I would define lazy alternate history This may stem from my own understanding this type of the concept It is my expectation that alternate history takes some events of history changes the outcome and explores what might natural occur as a result As an aside I would suggest you watch The Man in High Castle for a great example Maybe even read the book I can't vouch for the original source material In this novel the author allegedly uses Teddy Roosevelt serving a second term before WWII as the catalyst for the story Honestly I am not a student of American History Maybe these events and the fictionalized Black Chamber would have been natural outcomes but realistically this was a massive stretch in an attempt to make the novel seem interesting I Think I was supposed to be Impressed There was detail in this book A LOT of detail From concepts ranging from electrical engineering spy techniues language history submarines rockets and weapons The author did a considerable amount of research on these topics How do I know this The author goes out of his way have the characters spout off lots of facts and details related to each of these and topics My son loves a book series called My Weird School One character loves to show off the fact that she read the dictionary She does this by constantly using big words that no one else understands This is basically what the author has done Instead of using the research to craft detailed descriptions or show realistic working of weapons submarines etc we get a pages devoted to detail and technical specifications It wasn’t impressive it was irritating To make is worse the protagonist often speaks in Spanish without any translation provided My apologies for being fluent in only one language This was a major irritant throughout the bookOn top of the author’s indulgences I found the novel contained a troubling love story that underlies the second half of the novel It is suggested very early that the main female character is a lesbian or bi sexual This is not an issue I only point this out because it is relevant It is how the romance evolves that I found disconcerting At one point in the novel Luz and Ciara the love interestserendipitous partner have a discussion about HG Wells’ The Time Machine In an apparent attempt to show he is aware of the representations of women in literature the characters briefly discuss the trope of the Nubile Savage in The Time Machine While the character shows some apparent awareness the character proceeds to use a mix of “skilled but naïve” and “born sexy yesterday” tropes Ciara is a rather brilliant and beautiful woman who is both naïve about the world as well as her as of yet unexplored sexuality I could not help but feel uncomfortable though the novel as it felt that it was the innocence and naïveté about life and her sexuality that the main character found attractive and appealing The characters pointed out how HG Wells created a love interest that was a “pet with a bosom” while at the same time creating a love interest that was a pet with a bosom that can also do tricks While the love interest does well for herself in the end a love story that resolves around an older experienced character falling for a naïve younger character falling largely because of those specific characteristics is uestionable in my mind On top of what I wrote above the romance was forged during intensely stressful circumstances in which the naïve character had to largely rely on the older experienced character Regardless of your take I find love stories that rely on the ineuality of the parties to be troublesome Final Thoughts Despite the attempt to market the book as something it is not the story is written like an action adventure novel This is not a problem if you are being honest about what you are writing A James Rollins novel may not make it to Oprah’s book club but James Rollins never pretends he is writing anything but action adventure While the story has the trappings of research social consciousness and attention to detail it nothing than a façade covering an adeuately written novel with a uestionable plot and a misleading premise Had the author not tried so hard to convince the reader that this story was something it was not I would have likely been much kinder in my review

  3. says:

    I won this book in a goodreads drawingAn alternative history set in a world where Theodore Roosevelt won the election of 1912 The conditions to bring on World war One are in motion and TR has inaugurated a proto CIA to stop such shenanigansThe heroine of the story Luz O'Malley Arostegui is a personal friend to TR and the only female member of the spy group The Black Chamber She goes on assignment and from there you basically get a Modesty Blaize novel only without WillyPretty decent

  4. says:

    First of a new series set in an alternate WW1 where Teddy Roosevelt won re election in 1912 along with a horrible Great War This book is about an amazingly accomplished young female secret agent of US military intelligence her adventures in Europe and her discovery of a monstrous plan by the Germans view spoiler they have discovered nerve gas and are planning a large scale attack on America's East Coast ports hide spoiler

  5. says:

    There’s common advice from librarians and others that if you reach page 50 in a book and don’t love it you should set it aside and move on I stuck with this book for than three times that amount and I don’t love it I think I could have loved it but as it is I don’tThe author can from a technical view – spelling punctuation syntax etc write However I think he’s out of his comfort zone in this book There’s a story buried in the pages somewhere but it takes so much effort to try to find it It’s clear that the author knows “stuff” and he wants to share it all of it The story is told by the character of Luz a young intelligence agent in 1916 She’s on a mission to learn about what’s happening in Germany during WWI She gets herself into some touchy situations but having joined with German officer Horst both romantically and on official duty she manages to wiggle out of them That sounds good right? But Luz is constantly musing about unrelated things philosophy history food weather combat techniues castle building womens’ fashion piano uality violin uality music composers Electrical Experimenter Magazine the cost of things in 1916 It’s exhausting reading These constant non seuiturs create so much distraction that the story gets lost in the muddleThis is one of a very few books I haven’t finished in many years and I might have stuck with this one until the end if it wasn’t taking such a toll on my patience I want to yell “Get to the point already” But it never does Here’s a sample from about page 150 Luz her German cohorts German high military commanders and another woman are invited to witness a horrific event where hundreds of prisoners are killed in front of their eyes Afterwards the women retire to their room They don’t mention what they’ve just witnessed despite the fact that it made the one woman violently sick to her stomach Instead they conveniently have a piano and violin in their room so they begin to play a duet or two I can see that they might do that to take their minds off of the terrible thing they just saw but all along Luz’s musings wander all over the place from topic to topic none of which have anything to do with what has or will happen or the fact that they are likely in danger I understand that the author wants to show what a well educated and smart young woman Luz is but as I said it’s distracting At the same time Luz who’s undercover reveals her real identity and purpose to this woman she’s just met in a German colonel’s office and knows little to nothing about It seems very unrealisticAlso while the summary for this book says In an alternative 1912 President Taft suddenly dies and Teddy Roosevelt wastes no time in grabbing power as he wins another term as presidentSo far all I’ve seen of Teddy Roosevelt is in the prologue a mere seven pages Luz mentions him from time to time but as far as I can tell with than 40% read this book really doesn’t seem to involve himOne big suggestion if you’re going to tackle this book is to know your WWI era history backward and forwards If not you’ll be lost Also be prepared for some shocks like Hawaii already being the forty ninth state with discussion of how it’s possible that the Philippines andor Puerto Rico could soon become states too There’s no explanation about how Hawaii came to be a state at that time or when exactly it did Also be prepared to find yourself in the midst of a lot of Spanish words and phrases with no attempt at helping you understand their meaning I spent a lot of time on my phone looking up translations as I read along This too makes it hard to follow whatever story there is Later in the book the Spanish seems to ease off a little In it’s place there are German phrases but for these explanations are worked in I never understand why authors think it’s a good idea to dump a lot of foreign language into a book written in English without any attempt to assist the reader in understanding the meaning Also I found the long chapter headings confusing What do the little capital B's in parenthesis mean? Why was it necessary to write them in two languages? I can only hope that some of this was corrected in final editingI find that each time I reach for the book I hesitate to pick it up I willfully start looking for something anything else to do instead of reading further For me that’s a strong sign that I should move on Maybe I’ll come back and finish this story at some point but it won’t be soon There are so many good books out there that are rewarding to read I just can’t justify wasting time reading something that feels like punishmentI appreciate having won an ARC of this book through a Goodreads giveaway but I just can’t force myself to read any further

  6. says:

    Stirling delivers a well written tale as usual but that’s all I can say about it His painstaking descriptions of minutae in both apparel and weaponry seemed to drag interminably I found myself skipping entire pages just to get to the end of an interlude whose outcome wasn’t in uestion If there’s another volume in this saga please count me out

  7. says:

    It's an interesting premise but I kept expecting the main character to think a little deeply about the events in the story and the world around her The idea of a US remade by Teddy Roosevelt and other progressives of his time is fascinating but the fact that the story never really interrogates the less attractive aspects of it like eugenics and Prohibition left my historian self deeply disturbed At times the pace dragged too Other readers may have a different experience with this book but I spent too much time looking for other things to read rather than finish it

  8. says:

    affection for the alternate history subgenre of speculative fiction is no secret I’ve always been enad of the answers to “what if?” uestions that these sorts of stories can provide The idea that one small difference can cause ripples that lead to larger and larger divergences – it makes for fascinating fictionSM Stirling is one of the foremost practitioners of alternate history; his latest is “Black Chamber” the first in a series about a World War I that was significantly different than our own from the enemies being fought and the institutions doing the fighting It’s a strong introduction one that hints at the many differences – large and small – between that history and this oneThe year is 1916 Teddy Roosevelt is the President of the United States having made his way back to the White House after years away His latest foray into the Oval Office has resulted in some bigger bolder initiatives – both domestic and international – that are leading toward an America that is much progressive in some respects yet considerably conservative in othersIn this world rather than wait until WWII for a covert agency ie the OSSCIA to spring up Roosevelt created the Black Chamber a secret organization devoted to espionage and other unsavory work that the powers that be would prefer to see confined to the shadowsLuz is an agent of the Black Chamber highly educated and highly skilled; she’s one of the best they’ve got Her assignment is to infiltrate the upper echelon of the German effort to wage war on Europe and beyond Posing as a Mexican revolutionary with an anti American bent Luz uses all of her skills to with the confidence of a German agent code named Imperial Sword; said agent has been in America for reasons that Luz’s superiors would very much like to knowBut when Luz succeeds in gaining the necessary trust and proximity the plot that is ultimately revealed to her far outstrips anything she could have anticipated For in the remote mountains of Saxony a plan is being set in motion to ensure that the United States will be unable to enter the looming conflict – a plan that has potentially horrifying conseuences for not just Luz and her contemporaries but possibly the entire nation And she has to trust someone but who?“Black Chamber” has a lot going for it There’s a richness of detail with regards to the world building that is uite nice; when it comes to this sort of thing I tend to lean toward the “less is ” attitude That is I’m not someone who needs exposition dumps – a handful of organically provided moments of specificity beats the hell out of text blocks of authorial hand holding Stirling trusts the story and trusts the reader allowing for a feeling of discoveryGranted it only works because of a solid sense of characterization Luz makes for a fine heroine – smart and capable while also flawed She serves the foundation of the narrative without ever feeling like she’s invulnerable; despite her status as the main character she never feels 100 percent safe That balance is VERY hard to pull offAnd of course when you’ve got someone who knows how to put together a spy story doing the telling it’s tough not to be sucked in It’s tense and propulsive for the most part; there are a couple of stretches where the action lags just a bit but the narrative rarely loses much steam You’ve got the reuisite sharp turns and surprising developments – it’s just a good espionage yarnGranted there are a few things I would have wanted from “Black Chamber” I’d have liked a bit Teddy Roosevelt – the flashes we get certainly whet the appetite And it gets a little crowded and abrupt in the third act But those are relatively minor criticisms – it’s definitely a page turnerIf “Black Chamber” is any indication we can expect this newest series from SM Stirling to offer the same level of historical veracity and adventuresome storytelling that we’ve come to expect It’s a strong start – one whose continuation I anxiously await

  9. says:

    When this book came across my desk for review—I was stoked I don’t read a ton of alternative history but this one sounded so so so good that I was eager to read it without uestionI sounded like alternative history mixed with some espionage and sci fi so how could I pass? I couldn’tOK so now I remember why I don’t read alternative history Having a masters in history makes alternative history hard Like really hard to read I kept getting confused— why was this happening? No that’s not what happened I would scream in my head I literally kept reminding myself that this was a fictionalized account of history— essentially it was #fakehistoryAdmittedly it took me a long long long time to read this book mostly because I struggled with my own inner voice telling me that this wasn’t how things happened I couldn’t just let my mind go and let the story happenHow much of my own personal bias and struggles got factored into this review? uite a bit if I am being honest If I take out my own personal struggles with the historical piece then I would say that this book was rather uniue I thought that Stirling did a great job writing a creative and memorable story for his readers The premise of the story itself was really detailed and well thought out Luz was my favorite character She wasn’t your typical heroine and I really respected Stirling for creating this different and vibrant characterThis book is described by some readers as a James Bond ish style novel and I would agree that this book had a lot of similarities with the infamous spy Sophisticated action packed and primarily driven by main characters rather than supporting characters And I would completely agree with this Stirling puts his energy into the main characters and I loved thatSo where does that leave me? If I was going on my own personal struggles I would say 2 stars but if I am looking at it from an objective perspective—I liked the writing and thought the story was full of creativity and strong characters so I would say based on writing—a 4 star rating But I had to average them out and settled on 3 stars for this oneThis book is truly aimed at fans of alternative history if you like that sort of thing then you will probably love this book If you are me and like history to be or less the same then you might want to pass on this one Though if you don’t have a huge understanding of WWI then you might not even care about alternative historySee my full review here

  10. says:

    A lot of build up with little payoff The break point of Teddy Roosevelt redux is a good one but using it as a jumping off point to jump start a leftist paradise is a step to far for believability the hyper sexualized lead is trying way to hard to be Jayne Bond the female paramour is utterly ridiculously naive for a nominal spy and the downwind changes in the European war are unexplained in light of the altered American history Mix this with an abrupt conclusion that violates every conventional rule of writing telling not showing the unfired Chekhov's guns leave much to be desired