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The Peshawar Lancers
S.M. Stirling
Roc Books, 421 pages

The Peshawar Lancers
S. M. Stirling
S. M. Stirling series include The Flight Engineer with James Doohan, Ship Who Sang with Anne McCaffrey, Fifth Millennium composed of Snowbrother (1985), The Sharpest Edge (1989 -- aka Saber and Shadow, revised 1992) with Shirley Meier, The Cage (1989) with Shirley Meier and Shadow's Son (1991) with Karen Wehrstein and Shirley Meier. Other series include Draka composed of Marching Through Georgia (1988), Under the Yoke (1989), The Stone Dogs (1990) and Drakon (1996) as well as General with David Drake which includes The Forge (1991), The Hammer (1992), The Anvil (1993), The Steel (1993) and The Sword (1995). Single novels include The Rose Sea (1994) with Holly Lisle and The Chosen (1996) with David Drake.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Against the Tide of Years
SF Site Review: Island In the Sea of Time
Excerpt: The Ship Avenged
Excerpt: The Chosen with David Drake
Excerpt: Rising with James Doohan

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

The title of S.M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers lends itself to images of horsemen negotiating the treacherous valleys in Northern India during the 19th century British occupancy of the region. This, however, is not quite the setting of Stirling's alternate history novel.

A fragmentary comet has struck the Earth in the 1870s, making much of Europe and America uninhabitable. England and French refugees have managed to move their governments to less damaged countries, with the British basing themselves in the Indian dominions. The result is a British Empire which is heavily influenced by the culture of India.

Stirling's story focuses on the King family, notably Captain Athelstane, King of the Peshawar Lancers, and his scientist sister, Cassandra. As members of the wealthy upper classes, their lives are going in very different directions until attempts on their lives lead them into a mystery which threatens not only the King family, but the entire British Empire in exile.

As always, Stirling has done impeccable research into the British Raj to present his 21st century extrapolation. Unfortunately, as is frequently the case with Stirling's writing, it seems as if nearly all of his research has found its way into the novel. The most egregious example is the use of foreign terms which often appear without either definition or context. For those interested in even more details of Stirling's novel, six appendices are included which explain the history, technology, language, and royal succession in his timeline.

Once Stirling's plot gets underway, the Kings find themselves individually and collectively in an high intrigue game which seems to come straight from the age of pulps. Traitors and foreign spies abound with a helping of Russian cannibal Devil-worshippers thrown in for good measure.

The action is well paced with physical threats intermingling with political intrigue as Cassandra finds herself appointed tutor to Princess Sita, who is being prepared for marriage to the heir to the French throne in exile. At the same time, she has aroused the interest in Prince Charles, heir to the throne.

Athelstane's plot appears almost completely separate from what is happening to his sister. An assassination attempt by Ibrahim Khan, Khan joins ranks with Athelstane and his partner, Narayan Singh. The three take part in a series of adventures reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes.

Eventually, their activities coincide with Cassandra's story and reveals a larger plot than had been hinted at previously.

One of the most intriguing areas of Stirling's background is his view of technology. Rather than attempt to recreate early 21st century technology, Stirling postulates a technology which grew out of the knowledge of the 1870s without the resources or initiative of Europe or America. To modern eyes, his technology has a very dated look, but it is logical given the constraints Stirling applied.

The Peshawar Lancers is an action-filled adventure through a future reminiscent of the British Raj. The characters are sympathetic and realistic despite the alternate world which they inhabit. Technological expositions are kept to a minimum and do not impede the pace of the novel.

Copyright © 2002 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver in one of SF Site's Contributing Editors as well as one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He is Chairman of Windycon 29 and Midwest Construction 1. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is the editor of three anthologies forthcoming from DAW. He is a two-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer. He lives in Illinois with one wife, two daughters and 5000 books.

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