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Pasquale's Angel
Paul J. McAuley
Victor Gollancz/Millennium, 384 pages

Pasquale's Angel
Paul J. McAuley
Paul J. McAuley was born in England in 1955 and currently lives in Scotland. He worked as a researcher in biology at various universities before going to St. Andrew's University as a lecturer in botany for 6 years. He's chosen to move on to become a full-time writer.

His first novel, Four Hundred Billion Stars, won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award and several subsequent novels have been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, winning one for Fairyland which also won the 1997 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel. His short story, "The Temptation of Dr. Stein," won the British Fantasy Award. Pasquale's Angel won the very first Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Long Form) in 1996. McAuley also produces a regular review column for Interzone and contributes reviews to Foundation.

Paul J. McAuley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Reading List: Paul J. McAuley
SF Site Review: Ancients of Days
SF Site Review: The Invisible Country
SF Site Review: Child Of The River
SF Site Review: Fairyland
SF Archive: Paul J. McAuley
Star Makers - Paul J. McAuley
Mark/Space: Paul J.McAuley

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jean-Louis Trudel

Steampunk is taken to a new level by McAuley in this prize-winning book. Pasquale's Angel will delight lovers of the unexpected juxtapositions of steampunk, the clanking engines of modernity set in ancient streets, the wandering heroes of our own history rubbing shoulders with characters of the author's own devising.

In an alternate world 16th-century Florence, the inventions of the Great Engineer -- Leonardo da Vinci himself -- have wrought an industrial revolution centuries before its time. Young Pasquale is an artist and craftsman in a world less and less admiring of the traditional style of paintings.

When the famous Raphael comes to town, a minor incident drives Pasquale to contact Florence's most infamous muckraker and man-about-town, the journalist Niccolò Machiavegli. Just as the young artist is completing an engraving of the confrontation he witnessed, Machiavegli is informed of a murder involving Raphael's household... and Pasquale is swept up in Machiavegli's own investigation.

Pasquale is an unlikely hero, but he is resourceful and more courageous than even he might have guessed. Circumstances lead both Machiavegli and Pasquale deep into the machinations of the Florentine Republic's friends and enemies.

While Pasquale's world is falling around him, as the Great Engineer unveils the ominous art of photography, he remains driven by artistic ambition -- to capture on canvas the image of an angel -- and by personal hopes. This allow him to face the terrors of the Inquisition, the anarchy of a proletarian riot, and the dark arts of a Renaissance magus. McAuley has a few plot twists in reserve, enough to keep the reader guessing until the end.

Indeed, McAuley satisfies deftly the expectations he sets up. From the first, the reader looks forward to Pasquale's meeting with the Great Engineer, a remote figure closeted in a tower looming over Florence, but the encounter is long delayed. When it comes, it is not without its share of surprises.

The novel ends with a flurry of action, though the climactic scenes don't quite match the tempo and inventiveness of the preceding chapters. And I was slightly puzzled with Pasquale's final choice. The circumstances do not seem compelling enough, and it did not seem to be a course of action uppermost in his mind, at any point in the book. But it allows him to ponder his adventures, his memories already fading yet shaping in him a new conception of reality...

Pasquale's Angel is a fascinating romp through a transformed Florence. Its strength is often in the details mastered by the author, from Machiavegli's turns as a Renaissance Sherlock Holmes to the cameo by a Polish cleric known as Koppernigk...

Of course, we may doubt the likelihood of an industrial revolution in Florence, even with the helping hand of a genius like Leonardo da Vinci. Its speed and suddenness is quite fantastic. The accumulation of entirely different inventions is no less amazing, starting with a steam engine able to power ships and lorries, and culminating with photography and flight. Historical scholarship has shown that medieval engineers were playing with a common set of advanced technological ideas. However, the notion of a steam turbine inherited from Antiquity was horrendously inefficient as a prime mover, for instance. And the sheer quantity of trial-and-error experimentation needed to perfect in our own history the most primitive forms of paddlewheelers, photography, or gliders could hardly be reproduced over such a short period.

But, of course, Paul J. McAuley is well aware of this, and what he offers is properly a fantasy, a feat of the imagination standing halfway "between the world of thought and the world of things." Like the angel of Pasquale's yearnings, a symbol of artistic creation, it is somewhat less than real and somewhat more.

The novel sacrifices perhaps some potential depths to the strictures of headlong action, but few readers will complain. And science fiction fans who have discovered McAuley's latest works should enjoy the originality of this earlier effort.

Copyright © 2000 by Jean-Louis Trudel

Jean-Louis Trudel is a busy, bilingual writer from Canada, with two novels and fourteen young adult books to his credit in French. He's also a moderately prolific reviewer and short story writer.

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