MelissaScott and Jo Graham’s 2015 novel Windraker is the fourth installment in their ongoing Orderof the Air series.In this episode, the cast is drawn to Hawai‘i, where they findthemselves tangling with modern prejudice, old curses, ancienthistory, and the rising threat of fascism.
China’sTreasure Fleets reached as far west as Africa;this is known. How far east China’s ship’s reached is a matter ofconjecture. Evidence that at least one Chinese ship stumbled acrossHawai’i decades before Cook encountered those islands is, at best,inconclusive. When he is offered the chance to lead a fieldexpedition to follow up on an enigmatic find, Jerry Ballard is happyto accept the position; not many field opportunities are offered toone-legged scientists.
Meanwhile,Ballard’s old friend Alma Segura’s company, Gilchrist Aviation, ishired to test a promising new sea plane. By coincidence — or perhapsfate! — the test zone is none other than America’s greatest islandterritory, Hawai‘i!
True,there is the matter of the abandoned children Alma’s employeeMitchell Sorley and his lover Stasi took in. Sorley has no experiencewith children while Stasi’s is tragic … but what better way for anewly blended family to adapt to one another than by dragging thekids half-way around the world to an unfamiliar territory?
Buteven as Alma, her husband Lewis Segura, and their business partnerMitchell Sorley find their test flights complicated by an old curse,Ballard begins to suspect he should have asked more probing questionsabout his expedition’s mysterious backer. Dark forces are in motionand by accepting his current job, Ballard may have allied himselfwith evil.
L.Sprague de Camp once lamented that he wrote his Johnny Black stories in the wrong order. The first one had Johnny save the world. The lastone had him save his boss’ job. There is something of that in thisseries: in the first book the team saved the world from a freeddemon. Now they seem to be reduced to sparring with recurringantagonist William Pelley, steadfast fascist and, like Alma and herchums, adept occultist.
Ifthere’s one thing Indiana Jones teaches us, it is that eventually youhave to stop toying with your extended plot and
meltthe Nazis. Scott and Graham are constrained by their choice ofantagonist. Pelley is a historical figure who didn’t die until 1965, so cathartic head-melting is not in thecards, at least not in the 1930s. Of course, the authors have onlythemselves to blame for selecting an antagonist with historical plotimmunity. On the plus side, the next thirty years will notgo well for Mr. Pelley.
Whilethe long term plots didn’t particularly engage me, the novel workswell on other scales. Part of the plot turns on the extremes peoplewill go to in order to shoehorn actual archaeological findings, likeMing vases of unknown provenance, into rather dubious historicalmodels, such as the Nazi conviction that Tibet was settled by Aryans1.
Peoplewho are reading the series to watch how unusual people find safeniches for themselves in an extremely conformist society should enjoythis volume. Watching Stasi and Sorley try to work out what being aparent means for them was particularly interesting.
Howengaging this volume is depends, I think, on whether you are moreinvested in the grand scale struggle against Pelley and the SilverLegion or in the day-to-day lives of the characters. I would give ita C on the first but an A on the second. Since I read it for thesecond, I came away well pleased.
Windraker is available from Crossroads Press.
1: The speculation about the ambiguous phrasing about the eastern fleet’s goal may also be an example, if it turns out the phase in question is not ambiguous in the same way in Chinese as it is in English.