Review: Nemo Rising by C. Courtney Joyner

In what many consider the early precursor to the Steampunk genre, Jules Verne’s 1870 classic novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea introduced the stoic character Captain Nemo to the world. Here we are nearly a century and a half later and the story still sets the bar for the imaginative adventure readers crave.

Nemo Rising written by C. Courtney Joyner and published by Tor Books (December 26, 2017) is a fitting addition to the storied character’s legacy and frankly, a fun read. Following a bit closer to Verne’s follow-up installment The Mysterious Island (1874), with implications tying Nemo’s vengeful demeanor and political motives and distain for imperialism playing a large role in the outcome of the American Civil War. Even better, the story makes sense.

Terrifying beasts are destroying trade vessels from a number of countries around the globe in route to the United States, and the country continues to be the suspecting culprit behind these attacks. In what some consider a desperate measure to prevent a World War, President Ulysses S. Grant turns to a secretly captured war criminal who is on death row for war crimes for help. In exchange for his freedom, Captain Nemo returns to the helm of his storied submersible Nautilus.

The definitive suspense and wonder created by Verne is the staple here in Courtney’s story that will draw in the fans of the original classic, but what makes this episode so compelling is the balance of faith and duty. From a national security stance, Grant struggles with the difficult decision to entrust somebody who he believes is mad, yet he resolves that Nemo is the only one capable of saving the Nation along with countless lives if war breaks out.

The fictional characters are loyal to the classic novel and the historical figures maintain just enough factual integrity to not only make the story believable, but also lend palpability to a steampunkish setting that could become distracting otherwise. Granted the “Phono-tele-Photo” device was a bit far-fetched for the time period, but given the suitable role the mechanical spiders and armored airships play in the plot, a few unnecessary inventions can be forgiven. It’s not like I’m questioning the plausibility of something like the Nautilus, right?

It should also be pointed out that, with such a wide ranging cast of strong characters, pinning down a focal antagonist is quite a difficult task. Rest assured, the legend of Nemo is well represented in this book. Nemo Rising is a fast-paced adventure that pays homage to the mythological character created by Verne and gives readers a fresh perspective on the Captain’s stance on oppression. However, Nemo can be considered maniacal at times and inevitably, such a complex figure does tend to draw attention in many if not every scene in which he appears.

Nemo Rising is not 20,000 Leagues. THAT bar has already been set. But C. Courtney Joyner has certainly scripted a fine addition to the legendary exploits of the Captain many fans are sure to enjoy.

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