Book review: The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling

Book review: The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling

Just finished another S.M. Stirling tale of apocalypse and world destruction in an alternate Earth and while it doesn’t measure up to his great series (Island in the Sea of Time and the Changeverse trilogy), nevertheless The Peshawar Lancers is a good read.

The book takes place in the year 2025, but not a 2025 that we’ll see. In this world, the Earth was struck by a series of comets or meteors in the year 1878, which plunged much of the world into an extended winter and killed off a large chunk of the planet’s population. Since Britain had become uninhabitable, the country was evacuated and the new seat of the British Empire became New Delhi, with the empire encompassing India/Pakistan, South Africa/Kenya, and Australia/New Zealand, plus some other territories. The other world powers were France -outre-mer (or “over the sea” ) based in France’s one-time North African colonies; the Islamic Caliphate covering most of the rest of North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Europe; Dai-Nippon, a Japanese empire based in mainland China and encompassing much of Asia; and the remnants of Tsarist Russia.

Stirling offers a convincing look at how the cultures of the various civilizations would evolve under those circumstances. For example, the British Empire is still distinctively British but the Indian culture—customs, speech, mores, attitudes, even clothing—has made significant inroads.

Devil-worshipping Tsarists

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  • Along with “The Sky People,” it’s probably his most “accessible” work.  A pure adventure story, albeit with a twist.

    The titles are a bit of an homage to the way the old H. Rider Haggard/Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp stories were titled.  Haggard’s “King Solomon’s Mines” doesn’t deal much with the mines themselves until near the end, and sometimes Burroughs’ John Carter series sometimes doesn’t have much Carter in it.

    Kinda the same way “The Protector’s War” title misdirects the reader.

  • I thought the whole “Dies the Fire” series of books by Stirling was atrocious.  The inconsistencies in what the changed world allowed (fire works!) and didn’t allow (steam power doesn’t!), combined with the absurd notion that somehow only
    Wiccans, role-playing game enthusiasts and history professors could survive in this new world made it almost embarrassing to read.

  • Actually, as the books indicate, steam power does work, it’s just that it provides much lower pressures.  It’s actually reasonably consistent as the fictional device it is, near as my science-deficient brain can tell. 

    Moreover, a lot more people survive than just Wiccans, history profs and SCAers.  There’s the ag faculty at Oregon State, the Benedictines at Mount Angel, the Mormons in Utah, and unspecified political units in Idaho and eastern Washington State.  That’s just in North America.  Don’t forget the Vatican survives in exile, the United Kingdom, and northern Scandanavia.

    Yes, the Oregon bands are a pretty colorful lot, but it’s pretty clear Western Oregon is unique.

  • I dunno, Dale…  As I recall, the steam engines were so ineffective, they might as well have not worked at all.  If that’s the case, why do so many natural system that depend on the water vapor behaves (such as the earth’s climate) still function normally.  And why should wood burn, but everything else that you might expect to combust (gun powder) not?  I’m just not buying it.

  • The Peacock Angel is the god of the Yezidis of Iraq. It is their name of Satan who they believe was reconciled to God and rules the world.

  • Hello Dom,

    Read it when it came out.  A ripping great read, one of Stirling’s best.

    Stirling also wrote a long short story, set in Texas about a generation before the events of the Peshawar Lancers and featuring the fathers of the principal characters, in a collection of alt-history stories released a couple years back – worth reading if you can find it.