This novel features a different protagonist, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. The Mysterious Stranger from the first book, or X as Clemens calls him, urges Clemens on a journey similar to the protagonist of the first book. X offers Clemens a valuable piece of information to advance Clemens’ mission: where to find metal on this planet that has close to none. Unfortunately, many others are seeking this supply of metal in the form of a meteorite. So, Clemens is forced into uneasy alliances and undergoes violent endeavors in order to secure the raw materials.
As in the first book, the reader is presented with interesting historical characters to play with in this fictional world: the protagonist Samuel Clemens, who becomes obsessed with the creation of the best boat in this world more so than finding answers; Joe Miller, a 800-pound giant Neanderthal who acts as a bodyguard for Sam; Eric Bloodaxe, a Viking ruler with a short temper; John Lackland, a notorious former king of England; Lothar von Richtofen, WWI aviator and brother of the Red Baron; Cyrano de Bergerac, a 17th century French dramatist and expert swordsman who shows up with Samuel Clemens’ wife from when they were first alive on Earth.
I must admit, this was possibly my least favorite of the series. The prose continues to read too stiffly, but that’s how it was in the first novel as well. The plot is slow, many large interims pass before anything interesting happens, and it seems to be more of a side-adventure than a direct follow-up to the first novel.
A pro and a con is the story’s political intrigue. A pro, because it’s done well. A con because that is almost completely what the book is about, when I think most readers would expect much more follow-up of the mysteries and intrigues of the first book. I think the reader would also expect being on the boat early in this story or even half way through. But, that’s barely in this book at all.
So, here is something important to keep in mind: this is a story more about the nature of society, how different classes interact, and how both change as shown in different historical eras. I didn’t expect that this novel would have very little to do about the mysteries and intrigues of the Riverworld. So I was a little underwhelmed.
Some highlights include: the political intrigue, the exploration of societal troubles such as war and racism, watching Mark Twain interact with individuals such as John Lackland, and of course the (very) occasional tidbits about the mysteries of the Riverworld.
So, overall I’d recommend this book, and more so this series as a whole. I hope you do enjoy the good things this particular book in the greater story offers. But if the prose and plot were less boring, I think it could have shined a great deal more.