NESFA Members' Reviews

coverA Calculus of Angels

by J. Gregory Keyes

A book review by Mark L. Olson

Del Rey, 1999, $14.00, 406 pp.

This, the sequel to the excellent Newton's Cannon, is the second book in an tetrology which shows every sign of being truly wonderful.

After inventing the calculus and a theory of gravity and optics, in our world Sir Isaac Newton went on to study theology and alchemy -- not yet clearly unscientific topics. In Keyes' world, he makes a breakthrough which established alchemy as a science and starts a scientific and industrial revolution based on it.

Several decades later, Newton has rejuvenated himself and seems destined to lead England to even greater heights, until Louis XIV's scientists use alchemy to call down an asteroid on London, destroying England and half of Western Europe and bringing a nuclear autumn on the world.

We discover that Louis and several other world leaders are controlled by some sort of alchemical entities which have become aware of humanity and intend to destroy it.

Newton escaped the destruction of Britain with his apprentice, the 17-year-old Benjamin Franklin, to continue the struggle against the malevolent entities, and there the first book ends.

This second book follows the characters from the first: Newton and Franklin, a French woman scientist who was instrumental in calling down the asteroid, and an assortment of colonial luminaries including Blackbeard the pirate and Cotton Mather who are seeking to discover what happened to the Old World.

In the mean time, Turkish armies are advancing from the south and Peter the Great is advancing from Russia and only the weak remnants of the Holy Roman Empire -- and Sir Isaac Newton -- stand between them and the conquest of what is left of Europe.

It's a marvelous, complicated, well-thought-out, fun (though not especially nice) story.

Highly recommended. (Do read the first book, Newton's Cannon, first, though.)

See my review of the other books in the series: Newton's Cannon, A Calculus of Angels, and Empire of Unreason and Shadows of God

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