Book Review 2009 #34: The Tourmaline

The Tourmaline is the second in the Roumania novels by Paul Park.

Not all alternate history is of the classic mold. You know the drill. Lee wins at Gettysburg, and the world is different because of it. Varus’ legions aren’t slaughtered by the Germanic tribes, and Rome continues on and on. The Spanish armada conquers England, and Shakespeare turns out to be a hero to the oppressed English.
The Roumania novels are definitely different. The first novel, a Princess of Roumania, started ordinarily enough, with Andromeda, Peter and Miranda slowly discovering that their modern day New England world was in fact, an illusion, an artiface. The real world is very different, where Roumania is a major power with magic at its command, and a vicious conflict between Germany and Roumania only part of the complicated politics.
The second novel takes up from the first and continues the stories of Miranda, Andromeda and Peter as they start to learn their real identities, and their destinies, in Roumania. Throw in one of the most complex and multi-sided antagonists I’ve read in fantasy, the Baroness Ceaucescu, a slow reveal of more of what this alternate “real” world is like, and mix well.
It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Its been a while since I read the first novel, and like when I read the first novel, it took me a while to get used to Park’s dream-like style and characterizations. You really have to pay attention to the prose, and go with it, and even then, things aren’t always crystal clear. And I am pretty sure its a feature, not a bug.
I certainly would never start the series with this book. But those who liked the first novel should and will likely enjoy the second.