I hope this installment finds you well.
This week I’m sharing my review of Camden’s Follies: From the diaries of Doctor James Camden, Lunar Physician and Pirate (Book 1, Part 1) by J. Nathanial Corres.
To describe this story succinctly – it’s like a steampunk British Indiana Jones space opera with an unwanted harem. Let me explain: it’s set in the early 1900s and uses a mix of industrial revolution era technology with reproductions of ancient tech from translations from the Mayans, who were gifted the tech by a species that may have had ulterior motives.
What better opportunity to use this GIF?
It has that swashbuckling feel of Indiana Jones. Their main vessel is a dirigible, though that feels like a generous description given its space-faring modifications.
Dr. Camden thought he was headed to “central Africa” (no particular country/region mentioned) to study forensics and become a medical examiner, but it turns out he’s been recruited for a secret mission on an experimental vessel.
He has two women fighting over him – thus, the unwanted harem trope.
First, I’ll give you my usual breakdown of the characters, settings, and emotional payoff. Then I’ll close with some thoughts about this book, about literary citizenship, and reviewing in general.
James Camden is probably an accurate portrayal of a military doctor from that time as far as backstory, clothing, & vernacular go. At the same time, personality wise … I’m not sure he’s healthy. I think it was a common trait, especially post-war, to have a rather brusque bedside manner. He doesn’t fixate on his soldiering life, but I wonder if he’s fully dealt with it.
Source: Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” via Snicket.Fandom
Here’s my evidence that Dr. Camden may be a little cold, or perhaps having burnout, or a slight touch of sociopathy – in the beginning of the book he states this:
At first I took it that it was … perhaps he is suffering from physician burnout, a very real thing. I mean, he was wanting to work on forensic medicine instead of living people. Perhaps he knew he was at his limit for bedside pleasantries. Coupled with his lack of empathy and what seems to be a brusque bedside manner, it seems to go beyond a stiff upper lip or fatigue, though.
There’s also … the difference of modern medicine. In Camden’s day, someone who had PTSD would be called “shell-shocked” and dealt with callously. In America’s Civil War, ridicule was considered a treatment for this disease. Surgery was very painful, not as successful, and anesthetics were not as advanced – they were basically chloroform and ether. In Darwin’s day, not that long before, it would have almost taken someone being a sociopath to handle being a surgeon: a level of detachment and composure that many would not be able to maintain. In the historical fantasy The Witch’s Daughter, Liza deals with gruesome failed surgeries. Darwin himself in real life pursued natural history because he could not stomach medicine. Camden mentions Darwin in passing, and this is by my guess about 40 years after.
Back to Camden’s sometimes chilly demeanor: When someone expresses a healthy fear of a large predatory species (that nearly killed one member and severely wounded Camden himself), he as a doctor reacts in this way:
Um, you’re the doctor? Shouldn’t you see to him?
He’s in good company, though: Sherlock himself claims to be a “high functioning sociopath” (though I’ve read psychologists disagree). Imperfect characters are often more interesting if not more relatable than perfect ones. In writing Mary Sues (or Gary Stus) are something to be avoided. Camden’s not perfect (me either), and sometimes a little aloof. That makes him a more likable character, though.
One last word about Dr. James Camden – he seems to suffer from a bit of insecurity. I make this observation because his narration demonstrates near constant criticism for other men. Again, this flaw makes an interesting character. At the same time, though, I’m not sure I would like him in person. I’ve talked about this at length with my husband and … we’ve decided that some of the best storytelling features unlikable protagonists – from Preacher to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Enjoying a story is different than hanging out with someone. Flaws that might be charming, interesting even, while enjoying a story could be quickly grating in person.
Cafea – The Tedarian female claims dibs on Dr. Camden almost immediately after she meets him, despite being frustratingly picky with men, and despite Camden being frequently mistaken for female (or perhaps because of what by some alien sensibilities passes for as feminine). She bridges the alien pirate crew of the War Dragon Fire and that of the humans’ Bernoulli. Without her, Camden would not succeed. She is fiercely loyal and knowledgeable.
Please note, this picture is again my imagination, and is not an accurate description. She is described as being an attractive reptilian humanoid female with green skin, a hint of scales, purple hair hiding a hint of black, and black irises and pupils.
Cynthia Belle-Anderson – Described as being a deceivingly delicate widow who frequently dons pith hats, Cynthia is a former spy. It’s revealed that she encouraged the selection of Dr. Camden for this experimental mission, and she’s been attracted to him from afar.
He later observed that she’s more worldly than originally guessed due to her demure demeanor and that some of the interactions between Cafea and Cynthia make him consider French women. I’m linking to Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal because it was a scandalous book that feautures, among other things, women attracted to women. Le Fleurs du Mal was written in the mid 1800s and features gorgeous imagery and mostly melancholic themes. It was not received well in polite French society at the time, but given the apparent setting of this book would have had enough time to become as infamous as The Room and to possibly have become more acceptable. It’s a space opera, aka a space fantasy. The author may do whatever he likes.
I enjoyed this character – I expected her to be a bland British woman of that era, but she was a real go-getter when it came down to it. She’s fierce. Some might even say savage. The dichotomy between the exotic and intense Cafea and the girl-next-door vibes of Cynthia is intriguing, especially when coupled with their similarities. They are two sides of the same coin.
Let’s be honest: this is escapism, and a common fantasy for many men is passion between two attractive women.
Again, the picture is just my imagination! I think she’s supposed to be more looking strawberry-blonde than Tarzan’s Jane.
Bechdel Test – This book does not pass the Bechdel test, and I don’t think the future parts will either. Being from a single male perspective, we only experience what James does. Since he doesn’t eavesdrop really, we don’t experience what Cafea and Cynthia, or any of the other women, talk about together. It’s apparent that Cafea and Cynthia have verbal spats and resolutions off screen, but those appear to be regarding James.
Does every book have to pass the Bechdel Test? No. I bring it up frequently because of how lacking representation is in media and how focused on the male gaze things are. This book is written by a man (a very kind one if I do say so), and it has an authentically male POV.
The Bernoulli is caught in interstellar disputes between the Garinthians and the Dragon Helm Pirate clan. We see various close range battles, several shipboard combat scenes, and romps on alien worlds with big game hunting. It feels very time appropriate in its observations to the doctor- the author was careful to avoid anachronisms.
For me the clearest scenes were in the engine room and the scenes with the big game. I’m not going to spoil them for you: they’re quite exciting.
This is a quote (sans context) from this book.
Conflict makes for good storytelling, so, dear doctor, I don’t believe you will.
This story was very clean in regards to the intimate scenes. Perhaps the author was thinking a gentleman wouldn’t kiss and tell, but I think he could have been a little more graphic. This detracted from the emotional payoff a bit.
Otherwise, it plugged along at a decent pace. Sometimes being interrupted and having to pick it back up made for me needing to re-read a bit before to know what was going on if i was interrupted during a tense scene, but alas – that is my life.
Camden’s Folly shows at once time appropriate sentiments and observations along with more modern themes- diversity, atypical romantic formats (aka polyamory), and with it provides interesting observations of modern heteronormativity and mores.
I truly wish this was a TV series so more people could enjoy the story. I think it would lend well to other formats – the sign of a truly good story.
This is an indie published book. As far as I can tell, it did not have a professional editor. There are typographical errors throughout – misplaced homonyms, extra or missing commas, and some issues with capitalization and consistency.
I once read that the average traditionally published book has about ten typographical errors in it. This has quite a number more, but please remember that there was not a team of people working on this story: just one writer. I hope that you can overlook those ink marks to enjoy this story. As a reviewer, I want you to know that I aim to help both the author have their book be promoted and the reader in selecting worthwhile pieces. I hope this review will accomplish both these tasks. It’s truly an enjoyable story and I look forward to the future installments.
Camden’s Follies: From the diaries of Doctor James Camden, Lunar Physician and Pirate (Book 1, Part 1) is available on Amazon.
This post was not sponsored. I will say that J. Nathanial Corres is such a wonderful example of a writer supporting other writers. I am so pleased to have made his online acquaintance. He is a pure example of literary citizenship.
In the words of Corres, and Camden: Geronimo!
Image note: screenshots are from the Kindle App of the book, and a few are from TV/movies with a note regarding where I found them. Also, the reptilian artwork is linked back to the original source on Deviant Art, and of course if the artist does not want me using the picture I will punctually comply in removing it.
Unless otherwise noted pictures on my blog are ones I personally took or from a CC0 source like Pixhere or Pixabay.