Title: The Demi-Monde: Winter (Amazon, Goodreads, Website)
Author: Rod Rees (Amazon, Goodreads, Website)
Genre: Fiction (Elements of Science Fiction, SteamPunk, Thriller, Historical Fiction, and other genres intermixed.)
Publisher: William Morrow
Series: The Demi-Monde Saga
Source: Received from William Morrow for review.
1. A subclass of society whose members embrace a decadent lifestyle and evince loose morals.
2. A shadow world where the norms of civilized behavior have been abandoned.
3. A massive multiple-player simulation technology that re-creates in a wholly realistic cyber-milieu the threat-ambiance and no-warning aspects of a hi-intensity, deep-density, urban Asymmetric Warfare Environment.
Welcome to the Demi-Monde, the ultimate in virtual reality—a military training ground and vivid, simulated world of cruelty and chaos run by psychopaths, madmen and fanatics.
If you die here, you die in the Real World …
In the year 2018, the Demi-Monde is the most sophisticated, complex and unpredictable computer simulation ever created, devised specifically to train soldiers for the nightmarish reality of urban warfare. A virtual world of eternal civil conflict, its thirty million inhabitants—“Dupes”—are ruled by cyber-duplicates of some of history’s cruelest tyrants: the fanatical Nazi butcher Reinhard Heydrich; Stalin’s arch executioner Lavrentii Beria; the torture-loving Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada; the Reign of Terror’s bloodthirsty mastermind Maximilien Robespierre.
But something has gone horribly wrong inside the Demi-Monde, and the U.S. president’s daughter, Norma, has been lured into this terrifying shadow world, only to be trapped there. Her last hope of rescue is Ella Thomas, an eighteen-year-old jazz singer and very reluctant heroine. But when Ella infiltrates the Demi-Monde and begins her hunt for Norma, she soon discovers the walls containing the evils of this simulated environment are dissolving—and the Real World is in far more danger than anyone knows. With the help of resistors determined to understand their world, Ella must race to save Norma and stop an apocalypse … but the clock is ticking.
Blending fact and fantasy, history and religion, military and existential themes, epic adventure and dark wit, dystopia and steampunk in a wholly original and driving narrative stream, The Demi-Monde: Winter is inventive fiction at its finest.
Two days, and I want more. I read this book in two days flat and I cannot wait to get my hands on Spring. Left at an excellent stopping point, both in keeping you wanting more, but not in that frustrating way where someone is on the edge of a cliff about to jump off and leaving you at a point where the story will certainly take a turn. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy read, nor at 500+ pages is it a short book. But it will drag you into Rees’ well-thought out and impressive world that is The Demi-Monde. The program envelops the soldier, utterly and completely, and Rees draws the reader in until she becomes part of the Demi-Monde herself.
Rees has created an interesting if not the least bit terrifying virtual reality. As described in the Product Description Manual (a copy is available for viewing on the book’s website) the world of the Demi-Monde is an heuristic alternate reality populated with duplicates “Dupes” of real world people alive in our world today. Some of the more prominent ‘dupes’ have no real world counterpart alive today, but they are well-known figures from our most horrific events. The first dupe Ella and the reader are introduced to is Reinhard Heydrich, engineer of the Nazi’s “Final Solution” and it certainly will chill you to the bone to see how accurate Rees has portrayed these villains of our past.
I could write a whole post on just the workings of the Demi-Monde and how well-thought out it is, especially after reading the PDM referenced above. There are varying cultures, conflicting political agendas, isolationist religions, and many more stressors that have shaped our history each expressed throughout sections or the whole of the Demi-Monde creating a unique world always in upheaval and on the brink of war. Clearly Rees spent significant time developing his world, and I can see why the series is in four parts, if Rees expects to cover half of what I think he will as the series progresses. Thankfully, there is a wonderful website (linked at the top of this post) that will make you want to read the book if you haven’t, or increase your craving for the second book if you have.
As characters are revealed, you cannot help but spend some time Googling the names that pop up or the references to events. I’m not history buff, but this definitely made me wonder just what the character had done in real life to warrant a doppelgänger in the Demi-Monde. Many of these characters are very well-known while others are lesser known, but Rees weaves them all together into a very interesting cast of characters. Aside from the random villainous singularities like Heydrich and Aleister Crowley, Shaka Zulu, and Empress Wu, there are the main protagonists: Ella, Norma, the president’s daughter, and Trixie Dashwood. These three women are the focus of the first book in the Demi-Monde Saga.
Ella is brought in as part of “Operation Offbeat” to rescue Norma. Somehow, unknown to the scientists and military men who created the Demi-Monde, Norma was brought into the Demi-Monde and has since been trapped. Heydrich and the other singularities have gotten out of control, and the plan is to pull the plug, shutting the whole thing down despite the loss of life for a few soldiers still caught in the program, but they cannot do that until Norma is out. As we have seen in our real world, the life of a soldier isn’t worth anything, but the life of the president’s daughter is worth more than 17 of them. Rees really hits it on the head with some of his observations such as this one. Another good example of this is how Ella, who is a smart, extremely attractive African-American woman, is able to distract even the toughest white supremacists out to capture her with her good looks and feminine whiles. Yes, they should hate her so much that she cannot fool them, but there are plenty that while they claim to hate all African-Americans they can still be swayed by a pretty woman despite her skin color. There are many examples of this through the book, and sometimes perhaps Rees uses Ella’s good looks to get her out of a situation that Rees wrote her into, but couldn’t figure out a more valid way to get her out. However, that is a small detractor in what is otherwise a phenomenal book. I look forward to seeing what the Demi-Monde has in store for Ella in Spring.
Norma is the president’s daughter who starts all of the trouble that has brings Ella, Norma, and Trixie together. Norma is in the Demi-Monde, no one knows how or why, although they do allude to it a bit later in the book, and found out to be a Daemon. She is captured and being held by Heydrich’s men and then taken to Trixie’s house in the hopes that Norma and Trixie will befriend each other allowing Trixie to get at the Daemon’s secrets. Norma as expected turns out to be a holier than thou, whiny, emo, bitch. I think I would have preferred her to be more like Ella and Trixie as strong female leads, but perhaps it would have been too crowded with three of them. Thankfully for the most part, Norma, although the story revolves around rescuing her, doesn’t play much of a role throughout the book, only popping up here and there to let the reader into what is happening when she isn’t with Ella or Trixie. Given the cliffhanger, I am curious to see how her character plays out in Spring.
Trixie Dashwood is quite a mutable character. In the beginning she is a head-strong RaTionalist girl who is on the brink of being a huge trouble to her father. She thinks for herself, and is always curious about the barrier that surrounds the Demi-Monde, how to get through it and what’s on the other side. Admirable ambitions in a character, but once Trixie feels that all is lost, thinking her father dead, and doing all she can to revenge her father’s death, she becomes, as Ella notes, more like Heydrich. Trixie goes from being a head-strong independent girl to a military leader out for blood. It is an interesting transition, but Rees manages to show just enough of what drives Trixie to see how this change happens as she rises to become a leader and revenge becomes her main focus.
As these three characters grow and evolve, there is a host of supporting characters that add to the greatness of this book. I hope that they continue on in the future books, as I would love to see how Rees develops them and their storylines.
As I indicated earlier, I could go on and on about this book. There is so much to say about it, that a few paragraphs, even a few pages are not enough. It is a tome, and at over 500 pages, it is not a light read, but it is a read that is well worth your time. The plotlines tie together seamlessly, and it is a satisfying original read.