Following on from The Incorruptibles, Foreign Devils continues the story of mercenaries Shoe and Fisk in a fantasy world of the Wild West springing from an alternative history where the Roman Empire never fell. Tasked with hunting down a rogue demon summoner who has figured out how to bind the entities into humans, they must track him across the desolate Hardscrabble Territories while the empire of Rume teeters on the brink of war with Mediera (Imperial Spain).
The first book was an affair very much self-contained within its counterpart of 19th century America and with only vague allusions to the rest of the world. Now Jacobs has expanded upon his setting, increasing the scope internationally as Fisk’s wife Livia is tasked by the emperor with a diplomatic mission to Kithai (dynastic China), a secretive state ruled over by the mysterious Autumn Lords, and where the revelation of a hidden secret at the heart of the nation ends up posing more questions rather than answering established ones. Each setting feels like a distinct creation, with the real-world equivalents serving as inspiration rather being merely transposed; instead of being a separate world based on our own, it’s more representative of what our would could have been under differing circumstances.
Being half-dvergar (dwarf), Shoe is ridiculed by humans because of his height and shunned by dwarves because of his mixed blood, making him truly belong nowhere and is thus able to give an outsider perspective of any situation. His interaction with other dvergar sheds some light on a people often merely servants or slaves, and the discovery of an underground revolutionary movement means that as well as a naval power threatening their dominance, Rume might well have war of a different kind coming much closer to home. There is also some development given to the vaettir, twelve-foot animalistic elves, revealing that there is more to the species than the bloodthirsty sadism that has thusfar characterised them, and they are an enigma that will likely be at the heart of the trilogy’s forthcoming final book Infernal Machines.
For all of Foreign Devils’ magic, mystery and monsters, it’s a novel about people, and how they react to forces beyond their control and the machinations of those in power. Despite its events potentially having repercussions throughout the world, it never stops feeling like the most important aspects are the individual journeys of those embarked upon them, and it’s precisely this personal perspective that keeps the book endlessly captivating.
FOREIGN DEVILS / AUTHOR: JOHN HORNOR JACOBS / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW