I was initially drawn to Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt due to the steampunk sci-fi feel to the synopsis. Bellecourt takes us through an alternate history of World War I and the immediate after-effects resulting from the use of advanced technology and telepathic ability experiments. As the story unravels more and more secrets are revealed and amnestic Liam, the protagonist, re-learns things about himself and the events that unfolded in his time in the War.
Liam Mulcahey, a reclusive, shell-shocked veteran, remembers little of the Great War. Ten years later, when he is caught in a brutal attack on a Chicago speakeasy, Liam is saved by Grace, an alluring heiress who’s able to cast illusions. Though the attack appears to have been committed by the hated Uprising, Grace believes it was orchestrated by Leland De Pere–Liam’s former commander and the current President of the United States.
Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but when De Pere learns of it, he orders his militia to eliminate Liam at any cost.
But Liam’s abilities are expanding quickly. When Liam turns the tables and digs deeper into De Pere’s plans, he discovers a terrible secret. The same experiment that granted Liam’s abilities was bent toward darker purposes. Liam must navigate both his enemies and supposed allies to stop the President’s nefarious plans before they’re unleashed on the world. And Grace is hiding secrets of her own, secrets that could prove every bit as dangerous as the President’s.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Throughout Absynthe, I had a nagging feeling that it somehow reminded me of the setting of another story that I had watched or read. Only after finishing and now writing this review do I realize I was thinking of the movie Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow. I won’t say it is really similar at all, but they are in a similar time period – 1920s and 30s in the United States – and focus on the main characters’ duty to save the world from science and technology used for evil! That is pretty much where the similarities end.
Absynthe creates a very interesting conflict relating to supersoldier experiments used in World War I that are now being modified to be utilized to control everyday citizens in times of peace. Liam, unaware of these experiments even though he and his squad were the subjects of said experiments, finds himself in the middle of this fight against the dark intentions of the president and his former commander with sparse memories of what happened to him during the war. While Liam begins to slowly remember, Bellecourt also introduces several other characters, such as Grace and Clay, with fascinating abilities that have come about due to the same experiments. I would have liked to see the other characters more thoroughly developed as they did not seem as compelling and I was not as invested in their individual stories.
The narrative itself was a little too fast-paced and certain aspects and details felt too rushed or glossed over as a result. As a result, parts of the ending were not too difficult to infer and lost their impact when finally revealed. At the risk of contradicting myself, while it did feel fast-paced, at other times it seems slow. Especially at the beginning, it was a bit difficult to get immersed into the narrative and characters right away. I do think that the overall concept of the novel and story was very compelling and led to some interesting avenues to explore. While I would have liked some of these to be explored in more detail, Bellecourts’ Absynthe still created a very intriguing alternative history framed by the threats and opportunities of advanced technologies and experimentation.