Darger and Surplus are dyed in the wool conmen looking out for themselves and turning a profit whenever, wherever possible which is why they finagled their way into a caravan bound for the Duke of Muscovy in Russia. Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscarin de Plus Prescieux, better known as Surplus is a specially engineered dog with all the presence and bearing of a man, Darger was once a very proper Englishman and between the two, they have drummed up a complex scheme to cash in on delivering the Pearls of Byzantine. The Pearls are actually seven beautiful, chaste, genetically engineered women who can only touch their intended husbands. However, the con is less about the Pearls then locating the lost library of Ivan the Great while running into a host of characters and adventures along the way and always with an eye on making a buck.
The plentitude of eclectic, well-developed characters and interesting world building more then make up for the painstakingly slow start. Swanwick’s vision of a future Moscow has a nice, edgy feel though his fascination with women dressing seems a bit overdone and does little to move the story forward. Although some of the subplots suffer from a formula feel, the general storyline is solid enough to make up for them.
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