ALTERNATE TASTES OF LONDON
By Andrew Brooks & Ekaterina Odnostorontseva
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Andrew Brooks and Ekaterina Odnosktorontseva have taken an interesting concept for alternate history and turned it into Alternate Tastes of London, which looks at London throughout a dozen alternative timelines. The book's two main characters, who share names with the authors, are traveling to each of the different versions of the city in the guise of travel reviewers, spending a month in each timeline and reporting on what they have found there for potential travelers across the multiverse.
Each month sees Andrew and Kat visiting a different London and each chapter opens with a discussion of how that version of London's history differs from our own. The branch points range throughout history, from Roman times to the Battle of Hastings, to a lack of World War I. Once the setting is established, they author/characters explore this variant London to find information to include in the guide book they are working on. usually this includes some sort of shopping, cultural event, sporting event, and finally dinner. Although they are supposed to spend a month in each timeline, the way the chapters are written, it would seem they only spend a day or two in each version of London. The chapters are, in fact, quite formulaic as the authors make sure to hit on each of these topics.
Following the very thorough description of the meals the characters have a each stop, the authors provide recipes for several of the items they ate. All of their meals are made up of a full variety of formal courses, so there are plenty of recipes to choose from throughout the book, although there also seems to be a preponderance of rabbit variations in the selected main courses. The inclusion of the recipes adds a nice touch to the book and adds an additional level to the reader experience, even if the reader is not likely to cook any of the recipes. It should be noted that the recipes are given in the British style and American readers may have to convert them.
Although the different timelines have very different histories, certain things appear in multiple timelines. Frequently, the restaurants they eat at are run by some variation of Uncle Andy and they often find themselves running across a variant of their Dad, fulfilling a variety of roles, but never, of course, recognizing them. There is little consideration given for why the same person would exist in all the different variations of London, nor why they would constantly run across him in their travels.
While the book scores points for the cleverness of the concept and additional points for the inclusion of recipes, it is weakened by the lack of any sort of plot that carries through from month to month. The authors have created the basic idea for their dozen alternate histories, but don't really explore them in a literary manner. Fictional Andrew and Kat don't really interact with the locals in any meaningful way, merely asking them about the restaurants they are dining in or what they should see. Similarly, although they both are imbued with some characteristics, they ar emostly sketches: Kat likes sports and shopping, Andrew likes restaurants and not shopping, both like books, there is little depth given to them. The strongest sensation of character is that Andrew comes across someone arrogant based on his descriptions of the worlds he visits and the references he makes to Kat.
Alternate Tastes of London is an intriguing premise that ultimately doesn't live up to its promise. The authors' efforts seem to have focused entirely on building their alternate timelines rather than giving though to their characters or creating any sort of plot or story arcs to allow them to grow as they visit the different versions of the city. The Andrew and Kat who visit a Norse-ruled London in December are no different than the ones who visited the Scottish looking London in January, just better fed. While short descriptions of each of the twelve Londons are given at the beginning of the book, the chapters serve as expansions on them, but without any emotional heft.
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