Arts & Leisure

“Theater of Spies” and a good nationalism

TEDDY ROOSEVELT in 1910 (American Press Assn/.WIkipedia)

By Jim Tortolano

“Nationalism” is getting a bad reputation these days, but there was once a time when it was an honored aspiration to build up a country.

One of America’s great advocates of that was President Theodore Roosevelt. His brand of “New Nationalism” was progressive and muscular, advocating conservation, regulation of corporation and a (modest) interest in women’s and civil rights.

In the alternative history novel “Theater of Spies” by S.M. Stirling set in the World War I era, Roosevelt has combined the Republicans with the Progressives into a political powerhouse that allows him to transform America. One of his creations is the covert Black Chamber organization, a kind of early CIA.

Stars of this spy group are crack agents are Luz O’Malley Arostegui and Ciara Whalen, who are ahead of their time both in their espionage careers but also in their love lives.

Stirling likes to base his stories around strong women, especially those with same-sex attractions. If your personal beliefs can get you past that, you’ll find an excellent novel with some fascinating world-building.

This is the second in the “Black Chamber” series and again our two female agents are battling the Kaiser’s evil operatives, who are almost as nasty as the Nazis of our own reality.

Stirling is meticulous in research and powerful in character development. We follow Luz and Ciara through adventure after adventure across the globe as they deal the Huns one setback after another in their plans to use new technology to defeat the Allies and cripple America.

If these books have a slight weakness, it might be that it contains so much technical detail that the flow of the story can sometimes slow to a crawl.

That aside, this is a fine novel with appealing characters and a riveting plot. And there’s a third one on the way, too. As T.R. might say, “Bully for them!”

“Theater of Spies” by S.M. Stirling is published by Ace Books and is available both in trade paperback and e-book formats.


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