As a spy thriller, Black Chamber stacks up with the old classics of Kipling and John Buchan. As sci-fi, it comes off as terribly plausible, with Tom Clancy-like mastery of old weapons and potential ones ... Alternate histories run on details, true facts you didn’t know, factoids that might have been true, challenging you to tell them apart. Black Chamber combines them on every level—political, historical and scientific—all worked into a tension-filled tearaway plot.
Stirling asks an interesting question in this thriller ... Stirling has a gift for world building, but by focusing on a secret spy organization called the Black Chamber... rather than making more use of the historical figures and events of the time, the end result is less compelling than it might have been ... [Black Chamber] well may develop into a strong series, if Stirling does a better job of melding fictional and historical elements.
Black Chamber is a rattlingly good spy thriller set in an alternate First World War; unfortunately its political background [is unsettling as the main plot] ... Stirling’s written a fast-paced, hectic adventure of a thriller. I wish the alternate history he set it in didn’t leave me so uneasy: it’s all fine and well for Americans to enjoy the fantasy of a history where their nation is even more dominant than it already was, but empires are painful, messy things, and some of us come from places where the effects of them are living memory. I wish I could enjoy this novel wholeheartedly.
While the story, overall, is solid, Stirling’s pacing is very uneven. There are parts, especially in the first hundred or so pages, that move very quickly and are full of intrigue. Other parts are bogged down by seemingly endless descriptions and Stirling’s over-explaining of things that most readers are smart enough to pick up on. Moreover, the emphasis on details feels out of place, as other historical aspects and realities are barely touched on. In the end, if you don’t already have a deep understanding of WWI to begin with, the constant stream of information can feel overwhelming and may leave readers lost ... S. M. Stirling kicks off his new series with a bang. Fans of Robert Harris and Tony Schumacher will enjoy Black Chamber and appreciate Stirling’s attention to detail.
Prolific fantasist Stirling packs a mighty wallop in this high-spirited alternate WWI history ... Sterling’s lavish historical, linguistic, and cultural detail—including sly digs at real-life figures, such as a youthful J. Edgar Hoover—enhance well-rounded characters to make this a highly enjoyable espionage romp.