After The War: The Tales of Catt and Fisher: The Art of the Steal is a shared world anthology. It’s set in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “After the War” universe, which is focused on a world where the great conflict between good and evil is over, but that resolution has left its own issues behind. What, after all, happens to a world once it has defeated its arch villain? What costs have been borne, what trauma created? The reconstruction of a broken world, the collapse or recreation of old power structures, the change - it’s narratively intriguing. There have been several novels set in this world, from several authors - and they were all cracking reads, with interesting things to say.
That pattern continues here. The focal point of each of these stories are Catt and Fisher, nominally antiquarians, but also veteran meddlers. The pair live together in their battered, comfortable shop. The shop is filled with every magical device and desire one might require. In a world where magic is on the wane, these artifacts of power are immensely desirable - and Catt and Fisher try their best to get their hands on as many as possible. Partly that’s to keep dangerous bits and bobs away from various power hungry madmen and wannabe dictators, and partly it’s just acquisitiveness. The two of them work well together; the relationship feels almost Holmesian, albeit less lopsided. Doctor Catt is gregarious, cheerful, occasionally ruthless, but has a soft-hearted streak running through him. Doctor Fisher is quieter, taciturn, with a presence that quietly fills the rooms he’s in. Gruff but humane, Fisher is an excellent foil to Catt’s mor mercurial nature. Both characters turned up in the novels as minor characters, but you don’t need their history to enjoy their role in this book. Just delight in their banter, the gentle needling and comfortable arguments of two people who have been together for a long time. There’s a warmth and obvious bond between the two, and the strength of that relationship radiates out throughout the text. They’re a pair who tend to solve their problems with quick wits and fast talking rather than swords and boards - though the occasional application of an explosively magical item isn’t out of the question. In any event, they’re a delightfully gentle, bickering pair of semi-geriatric Indiana Jones-types, who only occasionally incinerate things which get in their way.
The stories, from a set of delightfully talented writers, are pure, unadulterated fun. They’re full of magic and high adventure. There’s smart-arsed chat, and what one might call outright hijinkery. Moments of poignant sorrow that wrenched at the heart, and revelations that pulled the gut raw. And then, bits of pure joy. I spent a lot of the time reading this book smiling, occasionally chuckling wryly, and, more often than I expected, laughing out loud. I don’t want to talk about the tales themselves, to avoid giving things away. But there’s some genuinely imaginative stuff here, scintillating and clever ideas that combine delightfully human moments with the magic and wonder of an intriguing world to make stories which you won’t want to put down.
Most of all, these stories are fun. They’re adventures, they’re snappy, they don’t outstay their welcome - but they use their time to say interesting things and also keep you so entertained that you can’t stop turning pages. This is another excellent addition to the After The War canon, and if you’re looking for something to give you a dash of excitement, a laugh, and perhaps shed a tear in the space of a few pages, in between shape changers and fireballs - this is the collection for you.