Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!Ambitious is the word best used to describe this melange of various genres, alternate realities, and mishmash of famous, reviled persons from across history. Rod Rees has indeed created something very unique and quite wonderfully different with The Demi-Monde: Winter. As the first published part in a four-book saga about an alternate reality populated with "Dupes" or a cyber duplicate, of such nasties and reprobates as Henry VIII, Robespierre, Lucrezia Borgia, Shaka Zulu, Aleister Crowley and the main villain Reinhard Heydrich, engineer of the Nazi's "Final Solution", I have to admit this series is off to one hell of a start. This is a novel that will suck you in completely, as if you were a visitor to the Demi-Monde itself; it will envelop you wholly in its individual amount of awesome and flair.The Demi-Monde, put most simply, is an immersive alternate reality created by the United States Army to better train its soldiers without actual harm (an 'Asymmetric Warfare Environment' or AWE), but still with plenty of threat. As a heuristic (aka self-teaching) program, The Demi-Monde is constantly evolving, changing system and at least TWO of the five will always, always be at war with one another. With five sectors (The Rookeries, The Coven, Rodina, Quartier Chaud, and NoirVille), each radically, racially and religiously opposed to the others, it is a place of constant war and pain. It's a delightfully steampunkian locale, with technology equivalent to the 1870's in our (real) world. With 30 million Dupes NowLive, created from actual human DNA, this is a populous, dangerous and utterly alien world. And with Dupes considered basically the same as real humans, with no real difference between them, these horrible people are doppelgangers/reincarnations of the most vile people to walk the earth. Another twist added onto the constant fractious nature of the sectors is the reliance on blood throughout the Demi-Monde. Without it, a Demi-Mondian won't last two weeks, so supply and deman dictate life. Yes, this is a cyber-reality full of Dupes that are vampires, though not in the paranomal-type way: the Dupes simply can't survive without the Red Gold. With such a scarce supply of real blood within the AWE, this is another element is used to keep the sectors constantly at the point of war/invasion. The blood supply for this world could even be seen as an allegory for the real world's attitude regarding oil.You can't fault Rees for being inconsistent or not planning out in minute detail every aspect of this historical fiction/fantasy/steampunk/science fiction-ish-esque story. There's varying cultures, conflicting political parties, isolationist religions. . . any stressor involved in real life, real world strife has been thought of an represented in Rees' hell of a world. From the steampunk flair of "mutoscopes", "steam-limos", the ubiquitous gas-lights, the required mention of "aether", this was a genre that worked well for a recreated subreality/world, coupled with the additional touches from sci-fi and fantasy. I do wish I had a better visual representation of the sectors, The Hub, Terror Incognita, etc. for the maps provided in the digital arc left a lot to be desired with their tiny type and indistinct markings. I never really got a picture in my head of the world itself, and better maps would remedy such an easy fix. While the constant influx of information and data just on the Demi-Monde itself, it can get a bit old but it's also so interesting. I fully admit to googling random side characters mentioned by others just to see who they were (are?), and just what they did to merit a doppelganger in a cyber-reality populated with humanity's worst vermin. I loved the Demi-Monde and all the possibilites it brought for Rod Rees' story but I didn't love all about this tome of a novel. New, invented terms and acronyms are constantly tossed at the reader, from the first page. While it's usually quite easy to figure out the modern-equivalent of what the Demi-Mondians are saying/doing, it's disruptive in the initial part of the novel. Another aspect of the style itself I grew VERY wear of: the random capitializations. Rees will also often subvert a word or saying from the Real World for his Demi-Monde and the results are like this: LessBienism (lesbianism), RaTionalist, nuJus (new Jews), woeMen, etc. Between that and the overdone acronyms (TRUE, ABBA, PINC, AWE) it hampered the story. What started out as a clever but subversive homage to the messed up real world became a schtick to mask a non-advancing plot. It was a bit, "Here, look at all these clever observations I've made and incorporated! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain stagnating characters and plotlines." The story itself is told is a very direct and almost simple style, switching from the lives of Ella, rebel Trixie, Trixie's father Dashwood and (my personal favorite character) a Russian colonel named Vanka Maykov.Ella herself is a bit of an issue for me. As part of "Operation Offbeat" to rescue Norma, the President's daughter somehow caught within the AWE, I wanted to like her. I wanted to enjoy her dark humor, sarcasm and muse into her obviously troubled personal history. It's just hard to feel a genuine rapport with this woman, for me personally. I also thought her intelligence fluctuated strangely: she says she is the top of her class, best SATs, but doesn't know basic world knowledge? She meets Colonel Ivan Ivanovich and doesn't realize he's a Russian? It was random, and weird. I didn't really "get" any of the females of this novel: Norma and Trixie also fall short of my favorites list As for Ella, I definitely liked that she wasn't a general, cliched white female - she's a tough, smart African American young-woman, who is supposed to be the top of her class. Too much of Ella's plot and actions revolved around every Dupe man in the Demi-Monde finding her abnormally, irresistibly attractive, so much so that they are distracted from, say, torturing her. I'm sorry, but especially with white supremacists doing the torturing, the villains are not going to be conveniently distracted by a nice ankle, or a muscled thigh. I also got SO SICK of hearing her own incredulity at using expletives. I stopped counting the instances after the fourth one, but that needs to go, QUICK. The only time I really enjoyed Ella was in her scenes with the amusing Colonel Maykov... and that's more to do with the fake psychic than the Shade PsyChick. As for Trixie Dashwood, former Lady of the royal regime, now enmeshed within the Demi-Mondians white supremacist version of the Third Reich (the ForthRight as it's called) she's constantly in danger. Trixie is a hard-headed and hard-hearted young-woman. Between her, Ella and Norma three different types of woman are portrayed (seductress/rescuer, wimp/whiner/rescuee, cold/closed off) and I didn't love a single one. Trixie is just too much: too much anger, too much selfishness, too much action and no thought. Ella, by far comes the closest, but in this world of EXTREME character arcs, she remains far from a favorite. Ella's development from "jad" singer to rescuer to Messiah? Really? I can't say I predicted that at all, but that's a risky and inventive move to take for a (female) character. . I can buy Trixie's revolutionary bent, but her abrupt and entirely unreal switch from proto-RaTionalist Lady to Commander of a militia? In days? With Trixie "[knowing] exactly what had to be done" for an entire military camp? I. Do. Not. Think. So. I call shenanigans, Mr. Rees. That is too far-fetched for a steampunk alternate reality inside a computer with murderous villains from across the ages. But even there, Trixie's evolution does not stop. Slight spoiler ahead: her eventual (and honestly, quite disheartening), bloodthirsty command turns her into something murderous and terrible, something not very far from the SS themselves. Rees does a subtle but effective job of pointing out that fighting fire with fire will sometimes turn you into what you fight. I had to admit that besides a certain charming, scheming Russkie named Maykov, it was the side, bit-players that I enjoyed the most: Louffie, Roza (LOVED HER), Dabrowski. I also quite liked Trixie's sneaky but smart father, the former Baron Dashwood and wished he'd had a bit more time to operate on the page/within the Demi-Monde itself. He sadly was the most underutilized of all the players.The Demi-Monde: Winter is a lot of book. With plotlines that seem to tie together seamlessly and lead to a satisfying and thoroughly original read, I can't not recommend this novel. One of those rare books where antagonists both outnumber and outclass their counterparts, this was one I both didn't want to finish while simultaneously wishing I had the sequel, The Demi-Monde: Spring, in my hands as soon as I closed the cover, metaphorically speaking. Yes, there are a lot of uncomfortable themes about race, religion, politics, women - but they're all handled with aplomb and finesse and I wasn't off-put by them. The ending doled out some much-needed information, while offering unforeseen complications, a few answers and a burning desire to read the second as soon as humanly possible.