I read Expeditions to the Mountains of the Moon fifth even though it’s chronologically the third in the series. I’m not really sure it matters though since much of the time even the characters don’t know what’s going on, or remember what happened to them prior to the start of the particular book. This book basically takes Algy out of the picture for a lot of the story by having Burton hallucinate/travel back and forth between 1863 and 1914. Neither is a good time/place to be, and Burton has to figure out what’s going on and what the connection is. The 1914 sections take place in Africa during this universe’s version of a World War, and Burton’s sidekick in this time and place is none other than Herbert George (Bertie) Wells, a journalist. The fighters are what’s left of Britain verses Germans wielding biological weapons that include genetically modified people. One thing neither side can get around are the ‘lurchers’, sentient (maybe) and violent plants with red flowers that threaten everyone. As a commentary of the wrongs and harshness of war, this part works just fine, but as a story, it gets dull quick since nothing new really happens. Burton is confused, and Bertie tries to help; that’s about half the book.
In the 1860s, a friend is poisoned in an attempt to kill Burton, but not much comes of this because as set up in the previous novel, Lord Palmerston is sending him off to Africa again to locate the final Eye of Naga, a blank diamond with supernatural properties. Most of the 1863 time is spent undergoing harsh travel, people getting sick and dying, or getting attacked and dying. This includes Algernon who falls into a pit after having been stung by one of the head bad guys, a genetically engineered Ferdinand graf von Zeppelin. Even with Algy, the return of Isabel as the she-warrior leader Al-Manat, and the paring of Pox the foul-mouthed messenger parrot with a mate Malady isn’t enough to keep things from getting dull.
Except that Algy isn’t quite dead. Just before he falls, he sprouts a red poppy on the back of his hand. This little moment really starts to matter once Burton figures out what’s been happening, which a convoluted scheme on the part of the virtually extinct Naga, who only exist in the consciousness held in their diamonds. The solution is actually pretty neat once it gets worked out and Burton manages to get himself back aligned with time, sort of. The story doesn’t quite stop here though, since Burton is then zapped in time again back to the assassination of Queen Victoria where he realizes the shot that killed her might have been his. Given all the bad things Burton goes through, it seems a little pointless to add more at the very last second.