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The Falling Machine by Andrew Mayer

Sarah Stanton is the daughter of the Industrialist, one of the founding members of the Society of Paragons- a group of gentlemen adventurers who police New York City. Having grown up surrounded by the exploits and inventions of the Paragons Sarah has the mind and motivation to be an adventurer herself, if it weren’t for her protective father. And the at times overwhelming obstacle of her gender. She is a strong, outgoing female without seeming out of place in her setting- an unconventional woman having grown up in a very unconventional household. Her mother died when she was very young, leaving her to be raised by her wealthy father (who was busy between running his business empire and moonlighting as the Industrialist). While Sarah and her father are often in conflict with each other, there are moments throughout the book where we see how much they love each other, and it keeps the relationship from settling into the designation of being just another plot device.

 
From the opening, it becomes apparent that there is a traitor within the Paragons. As the deaths and disasters start to pile up, Sarah joins forces with the fascinating mechanical man known as the Automaton in an attempt expose the conspiracy. The Automaton, once a Paragon himself, charged with murder and betrayal and considered nothing more than a rogue weapon to be destroyed, will be stretched thin as he tries to defend those who are intent on destroying him, and get revenge for the death of his creator.

 
The Falling Machine is set in a Victorian New York City, and between the Paragons and the villains that oppose them, is peopled with characters reminiscent of the Gold Age of Comics. It is a fast, fun read. I was very fond of the old themed style of villains and heroes, and the Automaton (or Tom, as his friends call him) is a fabulous character. I was also very fond of the Sleuth, one of the Paragons and ally to both Tom and Sarah, with his habit of endless inquiry and his ever-present notebook.

 
There are loose ends, and the book ends rather abruptly as it sets up for the second book in the series. I can understand why the book ended when it did, but there were enough questions still hanging in the air that I worry I will lose those threads by the time book two is released. That being said, I do look forward to reading more.

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Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt

This is my favorite of the series so far. Most of the pacing issues I had with previous books, the sort of situation where everything goes to hell in such a rushed fashion the reader is almost left behind, are delightfully absent in this one. The Commodore drove me nuts, as usual, with his eternal put-upon misery, but even that had a fantastic pay off by the end. I think, after finishing the book, that Commodore Black was one of my favorite characters. His scene at the end is just so visceral. Not punches pulled. And I loved it.

Add in Jethro Daunt, the Circlist priest who was kicked out due do the fact he hears old gods (possessing an amazing talent for deductive reasoning), and his companion Boxiron, the head of a Steamman Knight inexpertly attached to the inferior man-made machine body (with an issue with aggression and stuck gears, not to mention a black market skill set) , and Fire Sea has a cast that not only grabs the readers attention but pulls them through each and every page. Every now and then Jethro appears to be a fantastic hat tilt to Sherlock Holmes, and on occasion made me chuckle with appreciation. His first scene in the book really drives that impression, and I was unable to get it out of my head whenever he was in a scene for the rest of the book.

The main protagonist is Hannah Conquest, ward of the church and math prodigy. She is interesting, but serves more as a reason to bring the rest of the cast together than anything else. Purity and Molly remain far more compelling heroines in my opinion.

The isle of Jago itself presents a creepy, hellish setting. From the corrupting domain of the valvemen to the beasts that roam the exterior of the city there is an omnipresent sense of danger and horror. The book itself is full of murder, conspiracy, and skulking Old Gods, which combined with the setting adds the twisted horror aspect I have come to love and expect from Hunt’s books.

The Ursine race added another interesting culture to the social menagerie that populates the world, and the fact the plot hinged on something more mundane than most of the other novels- race/culture conflict between the Humans and the Ursines- the book as a whole was a more intriguing read.

This is a wholly brilliant addition to the series. I highly recommend picking it up!

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‘Rise of the Iron Moon’ by Stephen Hunt

If you have any interest in steampunk at all, this series should be at the top of your to read list. The world build is a perfect mix of industrial and fantastical. The society is delightfully skewed and often brutal, and horrifyingly believable.

This was a book bursting with pure, enjoyable high adventure. As a bonus, the two lead characters from Court of the Air made an appearance, and while they were not technically center stage for this adventure, they worked very well with those who were.

There is a new threat to the Kingdom of Jackals, and it comes in the form of the invading Army of Shadows. The Army leaves desolate wastelands in its wake as its bizarre creatures rape lands to supply the needs of the Masters. It is up to Molly, Oliver, the Commodore, Coppertracks, and young Purity Drake to somehow stop the Army, defeat the Masters, and save their world. There are hijinks and shenanigans aplenty, politics and dark magics.

We get to see more of the Steam Nation and its sentient race of steam men, which I always enjoy. A nice mix of technomancy and voodoo make the steam culture one of my favorites in the books.

As always, it is the tone of this series that brings me back again and again with such delight. High stakes mayhem and cunning social commentary work very well together and make for some amazing page turners.

Court of the Air is the first book in the series, followed by Kingdom Beyond the Waves. They are all brilliant reads, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. They are fun, pure and simple, and everything else ties into that sense of fun and excitement to make one of the most satisfying reads I have enjoyed in a long time.