Genre: Fantasy — Steampunk
Series: Gideon Smith #1
Publisher: Tor (September 10, 2013)
Length: 352 pages
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
This steampunk book has it all!
You want a cool Victorian setting? No problem.
You want vampires and mummies running amok? They are everywhere.
Dirigibles, sky pirates, treasure, pyramids? Mr. Barnett gives them to you.
Adventure, fighting, ancient mysteries, love stories between unlikely people? Its all in the book.
The story itself begins in a tiny fishing village in Victorian England, where our unlikely hero Gideon Smith finds himself an orphan after the mysterious death at sea of his fisherman father. And though no one believes him, Gideon knows it was no accidental death but the work of some diabolical creature, and he vows to follow in the footsteps of Captain Lucian Trigger, the hero of his favorite penny dreadful, and avenge his father.
Before Gideon can actually begin his quest for vengeance, however, he crosses paths with an aspiring author; none other than Bram Stoker, who appears to believe Gideon’s story of monsters preying on the living but seems much more interested in the eerie similarity between the fate of Gideon’s father and another local shipwreck. A shipwreck where all aboard were dead or missing except a huge, black hound that escaped and which reeks of vampires to Mr. Stoker.
No matter their different agendas, however, these unlikely companions gradually discover that Gideon’s monsters and Stoker’s vampires are two sides of the same coin – though neither are what they appear to be. But that realization is just the tip of the iceberg, as soon our comrades discover that foul business abounds everywhere: government conspiracies, ancient Egyptian curses, and diabolical villains. And to Gideon, it soon seems he is living a story straight out of the pages of a penny dreadful!
And that mechanical girl mentioned in the title?
She is here: each wondrous tube and clockwork gear. Soon, you will find Maria one of the most fascinating characters in the book, likable and sympathetic, mysterious but so familiar. Her growing realization of herself as a true person and her relationship with Gideon always enjoyable. But even though she follows along behind Gideon in his adventure, his journey is not hers, for Maria is a person seeking answers and understanding about who and what she is, not a heroine fighting villainy – though, she does that as well.
And the steampunk Victorian setting?
It is the wondrous backdrop upon which all of Gideon’s adventures are played out. A fantastical alternate universe, where gears and gadgetry abound. And Mr. Barnett fills every nook and cranny of his steampunk world with morsels of marvelous history and fantastical machines; each tidbit contributing as much to the enjoyment of the story as do the actual characters. Indeed, it is one of the most fully imagined steampunk worlds that I have read about.
To sum up, this novel is best described as a grand mixture of Victorian Indiana Jones, old-fashioned horror story, and alternative history fantasy. A tale which takes its heroes from the quiet seashore of Gideon’s home to the mean streets of steampunk London, from the land of clockwork taxis to the mysterious sands of Egypt, from the soaring heights of the dirigibles to the claustrophobic darkness of ancient pyramids, from the shadowy depths of the vampire lair to the musty chamber of the mummies. It’s the story of a young man discovering that heroes are not always what you envisioned them to be, and a mechanical girl who finds that being human is more than looking like one or having a few scattered memories. It’s a search that brings to light a different side of vampires (even when they don’t sparkle!) and shows the ancient cruelty of mummies too long dead. But, ultimately, this book is about one thing: nonstop fun!