This is a new feature I decided to do occasionally. A time when I can go back and shine the spotlight on a book that I really enjoyed in the recent past, but not enough other people have discovered. And our star this time out is Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.’s opening salvo in his steampunk extravaganza: Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin!
Publisher: 47North (July 2, 2013)
Length: 446 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
The image of those huge, silvery-skinned dirigibles drifting above the earth with a cloud-filled sky as a backdrop has always captured my imagination. Honestly, I’m not ashamed to say I have purchased several books just because they had a zeppelin on the cover: Michael Moorcock’s The War Lord of the Air being one of them. So, when I ran upon Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, I knew I had to read this novel.
From the first sentence, Mr. Preston gave me what I had always longed for in a zeppelin story: an adventure where the dirigible is the star of the show. Now, do not misunderstand, there are many interesting characters, suspenseful plot lines, and intriguing historical tidbits in this novel, but the Pneumatic Zeppelin absolutely steals the show in my opinion.
Our steam powered lady drifts across the skies of this steampunk world in all her glory, capturing one’s attention in the same manner that the Starship Enterprise does in Star Trek. And as a reader learns how she is built, how she is flown, how her captain and crew adore her, and how she fights, the Pneumatic Zeppelin blazes brighter than a hydrogen balloon on fire!
And like her spacefaring counterpart the Enterprise, this mighty ship also has a man who cherishes her above all mortal caresses; this man being one Romulus Buckle, who is cut from the same swashbuckling cloth as one James Tiberius Kirk. Indeed, from the first page, a reader understands that “Romulus Buckle (i)s an airman, a zeppelin pilot, to be exact, or to be less exact, in the local slang, a gasbag gremlin, a dirigible driver, a balloon goose, an air dog, or whatever moniker any lazybrat might cook up in his gin-stewed cerebellum.” He is young, dashing, handy with a saber, and without a doubt married to the lady of his dreams: the Pneumatic Zeppelin, and as the story begins, he is a man on a life-and-death mission with his trusty crew in tow.
For in this post-apocalyptic world, the men of the Snow World – the old California – are divided into clans, fight never-ending skirmishes against each other, and attempt to live their short lives to the utmost before a quick death descends upon them. But now, something unheard of has occurred, as the “fogsuckers,” or the Founders if you will, have kidnaped Balthazar Crankshaft and several other clan leaders from a peace conference. This upsets the delicate balance of power in the Palisades, leaves all the clans feeling vulnerable, and has brought the Snow World unto the brink of all out war.
With the Founders not explaining their actions, the other clans are left to assume that their mysterious neighbors intend to finish what they began decades before: bring to heel all the clans around them and thereby fulfill the original “Founders” ancient desire to reshape human civilization.
Before the “fogsuckers” can unleash their dreadful plans, Romulus and the Pneumatic Zeppelin are dispatched to set things right. They will attempt the impossible: pass through the walls of poisonous gas that surrounds the Founder’s city of old Los Angeles, breach the Founders’ legendary defenses, and snatch Balthazar out from under their very noses. The whole of the Crankshaft Clan believes the Pneumatic Zeppelin can accomplish this; the zeppelin’s crew is ready to lay down their lives for this task; and Romulus Buckle is willing to sacrifice everyone – including his own dearly loved airship – if that is what it takes to rescue Balthazar!
The adventure that follows is well-worth a reader’s time. There are “blackbang powder” musket battles, sword fights, dirigible combat, not to mention a fascinating crew (whose personalities and camaraderie remind you of Jim’s spacefaring group) as well as all the usual elements of the steampunk genre. Without a doubt, Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders” is an exciting ride, yet as I said, the zeppelin is the star here, whether the author intended it or not. For as Romulus Buckle himself points out: “The sky (i)s the place to be.”
Yes, it is Romulus. Can I go ahead and sign up for the next novel right now?
I received this book from 47North and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank Netgalley for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.