the low down on new books

Steampunk

The Affinity Bridge

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by George Mann. 336 p. Published July 2009 by Tor Books.  Purchased eBook through Amazon.com because my book club picked it for June’s selection.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult – Zombie Steampunk

Short Bio: The first “Newbury and Hobbes Investigation” book finds agents for Queen Victoria, Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes, in Industrial Age England trying to discover the mysterious circumstances behind the crash of the airship Lady Armitage.  As Newbury and Hobbes investigate the crash scene and airship company, they are drawn into the interesting world of clockwork men, the seemingly unrelated serial killings of “The Glowing Policeman”, and (of course) the underlying spread of the zombie-creating plague.

Eyewitness Account: Seriously, a ZOMBIE STEAMPUNK novel?  What a way to mash genres!  I have to give kudos to Mann for pulling it off way more convincingly than I expected an author could.  Unfortunately, that was what he did best in this novel – mesh together the automaton and zombie plots in a rather clever way.  The actual writing style and character development suffered so much that I struggled to get to the rewarding climax of the book.  Newbury was a poor carbon copy of Sherlock Holmes (replacing an opium addiction with laudanum), and Hobbes was a confusing feminist character who held oddly modern suffrage ideas while concurrently distrusting progress and technology.  I would have liked to see them developed more dynamically than serve to mirror past literary characters – and perhaps Mann will have the opportunity to do that in future installments of the series.

I must also admit skimming through the drawn out fight/chase scenes that really befit a movie more than a book and wondering what purpose the Jack Coulthard plot served at all – any enlightment on that front would be more than appreciated!

If you’re really into Steampunk, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, or anything with zombies in it, then you’ll probably enjoy this book; it has a twist that’s well worth wading through the rest of the book for.

Notable Quotes:

“He wanted to stay in that moment, for time to stand still so that he could lie there, basking in the firelight and watching the pretty girl who had come to his rescue – without having to face her when she woke and explain his failings.  He imagined watching the light dying in her eyes as he revealed the truth: that aside from his more salubrious pursuits he was a habitual opium-eater and a dabbler in the occult.”

“And with genius comes a certain amorality that is sometimes difficult to judge.  Genius is, in many ways, akin to madness.  Both states of mind demand a disconnection from reality, from the real, physical world, an ability to lose oneself in thought.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? The Book Smugglers, Strange Horizons, Flames Rising

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★☆☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★

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Camera Obscura

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Lavie Tidhar. 416 p. To be published April 26, 2011 by Angry Robot.  Advanced review copy provided courtesy of the publisher in electronic format through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Steampunk (Victorian Era Alternate History)

Not-So-Short Bio: There is no good short bio of this book out in the interwebs . . . probably because the plot is so quirky that it doesn’t distill well into a blurb!  So, I’ll give it a shot myself:  Milady de Winter (of Dumas fame) serves the “Quiet Council” of the French underworld as a secret agent  in an alternate Victorian era full of familiar literary figures (Viktor Frankenstein and Quasimodo to name a few) as well as characters who are rather unfamiliar (unless you’ve read Tidhar’s previous novel, The Bookman).  Milady’s directive is to track down a murderer and locate an object stolen from the scene of the crime.  She quickly realizes that the Council must not be telling her the entire story as other factions begin to gather in Paris who hold the same objective.  Milady must ultimately decide whether to fulfill her own personal quest for vengeance or complete the task set before her by the Council.

Eyewitness Account: So, personal caveat: this is my first “steampunk” novel – if you’re new to the genre, it describes a mesh of fantasy and historical fiction (usually set in Victorian-era industrial age) with the key element of including machines/automatons/robots that rival humans.  Camera Obscura is actually the sequel to The Bookman, but it can be read as a stand-alone (it took me about half the book to realize that Vespuccia was the alternate name for America, which was probably introduced in the The Bookman.)

Added to the coolness factor: strong and mysterious female protagonist, literary characters galore, alternate history revisions, eastern oriental secret societies, and nuns with guns

Didn’t quite float my boat: female protagonist didn’t sound or act female (most male writers seem to struggle with this, especially in action/adventure stories), most characters felt shallow/underdeveloped, and plot was too slow at the beginning and too fast at the end (now don’t I sound picky?).

This was a pickle of a review for me to write.  For all the clever and creative pieces of the story I liked, there were an almost equal number of things that either annoyed me or just fell flat.  Ironically, the closest books I can compare them to are not steampunk at all – Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.  Fforde also writes a female protagonist in an alternate history with a plot full of literary characters.  However, where Fforde’s books are chock full of wit and whimsy in addition to evil villains and mass mayhem, Tidhar’s writing relies heavily on plot while skimping on dialogue and characterization.

So, if what you love is a good action film where lots of things get blown up and the superhero defeats all odds to save the day – definitely grab this book!  You’ll be astounded by the unusual mix of plot elements that Tidhar throws at you, and he should really try to market it as a film script.  If characters and writing style are really your thing, you should probably pick up The Eyre Affair instead.

Notable Quotes:

“The corridor was dark. As she ran ghostly figures materialised at the end.

Nuns.

Nuns with guns.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Traveler’s Steampunk Blog, Ramblings of a Borderline Misanthrope, Cybermage

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆