March 31, 2020

Book Review: Power Under Pressure

In Power Under Pressure, the third in Andrew P. Mayer’s Society of Steam trilogy, the steampunk super heroes known as the Society of Paragons is all but eliminated by Lord Eschaton and his growing army. The battle continues between good and evil in the forms of fortified steam and fortified smoke. Lord Eschaton is furthering his quest for the purification of mankind, starting with New York City residents, by use of fortified smoke. Evil has the decided advantage at the onset.

Sarah Stanton holds the heart of the Tom the automaton and represents the balance of the Society of Paragons. Her challenge — defeating Eschaton and his minions — is all up-hill and there is no shortage of obstacles in her way. Still, with a fantastic array of heroes and villains, old and new, Lord Eschaton and his Children and Sarah and her very slim entourage make for a compelling story.

Tom’s reappearance in the story line is timely and spectacular. The reader gains a deeper understanding of what he is, what Darby meant him to be, and what he could become. Will he be a hero? Or represent chaos? The answer to that question is well developed and completely unexpected.

I have really enjoyed this trilogy from onset to conclusion. The last 30 pages or so of this book are a roller coaster ride of story evolution. Nearing the end of this ride, I found myself wishing there were going to be a fourth book. I wasn’t ready to be done with these characters or Mayer’s steampunk New York City. Happily, I believe there will be more adventures with the Society of Steam. Mayer leaves us with a not-so-subtle indication that that is the case. A new leader for the villians is introduced, the Society of Steam is introduced as replacement to the Society of Paragons, and a third element is also waiting for action…’til mankind is ready and reaches out.

I, for one, cannot wait to see where Mayer takes this story.


Book Review: Hearts of Smoke and Steam

I had a very difficult time putting down Hearts of Smoke and Steam, Book 2 in the Society of Steam and sequel to The Falling Machine.  The Paragons were not in such a great state at the end of The Falling Machine, and Lord Eschaton and his Children were making strides. Tom, The Automaton, was undone, and Sarah Stanton had had a falling out with her father, the Paragon known as The Industrialist.

The beginning of this book finds Sarah living on her own without the comforts she’d known her whole life; the greatly diminished Paragons are interviewing to expand their ranks; the Children of Eschaton are also growing in force; and our story is just waiting to unfold.

There is a struggle between good and evil in the beings of fortified steam (The Paragons) and fortified smoke (Lord Eschaton).  The Paragon team takes a whipping,  but does regain a valuable ally.  The Children of Eschaton don’t win the day, but they cause some serious mayhem.  The clockwork heart of Tom the Automaton is at the heart of the struggle.  Sarah has it; Lord Eschaton wants it.

In the early chapters, Sarah meets a Paragon enthusiast in an incident on a ferry. Emilio Armando helps Sarah in a epic battle against the Child of Eschaton known as Bomb Lance. The excitement of that battle, which starts on the ferry, has Sarah and Emilio traveling up anchor lines to the great blimp from where the attack is housed, and ends with the two crash landing the remains of the vehicle into the junkyard owned and inhabited by Emilio and his sister Viola, is a tenor carried throughout the book.

The cliffhanger ending and the mysterious protagonist known as Anubis call the reader to the next installment of the The Society of Steam as surely as a dinner bell calls family to meals.  One must respond, salivating en route. This is a great read.  Because the reader is now fully comfortable with the steampunk heroes and villains, I believe it’s an even better read than the first.

I applaud Andrew P. Mayer and his creation of superheroes and supervillains whose abilities are the result of science and mechanics. It makes them more plausible, in my mind, and even more possible.  As in real life, it is the nature and experiences of the people using the applications that decides if they’re steampunk alter egos will work for good or evil.  Also, as in real life, evil can be turned to a better way of living, and good can be made to step over the line to the dark side.

Book Review: The Falling Machine

The Falling Machine, Book one of the Society of Steam, is Andrew P. Mayer’s first novel, and I found it a really interesting read.  The story is set in 1880′s Victorian New York with a very industrial feel.  The story opens when Sir Dennis Darby, the head of the Society of Paragons — a gentleman’s adventure club — is surprised upon the frame of the future Brooklyn Bridge and meets with an untimely, but very dramatic, demise.

Witness to this assassination are this story’s unlikely heroes Sarah Stanton, a 19th century woman with a 21st century intellect and drive, and the Automaton (aka Tom), the mechanical man that is Sir Dennis’ greatest achievement.  With Sir Dennis’ death and no other alternatives left to him but to tend to himself, Tom grows into a most interesting character throughout the development of the story. He and Sarah team up to get to the heart of this heinous crime.

The Society of Paragons is a really interesting group of gentleman.  Each has an heroic alter-ego and each has a mechanical outfit appropriate to his name and particular skill. Sir Dennis was involved in creating each of the costumes.  At the heart of the functionality of these otherwise improbable outfits is a substance called ‘fortified steam’.  The Submersible, for example, a German gentleman of some girth, could not comfortably don the diving suit he wore while manning the submarine that gives him his name without the help of Fortified Steam.

One thing about the Society struck me. A gentleman must present an application for membership, including an heroic personna and a philosophy. Mayer himself makes a wonderful statement on the nature of heroes and, really, a statement on the philosophy of the Paragons. “Most heroes were simply people with one or two skills that, with training and focus, could undeniably put them in a better class than the average man.” I like that.

Sarah is herself a force to be reckoned with. She flies under the radar because she is a woman in a man’s world. She is intelligent and independent and a perpetual annoyance to her Paragon father. Although she is unlikely ever to BE a Paragon, she has been raised around them, understands what they are, and functions as one throughout the story. And Tom is the perpetuation of the ongoing conundrum that is mechanical beings. Can they think independently, or not? Can they be trusted, or not? Are they practical even to create, or not?

I like Andrew Mayer. His story made me think some, smile some, and scowl some, all by his design. His imagery was both industrial and post-industrial. His characters are fallible and heroic at once. His teaming up of a woman and a machine to be his heroes was genius.

I’m looking forward already to the next installment of The Society of Steam.