April 9, 2020

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.

Book Review: The Ragged Man

The Ragged Man, published by Pyr Books, is Book Four in Tom Lloyd’s Twilight Reign series. I have to say that this is the best so far, in my humble opinion. The characters are developed, the stage is set, the story rolls. I had a hard time putting down this book.

Lord Isak the White Eye Farlan Lord dies at the end of the last book after killing the son of the series bad guy, Kastan Styrax. Not knowing there was to be a Book Four, I was a little upset by the development. The onset of The Ragged Man reveals that although dead, there is a plan to bring back Isak. Minh the disenfranchised Harlequin retrieves and revives Isak to fight in the ongoing battle between good and evil.

The tension building through the story is as tangible as spring fog in New England. There are several subplots building to the battle that is the climax and that ultimately defines The Ragged Man. Isak’s return and involvement in the final battle is brief but dramatic. Still, it makes the point.

I am waiting with bated breath for the 5th  and final book in the Twilight Reign series. Lloyd is not gentle with his characters and a happy ending will most assuredly be bittersweet.  I’m girding my proverbial loins for the mixed feelings I’m certain will come at the end of book five…

Book Review: The Silver Skull

The Silver Skull by Mark Chadbourn is the first in the Swords of Albion series. It’s a spy thriller based in an alternative Elizabethan era. There are historical figures, such as the Queen, mixed in with the fictional characters. The combination is well done, and it adds a surrealistic level to the tale.

At the heart of the action is our hero, Will Swyfte. Will is unusual as spies go, because everyone knows who and what he is.  By design. His successful foray against Phillip of Spain made him a national hero, and his carefully crafted public personna helps keep the people of England feeling safe and secure. In reality, he is a key player in Walsingham’s (another historical figure) spy network.

There is a marvelous supporting cast in this novel.  Dr. Dee (Walsingham’s Q) provides tools and information to the team.  The mysterious Unseelie Court is an appropriately dark Enemy. Elizabeth I is formidable against said Enemy.  Grace, sister to Will’s beloved and disappeared Jenny, is a perfect damsel in distress. The Silver Skull itself is a nasty business that controls who wears it but is controlled by another.

As is appropriate, many things are resolved by story end, but there are open issues to be addressed in the future installments of The Swords of Albion. Chadbourn’s writing draws the reader through his complex tale with relative ease. The incorporation of historical stuff adds an element of possibility, and the inclusion of sorcery and mystical characters keeps it fantasy. It’s big fun to read. I am already ready to read what Will Swyfte and Walsingham’s crew will get up to next.

Book Review: This Crooked Way

Morlock Ambrosius, the focal point of this story, is an old, odd, bent over man, who is simultaneously mysterious and transparent; pleasant and gruff; helpful and in the way. Whatever one might say about Morlock, he does weave an interesting story around himself.

The Crooked Way is, I think, a description of how Morlock’s goal in this story is attained. It certainly is not a direct route, and he certainly does not get there alone or unaided. What’s wonderful about this story is the telling. It’s not all third person with Morlock at the center. It starts and ends that way, but in the middle are interludes, and chapters told from the perspective of those brought in to Morlock’s maelstrom.

This device is highly effective, because the plot goes forward as the narrator changes. So, we are not hearing the same moment in time from different perspectives, but different moments in time from different perspectives. I’ve not seen this done this way before, and I truly liked it.

Also, there are interesting roadblocks put into the plot; interesting antagonists; interesting settings; very interesting twists and turns.

In sum, I have not read the first Morlock book, Blood of Ambrose, but I am definitely going to have to go back to it. Morlock is an interesting character, and Enge’s writing makes him more so. If you’re looking for a new author to read, give James Enge a go. I’m betting you’ll enjoy the trip.