This review is in conjunction with a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. The author will be awarding a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.
Deep in the Ward's bowels, Nicholas can finally escape his strange affliction – the thoughts of animals that crowd his head. But seeing Brunel interact with his mechanical creations, Nicholas is increasingly concerned that his friend may be succumbing to the allure of his growing power. That power isn't easily cast aside, and the people of London need Brunel to protect the streets from the prehistoric monsters that roam the city.
King George III has approved Brunel's ambitious plan to erect a Wall that would shut out the swamp dragons and protect the city. But in secret, the King cultivates an army of Sunken: men twisted into flesh-eating monsters by a thirst for blood and lead. Only Nicholas and Brunel suspect that something is wrong, that the Wall might play into a more sinister purpose--to keep the people of London trapped inside.
If you choose to pick this book up, please allow yourself plenty of time--it's not a short book (approximately 500 pages) and it's not a quick read. There's a lot going on in this book -- a lot of people, a lot of nuances, and a lot of activity.
It's heavier on the alternative history than some other steampunk novels I've read. Dinosaurs never died out--they live on in the form of dragons; George III did not die, but rather was known as "the vampire king"; and religion is not worshiping God but different sects of science and the arts-- many of them, because each person could create his own church.
However, just because it's not an easy book to read, don't make the mistake that it's not enjoyable-- because it is. The book is very well written and, being the first book in the series, is setting up the worldbuilding for the remainder of the series. It is so different to the world we know that it's hard to wrap your head around it with a quick scan. It's a book you want to take your time with and savor.
The characters are first introduced as young men involved in a terrible accident. Two of them leave immediately afterward, fearing their third friend blames them for the accident--which resulted in his father being charged and exiled. Ten years later, they are reunited and the rest of the book details the situation they find themselves in. As the book goes on, the friends become more and more concerned about each other and about what's going on with the King's plan.
Other characters are more-or-less regulated to the background; the main characters are indeed Nicholas, James, Isambord, and Aaron and their complex relationships with each other.
I'm looking forward to the next installment in this series--it's anyone's guess what will happen next. 4 flowers. Enjoy an excerpt:
The furnace was unlit; the only light a faint glow from an Argand lamp in Aaron's hand. He squinted at his friend in the darkness, saw his face set into a stony expression.
"Isambard was just informing me of his secret project," Aaron said, his tone even.
"You're building the London railway?" asked Nicholas.
"The King wants you to build a railway in London? Isambard, this is—"
"Amazing. Miraculous, Incomprehensible, I know!" Isambard's excitement filled the room. "It's only a small section of track, but it's a start. He wants me to build a railway from Windsor Castle into Buckingham House. It will be the first railway inside the city. Apart from the first mile of track across the castle grounds, the entire railway will be underground. And it must be built in four months."
"That's preposterous!" Aaron said. "You've only built one railway before, and that hardly stretched a mile, and it took a lot longer than four months."
"Especially not when work on the Wall begins next week," added Nicholas. "That too shares that same impossible deadline, and since it stretches outside the Ward and will be in full view of the public, the Stokers are not permitted to work on it. Where are we going to find men?"
"I am aware of both these issues. That's why I've been holed up in here for the last three days, trying to come up with a solution. Now that you're both here, I can show you what I've created."
Brunel reached over and, with fingers that seemed unusually cold as they brushed Nicholas' arm, pushed the light toward the far corner of the room. There stood two machines that made Nicholas recoil in fright.
"What is that?" Aaron demanded.
"You can approach them." Brunel grabbed Nicholas by the shoulders and dragged him across the room.
"They look so—so—"
"I know. Aren’t they beautiful?" Brunel reached out and stroked the belly of one of the machines, angling the light to give Nicholas and Aaron a better view. "I call them my Boilers. They will revolutionise the manufacturing process."
Each Boiler stood a little higher than Brunel — round furnace bellies balanced on metal skids, with a complex labyrinth of wheels, tubes and gauges protruding from the top. Their shape appeared too natural, too human, to be made of iron, but iron they were, and ingeniously designed. Clawlike limbs extended from the furnace body, and where one would expect a head, Brunel had given each a double chimney. More dials and gauges protruded from the rear of the furnace, and Nicholas recognised some of the controls from Brunel's steam locomotive designs — a regulator, a water glass. Obviously prototypes, the metal was rough, unfinished, but Nicholas immediately grasped the basic idea.
"They’re … workers?"
Brunel nodded. "There aren’t men enough in England to finish the railway and Wall as soon as the King wants them, but with machines to work day and night, and men like Aaron to run them, we can do it. These are just prototypes, of course, but fifty units are being finished in the workshops as we speak. I plan to have the first Boiler workgang operational by the end of the week. Watch."
He opened the furnace of the nearest one and stoked it up. It spluttered to life, churning steam from its double chimney. Brunel worked the controls from behind the Boiler, stepping aside when it lurched forward. Aaron stumbled back, tripping over Nicholas as the Boiler barrelled toward them, claws outstretched, steam billowing from its mechanical neck.
Panicked, Nicholas rolled out of the Boiler's path, dragging Aaron back with him. But the Boiler wasn't after them. It tore straight past Nicholas and picked up a length of pipe from the bench behind him. Holding the pipe in its clawed hands, it bent the length into a perfect U, fitted a pressure gauge on the end, then fitted it to another pipe protruding from the wall, tightened the whole apparatus, and stood back, awaiting its next instruction.
"See?" Brunel clapped his hands together. "The Boiler will repeat that task, again and again, until he is given new instructions. Aren't they the most amazing invention that ever your eyes did see?"
About the Author:
She lives in an off-grid house on a slice of rural paradise near Auckland, New Zealand, with her cantankerous drummer husband, their two cats, and their medieval sword collection. She writes about metal music, her books, living off-grid, and her adventures with home-brewing on her blog SteffMetal.com.
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