Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by David Barnett

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3424-4
Publisher: Tor

Steampunk adventure in the manner of the old penny dreadfuls, from the author of Angelglass (2007).

In an alternate 1890, the British Empire reigns supreme, with America divided, quarrelsome and the East still British. In the fishing village of Sandsend on the Yorkshire coast, Gideon Smith spends his days fishing on his father’s clockwork trawler. At night, he reads his favorite magazine, devouring the colorful but seemingly true adventures of Capt. Lucian Trigger, Hero of the Empire. One day, however, the trawler runs aground with no sign of its captain or crew. Gideon, luckily not aboard on that fateful voyage, suspects supernatural forces are at work, though the local police discourage Gideon from investigating. When a Russian vessel is also found abandoned, Irish writer Bram Stoker becomes convinced that a vampire is responsible. With Stoker, his only possible ally, thus obsessed, Gideon decides to seek help from his hero, Capt. Trigger. On his journey to London, Gideon liberates from a ruined mansion a remarkably humanlike mechanical girl, Maria, whose mad-scientist creator has unaccountably vanished. When Gideon finally locates Trigger, he faces further disappointment: Trigger, old and frail, admits that he merely embellishes and writes down the adventures of his partner, Dr. John Reed. And Reed went missing a year ago in Egypt. Who, then, can save the empire from this possibly existential threat? After a slow start, the narrative gets up a head of steam, and Barnett keeps the boiler hissing by throwing in other historical personages as well as iconic cultural references. The characters, with their recognizable flaws, hold wide appeal. But does a well-developed alternate history, enhanced by steampunk and supernatural elements, really need magic, too?

Often absorbing, though none too original and rather glum in tone.