Veaux and Rickert’s (Polyamory and Jealousy, 2016, etc.) steampunk novel tells the story of a conspiracy that threatens to bring down the British monarchy.
Thaddeus Mudstone Ahmed Alexander Pinkerton wakes up in the gutter in New Old London, suffering temporary amnesia after literally falling out of the sky. The year is 1855, but in this alternative history, England is ruled by Queen Margaret the Merciful, ally of the France-based Reformed Holy Catholic Church in its struggle with the Catholic Church of Rome. Her London is filled with refugees from the war as well as clankers (11-foot-tall, mechanical iron men). Thaddeus has just leapt out of the queen’s personal zeppelin after putting an incriminating item in the queen’s cabin, though not before being spotted by Alÿs de Valois, a princess of France. When Thaddeus’ planted ring is discovered, the queen is arrested on the suspicion that she’s secretly in league with Rome; meanwhile, back on the ground, Thaddeus is nearly murdered by the mysterious man who sent him on his mission. The plot that he’s set in motion may bring down the queen and her country unless he, Alÿs, and some other pawns in the game can figure out just what’s going on. Veaux and Rickert summon their fictional alternative London with all of its slang, soot, and Victorian (or rather, Margaretian) squalor: “night had finished its long fall and was lying sprawled out over the disorganized heap of Old New London. Rows of gas lamps created uneven pools of light along the roads. Deep shadows lurked between.” The authors show a great deal of relish for the milieu they’ve created for this story, which, for example, also includes animates—undead laborers stitched together from dead-body parts: “They were frightfully expensive, and as beasts of burden they were only moderately useful, but they’d been all the rage since that doctor from Geneva had started making them a couple of years back.” The enthusiasm is infectious, and readers will quickly find themselves becoming caught up in the characters, the intrigue, and the slightly altered customs of this well-plotted mystery.
A satisfying alternate-history work that doesn’t skimp on adventure.