In his fiction debut, della Quercia imaginatively steampunks a worldwide conspiracy confronting President William Howard Taft, a crisis that threatens the U.S.
Curiously, Taft is "the single greatest underground boxing champion the world would never know of." That avocation is facilitated by Nellie Taft’s willingness to run her husband’s administration; a look-alike automaton; and an 800-foot-plus flying machine, Airship One, capable of a fun trip across the pond so Taft can box four London toughs in one night. In a plot bracketed by Lincoln’s assassination and the sinking of the Titanic, Taft and company cope with a sinister superweapon fueled by cesium hydroxide, clues to which are incorporated in a pocket watch, "unlike any machine in history," given to Lincoln by a Russian ambassador. The watch is brought to Taft by a worried Robert Lincoln, Abraham’s son. More characters are yanked from history, including Tesla (he gets good press), Edison (he doesn’t), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Machiavellian J.P. Morgan, and diabolical King Leopold II of Belgium, ravager of the Congo. Taft’s the most appealing character, 350 pounds of bon homme, passionately in love with Nellie, loyal to those who serve him, including the Cuban cigar–smoking Wilkie, Secret Service chief and bane of Nellie’s existence. There’s a Marx Brothers reference amplified by a Groucho-ism; an attack at the White House; an invasion of Yale’s Skull and Bones, “the greatest secret of the society: its lack of any particularly meaningful secrets”; an Airship One trip to meet Kurtz in the heart of darkness; and a rock-'em, sock-'em shootout aboard the Titanic. Highlighted by footnotes linking events to news reports in the archives of the New York Times, the narrative moves smoothly, a tale laced with dialogue often incorporating Tom Swift–ian charm and constructed so that techno-wizardry doesn't overwhelm the story.
A good-fun entry point into the world of steampunk.