Belated sequel to Infernal Devices (1987), the iconic Victorian fantasy for which the author himself coined the term “steampunk.”
George Dower, the timid and not very knowledgeable ex-owner of a repair shop in Clerkenwell, has been rusticating far from London while gambling away the money he gained by selling the remarkable (and to George, largely incomprehensible) clockwork contrivances of his late father to the Royal Society. Finally broke, he’s invited to attend the unveiling of a steam-powered walking lighthouse, a critical component of which was invented by George’s father. George fails to understand why anybody would need a walking lighthouse. As Lord Fusible of Phototrope Limited explains, the seas themselves are intelligent, and their tides ebb and flow according to their own mysterious purposes. What better way to outfox the Sea & Light Book betting agency than to walk the lighthouses to where they’re needed? Moreover, if George can locate his father’s Vox Universalis, communication with the seas might be established. Tempted by the prospect of large amounts of money, George agrees to help. But the world has changed since his self-imposed exile: Vast steam pipes emanating from the Lake District steam mines snake across the countryside; London is a hissing, steam-enshrouded madhouse whose inhabitants have been enticed into ever more bizarre modes of expression. Who is the fabled Iron Lady? And what, exactly, are her intentions? Though the plot—improbable, even by steampunk standards—of this intricate yarn runs out of, er, steam, about three-quarters of the way through, there’s plenty of humor to keep things churning. And U.K.-savvy readers will recognize certain rather scalding satirical elements.
An impressive enterprise that moves very, very slowly.