By: Lilith Saintcrow
303 pages (Trade Paperback)
Sorceress Emma Bannon and mentath Archibald Clare team up for the first time to thwart various nefarious plots against Londoninium, an alternate history Victorian London.
If it’s got a steampunk cover I’m going to read it, no matter what. Nothing will stop me, not even the writing style in this book. From what I’ve gathered, some steampunk authors like to honor their Victorian time periods by adopting a more Victorianesque writing style. This can make a fun 300 page mystery/adventure into a more labor intensive read. I almost gave up 80 pages in, but I hate giving up on a book, so I persevered.
As a result of the author’s chosen writing style, I found those first 80 pages to be surprisingly confusing. There was a lack of flow to the writing and I found I was tripping over words and phrases. There was also an occasional vagueness, or lack of necessary detail. On multiple occasions it was unclear just what was happening. For example:
“Emma climbed to her feet, brushing off her dress.” The only problem here is that there was never any mention of her not being on her feet to begin with. As far as I knew she had been standing the entire time. Other such inconsistencies had me a little lost at times.
All this vagueness and confusion is a real problem when you have a book with some serious world building in it. A lot of the peculiarities of Londoninium are thrown at you at a fast pace, which would be a challenge with the clearest of writing. It’s a lot to take in and with the writing on top of it, this book took a lot more effort to read than I would have liked.
The back of the book claimed that Bannon and Clare are forced to work together but can barely tolerate each other, but they actually tolerated each other quite well. They are certainly opposites, but I detected no real animosity between them, not even slight annoyance. There was far more conflict between Bannon and her Shield (who is a person by the way).
Misleading book covers aside, it was a decent story with some pretty cool world building. It’s steampunk sorcery with a touch of Sherlock Holmes. Mentaths represent the logical, while sorcerers represent the illogical. Clare was every bit the image of Holmes, and Bannon thoroughly represented the unladylike Victorian lady, that classic female character in a historical time who breaks social convention habitually, but still cares if her dress is ruined. The two were a little cliche, but it didn’t really bother me.
The story would have moved quickly if the writing hadn’t gotten in the way, but by the time I was half way through it wasn’t as noticeable, so I think I got used to it, or it got better, I can’t be sure which. The world building is probably what kept me the most interested and I am curious to learn more about it in future volumes. The writing may be a little problematic, but I don’t think it’s enough to keep me away. Until next time…