Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Few literary genres walk the fine line between fiction and reality like Steampunk. Clockwork automatons and steam powered vehicles walk hand in hand with the horse drawn carriages and tightly laced corsets of (more often than not) Victorian London. The lines of history are finely blurred as authors add their own spin on an era.

Over recent years there has been an increase in Steampunk type novels. One for which this particular writer is grateful. I have always been something of both a science fiction and historical novel junkie and the genre that can combine the two just makes my little heart beat faster.

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett is one such book. The first in a series it, like many novels of the Steampunk genre, takes place in Nineteenth- century London. The city is the center of a vast British Empire encompassing close to three-quarters of the known world and Queen Victoria is at its helm.

In these pages we are introduced to Gideon Smith, a twenty-three year old young man from Sandsend. Born in to a family of fishermen he spends his days working on his father’s ship and his nights dreaming of adventures read in the penny dreadful’s he loves so much. When strange happenings begin to occur in the tiny port town and people start to disappear – including Gideon’s father – Gideon believes supernatural forces are somehow at work. He believes that the only one who can save them is Captain Trigger, the hero of the numerous stories Gideon has read over the years.

Gideon sets of for London to meet Captain Trigger and along the way meets numerous others including a clockwork girl named Maria. Together the two make it to London and meet the famed Captain – but he is far from what the tales tell. Hoping to find a hero to save the day Gideon continues his search and along the way learns heroes are always where you look for them.

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is definitely a gem in the ever growing pool of Steampunk based books. For the most part the characters are well written. There were a few who were, in my opinion, a bit one dimensional and I would have liked to have had them fleshed out a bit more. I do understand that this cannot always be the case and do hope to see more of these individuals in future books where we the reader can get to know them a bit better.

Barnett gives us not only fictional characters like Gideon, Maria and Captain Trigger but actual historical persons like Bram Stoker and Hermann Einstein. Some are major players in the story while others are mere one line mentions that the careful reader will find and perhaps chuckle over. The weaving of fictional and historical characters is well done and personally I could easily envision a universe like this.

A pleasant and welcome surprise for me with this book was the twist ending. Up to the last 20-30 pages of the book, I was sure I knew how it was to end. The bad guy had been revealed, all was left was to foil his machinations and wrap everything up. And while that was indeed done, it was achieved in a way that was happily surprising. I thought I knew what was to occur and I found I was only partly right. For an author to surprise me definitely means I will be coming back for more.

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl

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Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau by Guy Adams

Throughout literary history characters have emerged that continue to stand the test of time. Characters such as Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’.

Over the years several authors have written books and short stories starring the famous detective. While most were good (and some not so good in my opinion) few were able to capture Doyle’s particular writing style. That is, for me at least, until Guy Adams came along.

As of this writing, Adams has written two original Sherlock Holmes novels. Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God and Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau. Breath of God came out first and really should be read before The Army of Dr. Moreau simply because a few characters are introduced in the first book and re-appear in the second. Of course, should the reader not do so it will in no way decrease their enjoyment of the book.

In The Army of Dr. Moreau, we see Sherlock and Watson approached by Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft. Bodies have started to surface bearing wounds that could only be inflicted by wild animals not found in London. The bodies are supposedly the calling card of Dr. Moreau, but as he was drummed out of England and later died, it could not possibly be him murdering these individuals. Some person or persons have picked up Dr. Moreau’s work where he left off and continue to experiment. Mycroft instructs Holmes and Watson to find who it is before their work goes too far.

As you can tell by the title, this book features not one but two well known literary characters. Reading further in to the story, we are introduced to even more literary characters such as Professor Challenger from Doyle’s The Lost World and Abner Perry from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At the Earth’s Core, among others. I will not divulge their roles in the book as that would ruin the fun. I will say however that Adams weaving of the multiple characters from different authors is well done. They are not simply dropped in to the book but are given a role, one that fits each one well and would be completely plausible should they all exist in the same literary universe.

The pacing of the book was also well done, I found it to be a real page turner. The language and style of speaking is very reminiscent of the original stories. Adams captures not only the cadence of Sherlock Holmes’ speech but that of Dr. Watson and the myriad of other characters within.

I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and have been for many years. This recent influx of new fiction with the famous detective delights me to no end. Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr. Moreau is one I will be adding to my shelves.

Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau by Guy Adams (Aug 7 2012) – On Amazon

Hard to be a God by Arkady Strugatsky

There will always be a spot in my heart for foreign entertainment. Be it books, music, or movies, they will continue to remain near and dear. I think this is because it allows us to see a culture different from our own. The tropes that American movies and books all too easily cling to are happily skipped over and ignored.

The problem though, especially in books, lies in the translation from one language to another. Many languages have a word or a phrase that simply can’t be translated. It leaves the person doing the translating fumbling for something that the reader will understand but also stays true to the original text.

Perhaps that is why I had troubles following Hard to be a God by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The original novel, written in 1964, is in Russian. While it was translated once before in to English, apparently that translation was from a German text and subsequently was full of errors. This current translation is from the original Russian text and is supposedly much truer to the original.

The story in Hard to be a God tells the story of Don Rumata of Arkanar. To all concerned he is an arrogant nobleman, dueling and drinking his days away. However he has a secret – he is not who he claims to be. He has in fact been sent from Earth to Arkanar, to watch and observe and perhaps to influence but to never interfere. History must take its course and Don Rumata finds himself swept away with the tide.

The premise of this tale is fascinating and I cannot help but be reminded of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. It too states that a Starfleet officer may observe a culture but can never interfere with it. Considering Hard to be a God was written in 1964, about the time of the original Star Trek series, perhaps one influenced the other?

I lament the fact that I cannot read Russian because I am sure there are nuances to this book that did not make the shift from one language to another. It does not mean this is a bad book, far from it in fact – I found it enjoyable. It definitely is one to make you think.

Buy Hard to be a God from Amazon

Dracula Chronicles Book One: Son of the Dragon by Victor T. Foia

Dracula is a name we generally associate with vampires. With pale faced, black cloak wearing, fanged, blood-suckers. Bram Stoker introduced us to that version of Vlad Dracul and the image has become a part of our history.

Vlad Dracul however was a very real person and the Dracula Chronicles by Victor T. Foia looks to tell his story.

The back cover reads as thus:

Son of the Dragon Back Cover

You could say the book is biography as Vlad Dracul was definitely a real individual. The people in the story; his father, brothers, tutors, etc.; were real people. However this book could also be categorized as fiction, which is where I actually came across this book in my local library.

Dracula Chronicles (the website for the book series) says the author spent nearly 40 years researching for these books. Of this I don’t doubt as the first book is chock full of references to actual persons and events. However using even the most basic of internet research tools – ie. Wikipedia – one can tell that the truth was stretched ever so slightly. That is beside the point though as I do not care to discuss the historical accuracy of this book.

I prefer instead to concentrate on the dramatic elements of Son of the Dragon, and that is where this novel in my opinion shines. The talk of a prophecy given nearly 100 years before weaves its way through the story. It touches nearly every character and whether it will indeed become truth will hopefully be seen in future books. The very reality of war also weaves itself through the book and at time it can be easy to side with young Vlad with his headstrong ideals while at other times one prefers to side with his father and practice constraint.

Foia does not skimp on the harsh realities of life in 15th Century Europe. Survival was harsh, rulers were often cruel, those who had did as they liked and those who did not were often the ones to suffer. The few battles and subsequent deaths are given decent description and don’t descend in to gore as some novels tend to do. The same goes for the two incredibly brief sex scenes. A few brief paragraphs and fade to black.

All in all Son of the Dragon was a book I rather enjoyed. I read through it in five days and I’m fairly sure if it weren’t for work and other Real Life commitments I would have read it in half that time.

For a realistic historical novelization, this is one I would recommend and I’ll be on the lookout for the second novel.

Dracula Chronicles: Son of the Dragon (Volume 1) – On Amazon

Brand New Blog

Welcome to my brand new blog!

I’ve decided to make this blog primarily to talk about books. Yes, I’m aware there are already a ton of book blogs out there. What’s one more?

There is no set genre of books that I will cover as I pretty much read everything I can get my hands on. I do however tend to stray towards fiction but have been known to read the occasional biography or historical based novel.

The occasional off topic blurb might show up as well, but I primarily use my Tumblr blog for that.

Thanks for reading and now let’s talk about books!