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.