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-- a sweeping vision of steampunk fantasy with a whole range of technologies and factions clashing amidst 'stiff upper lip' Victorian England
-- characters are fun and well rounded for this kind of fiction
-- does a surprisingly good job at both tying up the plot lines of this particular story and simultaneously establishing characters and plot lines for the the follow on books
-- good narration
-- didn't bother me much but it may bother some: this is steampunk fantasy. It's not just an alternate technological development line, it's the 1890s with things that couldn't be done today. In fact some of the tech is probably just impossible, or at least 50 years out from now, but Victorians are being it with wood and brass. If this bothers you, large chunks of this book, especially the last third, will really grate on you
-- similarly, while the coverage of Victorian speech patterns and mannerisms is often a strength of the book, the speechifying in the action sequences (again in the last third) is just ridiculous. It's kind of like professional wrestling where you have to listen to a lot of nonsensical talking to set up a fight and then during the fight people will just stop to talk and showboat for awhile because it fits their character as opposed to making any sense at all.
-- sometimes plot convenience just overtakes common sense even if you suspend disbelief for the steampunk aspects: at one point a character who has been stabbed through both thighs with a spear gets up and outruns healthy Somali warriors. Really? Not just stabbed in one thigh but in both thighs? Really?
-- it's a common failing of action heros in the last twenty years or so, but if you add up the amount of damage the hero takes it's probably enough to kill 3-4 guys and put two more in the hospital
Overall the good stuff was things I like and the bad stuff was the kind of things I can gloss over so it was 4 stars for me but if the you have read any of these bad points and thought to yourself "it makes me nuts when they do that" this will probably be a 2 star or even a 1 star book for you.
87 of 92 people found this review helpful
I like steampunk, I like science fiction, and I like Victorian history, so I should have loved this, but I didn't. There is nothing horribly wrong with book, but there is little particularly wonderful either. Rather than big issues, I found that lots of little choices ultimately undermined the book.
A sense of place is key in these sorts of historical fantasy novels, and while Hodder gets a lot of obvious references in - London smog, classism, formality, and so on - it feels repeatedly undermined by little things. His characters frequently use anachronistic language (I assume "Great Scott!" feels Victorian, but it is of more modern American use, not a big deal in itself, but typical of the sloppiness), characters are drawn with very broad brushes, and London feels like a set of stereotypical Dickensian elements, rather than a coherent whole.
The sense of adventure is similarly undermined by plot choices. The reader is often led to understand certain things hours before the hero does, for no clear purpose. People have a tendency to suddenly declare important clues as characters seem to randomly stumble into key plot points. New technological elements are introduced as needed, without a real consistent sense of what the limits of the "technologists" are. And the main character is constantly referred to by the third person narrator as "The Great Explorer" or "The King's Agent" as in "The Great Explorer said X." None of these are fatal flaws, but, by the end, they weighed the book down too much.
Again, if you really like steampunk fantasy, you could do worse, but otherwise this book is adequate at best.
37 of 40 people found this review helpful