Steampunk is an odd mesh of history, fantasy and technology that frequently suffers from inconsistent blending. Perhaps I will have to agree with Kerry’s review and declare “genre incompatibility.” Like the loud drunk guy at a party, it is at times mildly funny, then unintelligibly serious, but always focused on getting some action and ultimately annoying. Undoubtedly, if you stand by him too long, there will be beer spilled on your shoes.
Phoenix made a pass and missed me. First, there is the tongue-in-cheek naming: an action-oriented lead named “Braun,” a librarian–excuse me–Archivist named “Books,” an Australian named “Bruce,” a home for the insane called “Bedlam.” Then there’s the random Victorian idioms: “So because some gammy tart pulled a flam on you, you’re thinking yourself the Ministry’s glock?“ (If this seems incomprehensible in context of my review, it’s only fair, as it lacked more than cursory contextual explanation as I read). Throw in the awkwardly worded sentence such as “His grip was fleeting as the hand wrenched back to where the coach whip wrapped around his neck and then went taut. The black rider’s arms flail wildly as he plummeted from his saddle” and you have writing that doesn’t hold up to thoughtful reading.
While I thought the beginning was fun, the plot started wandering three quarters through. The mystery is rather spurious with a meeting leading to a locket leading to a clue (and why would the villains pay for a table for a year in advance?) which leads to attempts on their lives. Sprinkled throughout are hints and innuendos that will lead to later series developments, I’m sure. Two scenes in which a mysterious evil gentleman forces intelligence officer to act as inside double agent lacked congruity.
**********We interrupt this review to bring you a public service announcement**********
Personal liberation from sexual stereotypes does not mean overuse of sexuality to accomplish goals by manipulative means. It does not mean you have to display your assets among sexually repressed people to prove you are different or autonomous. Hopefully, you will learn this sooner rather than later: freedom is not simply opposition.
**********We now return you to your regularly scheduled review***********************
The characters aren’t anything unique and Braun annoyed me with her “I’m a feminist but I wear a corset so I can use my ta-tas to distract men” tone. I don’t know that I needed the titillation of a forced orgy scene to be convinced that the bad guys were bad. It was roughly at this point that I started to lose interest in the book and start skimming. It’s the kind of thing that moves it from young adult level to adults-only, especially since it strongly hints that our heroine chooses to partake (Ooh, how rebellious! She is control of her own sexuality when she chooses to have sex to fit in!) To each her own, after all, but I found the cumulative references to her “liberation” monotonous.
Rating: three stars the first half, two stars once we hit the mansion scenes, for a wavering two and a half stars.