The stakes are high and I can’t promise a happy ending, but at least you can always enjoy the ride. The gang is back aboard the rickety airship Kestrel for another adventure in colonial Kenya.
Cerulean Rust by William J Jackson is the second in a series of semi-dystopian steampunk novels set in Rail City, Missouri, during the 1880s. It takes place in the wake of a cosmic explosion and the failed league of paranormal heroes The Guild of Honor that it temporarily produced. It’s dark, heavy and dirty as it draws us into the charisma of its characters only to drag them through the mud.
Jackson’s first novel An Unsubstantiated Chamber has grown on me since I first read it a year prior and I was eager to see where this follow-up would take me. While the first installment revolved around a status quo of murder-mysteries, this one quickly throws aside any previous formula. It's got more intense action, for starters, and the mystery is a lot broader. You couldn't just call it a murder mystery.
Chris Dutton makes his steampunk/alt-history debut with The Tyrant Rises, a darkly serious and heavy tale of impending peril and desperate revenge. With a sublime undercurrent of historical detail, the story is still surprisingly personal, saving ample room for airship adventure and the cybernetic supernatural while an ominous cloud of looming war hangs over the plot, right up until the end.
Indie novels are always a mixed bag, especially in speculative fiction, but Dutton balances his personal affinity for Napoleonic war stories and supernatural cyborgs with reasonably good writing and gravitas. Brief use of French and other languages, as well as a confident grasp of European geography and historical context adds a subtle but effective veil of verisimilitude.
Beyond the Rails II: Soldier of the Crown is a fantastic return to form for indie author Jack Tyler. Following once again the crew of the airship Kestrel in 1880’s colonial Kenya, these six new stories are a welcome continuation, further building the world, developing the characters and shaking up the status quo.
We pick up not long after the events of the last book and Tyler continues to succeed in his episodic, almost TV Season like approach to storytelling. The memories of “last season’s finale” are still fresh as he picks up a new adventure with the Kestrel crew. Only Captain Monroe, the American cowboy Smith, and the young tagalong botanist Dr. Ellsworth remain to keep the ship aloft and take on new missions.
Read the rest of my review at Steampunk-Reviews.com
The Vitruvian Heir by L.S. Kilroy is a tantalizing steampunk dystopian novel in which a repressive government has taken control of the United States and reverted it back to Edwardian and Victorian sensibilities. Religious extremism and Imperialistic rule darken what might otherwise have resembled a fairy-tale coming of age story. Our young heroine Lore must choose from the few options allowed to her if she hopes to survive in this harsh world and save any of her friends.
Not unlike her fairy-tale forebears, Lore must acquiesce to her overbearing parents and the social norms under which she is trapped. Namely, she is betrothed to Gideon, the wrong one of her two childhood best friends (Fallon whom she loves is heir to the Empire) and must settle for veiled flirtations and unspoken feelings. Her grandmother leaves her a series of MacGuffins to follow which puts her in touch with an old inventor who helps Lore peel back the layers of propaganda concealing the true history of Vitruvia and its sexist oppression. It’s quaint but reads better than it should due to strong adolescent characterization. It teeters on melodrama but Lore’s reactionism and moods felt warranted by her age.
#@&! gets real though at graduation... Read More at Steampunk-Reviews
An Unsubstantiated Chamber by William J Jackson is a dark steampunk murder mystery set in Railroad City, with a few bleak undertones of the superhero genre to set it apart from the fray. The first in a series, it’s a pretty solid debut from another self-published author and also includes a pair of short stories at the end for bonus material.
Jackson succeeds early on in setting a very dark and dystopian tone for his fictitious Rail city in 1880’s Missouri and I couldn’t help picturing a foggy nineteenth century London (I suppose in steampunk that’s a compliment). His tale is bleak and somber and told with deep regret by our narrator, Miss Aretha Tyne Astin, a hunter of paranormals or “Pins” who is herself a paranormal in league with a Gestapo-like military regime. Using a memoir format (at times, almost confessional) Astin guides us through the series of events that not only surround the Chamber Murders case, but her own personal shift in allegiance.
Beyond the Rails, written by Jack Tyler is the unique kind of steampunk you secretly hope for when you open the cover. A series of stories following the crew of the airship Kestrel and their travels through the adventurous African interior.
By choosing Africa, Tyler single handedly adds mystery, romance and excitement to a genre so often stuck in the same familiar foggy London alleys or dusty American frontier. Part of this owes itself to Tyler’s seeming familiarity with the dark continent. He quotes Swahili comfortably (though never distractingly) and rattles off geographical references like a pro. I don’t know his life history but if he hasn’t drawn knowledgeably from personal experience, then he’s succeeded in translating his immense research to the page expertly.
C William Perkins
Interviews with Indie Writers Hosted by me! Get to know some soon to be favorites!