I’m going to finish off this round of steampunk book reviews with an interesting twist on the steampunk genre. While I enjoy traditional steampunk stories, I do like the occasional mashup (such as westerns) and I’ve just finished the first book in a trilogy that manages to mix a dose of superheroes and villains into the brass works.
The Society of Steam, Book 1: The Fallen Machine is written by Andrew P. Mayer, and is set in a version of New York City that most of us would recognize from various historical photos and events such as the building of the Brooklyn Bridge or the early work on what would eventually become the Statue of Liberty. The societal rules and customs are all present, of course, and we’re quickly introduced to Sarah Stanton, a nineteen year old woman with an intellect that matches her strong will and sense of individuality. She’s brash, she doesn’t believe in semi-arranged marriages, and she certainly doesn’t like being talked down to or even being ignored by the gentlemen in her life, notably her father and her step-brother.
Her day-to-day life likely matches many young ladies her age with one exception — her father is a member of the city’s one and only group of superheroes, The Paragons. She’s been around the group her entire life, and she’s seen the men-only group fight crime, duking it out with the city’s often laughable criminals. And she wants to be a part of it all. But again… there’s this issue of her being female.
When the story opens, Sarah is visiting the construction zone of the Brooklyn Bridge along with three members of The Paragons — her step-brother, Nathaniel (also known as Turbine), The Professor, and his creation called The Automaton (Tom, for short). A tragedy strikes, leaving Sarah shocked and wondering what she could have done differently to change the outcome. While she has a secret desire to become a superhero herself, she gets no support from those around her. Or so it seems.
There are members of The Paragons who believe Sarah has something to offer. The Sleuth, an aging hero with a sharp mind and martial arts training, enlists her aide to determine if The Paragons might have a traitor in their midst. And she finds herself the lone supporter of The Automaton who has been demoted and hidden away until his future can be decided by the group. Her father, The Industrialist, seems to have mixed motives when it comes to The Paragon’s ultimate goals, and other members are simply bickering over who should lead the group.
As The Paragons’ organization is distracted, it’s the perfect time for a shadowy organization known as The Children of Eschaton to make a play for power, and it all begins with their slowly taking out members of The Paragons, one by one.
Some members of The Paragons aren’t distracted, however, and their investigation begins to lead them to the source of the trouble, a man calling himself Lord Eschaton. Surrounded by baddies with names such as Bomb Lance and Jack Knife, Lord Eschaton has his eyes set on nothing short of destroying civilization for his own nefarious reasons. And he’s got a new technology that seems to be more powerful (and more deadly to humans) than the Fortified Steam that powers most of the technology used by The Paragons.
As the first book progresses, Sarah begins to pull together bits and pieces of information collected by Paragon members as well as her own behind-the-scenes investigation done without her father’s consent. As she is drawn deeper into the conspiracy, she begins to discover that heroes, not just villains, all have their own agendas and often cannot see the truth that stares them in the face. She also learns that those she depends on the most for support fail her at the wrong moments. Only the artificial hero, Tom, can be trusted, and he’s being hunted by both sides for reasons not yet understood.
A showdown is coming, and the pawns and key players are put in place but not yet ready for their final moves. Sarah must make some hard choices between blind loyalty and doing the right thing, and ultimately she will discover that being Paragon isn’t necessarily the only path to becoming a true hero.
Mayer has put into motion a nice set of sub-plots for his Society of Steam Trilogy. I always enjoy finishing a first book in a series with questions on my mind, and there are a number of them that have not been answered but that I’m certain will fall into place in the remaining books. (For example, who is this Anubis character that The Sleuth encountered mid-book?)
The Falling Machine has all the elements of an enjoyable steampunk tale with the added benefit of having the good versus evil, super hero versus super villain match ups. What’s really fun is Mayer’s explanation for the powers — this Fortified Steam — and how he has crafted some interesting heroes (and villains) with Victorian-era technology and powers. I’m hoping to encounter more good guys and bad guys in the second book, Hearts of Smoke and Steam, that’s just been released. Pyr just sent me a copy so thankfully (and hopefully) I don’t have to wait too long for some answers. Stay tuned.