I really enjoy reading Steampunk and I have reviewed one or two here on my blog. Not every author captures the essence of the alternative Victorian technology and society as well as David Barnett does in Gideon Smith and The Mechanical Girl.
So, what is this book about? Gideon Smith is the son of a Yorkshire fisherman. a young man addicted to the heroic adventures of Captain Lucian Trigger in his favourite penny-dreadful. But when Gideon’s father is mysteriously lost at sea and a local man goes missing in some local caves, the claims of a young boy to have seen monsters makes Gideon believe there are supernatural powers at work.
Meanwhile, Bram Stoker, holidaying in Whitby, believes that Count Dracula himself has travelled to the UK and vows to track the vampire down. Instead of Vlad, Stoker discovers Countess Elizabeth Bathory, renowned in history for – allegedly – bathing in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth.
Gideon decides that only Captain Trigger himself would be able to save the Empire from the demonic forces at work and with Stoker and the Countess, travels to London to find his hero. As Gideon soon discovers, heroes aren’t always what you’d expect and he is forced to decide whether or not he has what it takes to be the hero he read about. And just who is Maria, the mechanical girl of the title?
I sometimes worry that books in this genre rely too heavily on the lore of real-life characters of the era and while there are many historical figures making an appearance in GSATMG, my fears were quickly dispelled by the confident and creative way the author used them. Barnett deftly describes just enough of his alternate universe for us to get the feel for it without being weighed down by meaningless details. His characters are interesting and believable, and I was especially pleased to find such strong, confident female characters. There was a point when I thought the author might be trying to do too much with his book: Bram Stoker, vampires, creatures from Ancient Egypt and the Dr Frankenstein-like Dr. Einstein all feature. But, somehow, it works. The various elements all come together so well that by the end, I wondered why I had ever been worried.
Barnett ends his excellent book with the set up for the sequel. I have two words to say to him about that.
Look out for a guest post from the author on my blog soon.