I have to admit, I just did not enjoy this steampunk novel. It hit a lot of pet peeves I have about stories and I just couldn’t get into the story. As such, I wouldn’t say that this is a bad book and certainly I think there is a lot here for others to like.
Despite the title, Gideon Smith only plays a small part in the book, which focuses on many characters, most of which are famous. We are introduced to Gideon – and then that is abandoned as he meets by chance Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. We follow Bram for awhile as he hooks up with Countess Elizabeth Bathory (the famous historical figure said to kill virgins and bathe in their blood) – who was married to a murdered Count Dracula and wants to use her vampiric powers to help women. At the same time, Gideon has a chance encounter with a sensationalist pressman named Dent and we follow Dent around for awhile. Both will encounter further famous characters – the father of Einstein, a villain from a real life Victorian novel, Prince Albert, Earl Henry James Fitzroy (of the Cleveland Street Gay Brother scandal)….and so on. And that’s just within the first 150 pages or so. Eventually, we get up into an airship, travel around the world, and solve the mystery of Gideon Smith’s father’s murder. *phew*
Gideon Smith is the linchpin of the plot – his ‘happening’ to meet so many famous characters will pull them all into the same mystery. But at one point it just got to the point where I kept my ipad next to my couch and wikipedia up and ready every time a name was introduced. I think of few inside ‘real life’ minor characters would have been great – but this was just beating one over the head. I felt like the author had researched Victorian life and wanted to show off how much he had learned.
The world setting is imaginative – California being controled by the Japanese, the British owning New England, and a wall across the bottom half of the US (Mason Dixon line) protecting slavery. And let’s not forget the wild card known as Texas. This world has a lot of supernatural pertinent to the time (Atlantis, Mummies, goldem/mechanical girl, Vampires…) that can seem really old fashioned these days.
I had a very hard time with the tone of the book. E.g., we start with Gideon Smith who is supposed to be 24 but reads like he is 16. The novel starts out feeling like treasure island but then suddenly we veer off to be told about Bram Stoker ejaculating because he saw an attractive woman in the window (he’ll eventually vomit and pee himself as well in later chapters. The first time Stoke sees the mummies or the Countess transform into a monster, he wets himself and passes out because it is so horrific. Yet the first time every other character witnesses the same, no one bats an eye and they just say, “you should have told us.” There are other very mature scenes – the Clockwork girl being used as a sex slave, the countess describing her wild sex with the count, the several homosexual lovers referenced, etc. It just felt so out of place in the adventure, which really started to feel like a lesser version of the comic (not the movie) League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as one point.
I wish I could say I enjoyed it but I really had to push myself to finish the book. I love steampunk but this one just had a bit too much thrown into the pot. I just really wanted the Gideon Smith story and not all the famous people.
Received as an ARC from the publisher.