Somewhere in the translation of the concept into the story, an important spark ended up being lost. For although this is by no means a terrible book, it never really coalesced into a solid tale. Part steampunk, part historical, part murder mystery, it both was overwritten and underwritten in the wrong areas. Most problematic, though, is that the story was inert for about 3/4 of the book before finally picking up near the end.
Story: American Rosalind is a parvenu – American new money in a London still holding on to old titles. Along with her aristocratic friend Cecily, she boards her father’s latest triumph on its maiden voyage – the Transatlantic Express – an underwater train between Germany and the US. As she makes new friends, it is soon obvious that the shifting politics of Europe will greatly affect whether the train – and its passengers – reach US shores safely.
The steampunk here is wondrous and fantastical – exactly what we would want in this genre. But the characters are simplistic, flat, and yes, somewhat cliche’d. Even for a middle grade read, they lack the complexity to keep readers intrigued. And nothing of import truly happens until our heroine *finally* boards the train after endless small talk, parties, and comparing of dresses and reticules. I read a lot of historical fiction and even I was bored by it all – it was just a pedantic examination of gilded age life, complete with suffragette sermonizing.
The friendship between the characters was odd throughout. The reactions of Rosalind and Cecily to each other’s actions changed constantly – Rosalind arrogantly dismissing her aristocratic friends for arrogantly dismissing her. Her reactions lacked genuineness and made her look simple. I would have put her age at 12 rather than the older teen and often I kept feeling that this was a man writing about women as a man perhaps sees them – inconsistent and inconstant.
Because the characters and story were so underdeveloped, when the action finally happens, it is very ineffective. We should feel for these characters’ deaths (and so should Rosalind) but that just doesn’t happen. Certainly, we weren’t given much reason to care for them.
The end of the book was supposed to be a whirlwind of betrayals and twists. But they took so long coming and some were so suddenly introduced that it took away any emotion or impetus. It’s difficult to explain but the only things really explored in this novel are the set pieces – and I didn’t want to read a Steampunk novel about a great underwater train station. I wanted to follow the people IN that great underwater train station.
There are chapter header illustrations but a lot of it is schematics for random electrical parts. There are some sketches of scenes from the book but I only saw rough versions, so I can’t attest to how those will look.
In all, this felt like a missed opportunity. A great fantastical steampunk world – and an attempt to throw some characters and a mystery within it. I ended disappointed despite the great premise. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.