If there’s one thing fantasy readers want – especially from steampunk tales – it’s sensory immersion. A flood of sights, sounds and smells that make us feel we’re living in another world. Ian Beck does that, in loving and exquisite detail. It is his greatest strength.
He has a great concept and world, too. The story is set almost entirely in “Pastworld” - a recreation of Victorian London – complete with official beggars and bootleg murder tours. Unfortunately, it seems to have spontaneously evolved its own Jack the Ripper – and he is most definitely not official.
Outside, it’s 2048. I find the world completely plausible, even to the extent that some of those living inside don’t know they’re part of the scenery in the world’s biggest theme park.
The writing style is sometimes slightly jerky, but I’m oversensitive to such things. Unfortunately, there is a gaping weakness in the story, and it’s the characters. They suck. Both the main characters are young (which is great) and unfamiliar with Pastworld (which is a great device for bringing in the reader). This has the story-killing side effect that they’re basically wandering around going, “Oh no!” and getting rescued by other, more capable, people. Big. Mistake. The girl in particular is ever so fluttery and beautiful and . . . well, useless. I don’t really care what terrible circumstances created the main characters’ emotional issues – I only care that they DO STUFF.
But it was, in general, a pretty good book. A lot of steampunk fans will adore it. But not me.
Sample (this is not a good sample, it’s one to explain why I’ve been so harsh):
From Eve’s diary:
I was squashed down among deep piles of soft fabrics, folded costumes and rolls of velvet inside the wagon. I sat up as we turned the corner and sneezed in all the general dustiness, and the dark conjuring harlequin with the kind eyes popped his head through the canvas flap from the front of the wagon.
“Are you all right? Sorry about grabbing you like that, only it looked to me like you needed it. Don’t worry – we’ll shake him off soon enough.”
I felt dizzy, both from the motion of the wagon, and also from the sudden lurch in my circumstances.