One of the great things about being a book blogger is that you often get the chance to read books before they come out for the general public. Granted you don’t always have control over what books you get a to read and not every book will be a hit. Luckily for me, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett (an author whose work I have sometimes read on The Guardian) was certainly a hit.
From Tor/Forge, this steampunk adventure story is written in the style of the old pulp fiction and features the young hero Gideon Smith as he leaves his home to seek out the help of Captain Lucian Trigger, the brave hero of the Empire whose exploits are recorded in the penny dreadfuls, to help solve a mystery haunting his tiny fishing village that already claimed the life of his father. On his journey Gideon meets mummies, vampires, robots, sky pirates and more. More importantly, Gideon learns real life is nothing like what happens in books and sometimes the only hero you can rely on is the one you make of yourself.
As mentioned before, this is a steampunk story but it is set in alternate 1890. The Americans did experience a failed revolution in 1775, but the southern states did successfully leave once the Empire tried to outlaw slavery. North America is now fractured and war-torn, with pirates, warlords and European empires battling for supremacy. This is important since the book does end on a sort-of cliffhanger and the sequel will likely take place on the other side of the pond.
The story itself is set in locales ranging from a northern England fishing town suffering through a recession, to an alternate London full of stolen monuments and a heat-scorched Egypt full of bizarre characters with spare submersibles. Gideon is on a hero’s journey and gathers with him a posse of fictional and historical persons (including one Irish writer fascinated by vampires). Gideon’s tale will uncover an ancient weapon and a man hell-bent on using it against the heart of the Empire itself. Personally I always felt if you had to have one historical person to help you solve a mystery at the turn of the 20th century, find Theodore Roosevelt and whatever your problem is would be solved by dinner, but that story is for another day.
Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is not without its flaws. The story is slow to start and the changes between POVs can be jarring at times. Also I can’t speak for typos and such since I read the advanced uncorrected proof of the novel. The final edition will feature a map, which my edition did not have, so cartographiles will have something to look forward to, but sadly I missed out on it for now. Still the pop culture references scattered throughout the book more than made up for these issues, especially the Indiana Jones and Lovecraft Easter eggs.
All in all this was an excellent adventure story that really made you feel for the characters. Although there were times I wanted to strangle some of them for what they did (or failed to do), that is life. I am sure we all have family and friends like that and we will still stick by them no matter what. I look forward to the next chapter in Gideon’s adventure (I believe there are two sequels forthcoming) and I hope you all pick up a copy of the book when it comes out in September. It is a long wait, but I think you will find it is worth it.