Blue on Black by Carole Cummings (author of Aisling and Wolf’s-own series) from DSP Publications is a fresh new take on the Steampunk genre, combining imaginative technology with mind twisting mystery and adventure. A character driven story, there’s plenty here for readers to enjoy.
Techs are specialists in various fields of technology. PsyTechs, scryTechs, and of course the gridTechs who wield the knowhow behind the blue current that powers locomotives and deadly weapons all play an influential role in. Not long ago, these techs were exploited, abused, bought and sold for their knowledge. But in this world they are accepted and utilized – unless you are unfortunate enough to be trapped in the uncivilized part of the land where the old ways still rule and the specialists are still oppressed.
This is where author Cummings pushes Steampunk back on its heels and gives readers a new wonderment. We still have the simplistic marvels of multi barreled weapons and gadgets, but this new grid technology takes deviousness to a new level. Gadgets and weapons are deadlier than those familiar to a steam powered world and the prospects of future uses could push the Steampunk genre into a Gridpunk genre.
Jacob Barstow is the alias name trackers go by. It is a façade established over the years of dangerous work by various trackers to the point it has become the failsafe identity of the trade. Barstow is a legend, a mythological gun slinging hero of sorts amongst the criminals of the land. If you’re a tracker, you’ve been Jacob Barstow.
Bartholomew “Bas” Eisen is a Grade 3 Tracker with the Directorate. Quickly established as our very competent hero, he is also the book’s narrator. His latest assignment finds him face to face with the notorious Baron Stanslo as he tries to solve the mystery behind a young Tech named Kimolijah Adani’s death. As tensions rise the deeper he infiltrates Stanslo’s barony, hidden passion for the victim and a surprising discovery could bring the mission to a disastrous end.
It’s obvious that the author likes to draw on the emotional ranges of her characters, which is one of the refreshing elements that separates this story from the typical shoot-em-up action common to the genre. Readers will find it easy to cling to the protagonist’s charisma and self-determination. His acute perception of this dark world mixed with his own complex and personal feelings of the people and places around him brings authenticity to his role. This, along with the technology being creative and pertinent, but not too overbearing as to make the plot cumbersome, the story becomes much more compelling and leaves the reader interested in what comes next.
If there is a down side to Blue on Black, it falls on the author’s insistence on explaining the nuance of every facial expression the hero decides to use or not use and why. Granted the character Bas is being secretive about his true identity and must be conscious of his appearance, but at some point the reader must be given credit for understanding this and allowed to make his or her own perception of the character’s intentions. This practice does not take away from the overall flow of the story, but at times it can be a noticeable unnecessary distraction.
Fans of Steampunk are going to enjoy Blue on Black by Carole Cummings. But fans of character driven stories that happen to take place in an imaginative world filled with mystery and action will not be disappointed either.