Gideon Smith and the
I have been reading and reviewing a lot of indie steampunk stories lately in our Indie eBook Roundups and with Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl I continue my education into what had been a previously unexplored genre for me. If you’re also new to the genre, Gideon Smith may be a fantastic introduction because it seemed to me that it had pretty much all the classic steampunk elements.
Not that we start out with a story that’s so obviously a steampunk adventure. (I mean, obviously it is based on the cover and the title but shush. Suspend belief for a moment!) Our hero, Gideon Smith, lives a very ordinary live in a small fishing village in England. He lives alone with his father who dotes on his often absentminded, bookish son who dreams of mysteries and adventures and sees wondrous events in even the most mundane things. It’s happy if probably quite ordinary life and Gideon loves his father just as much as he loves escaping into pulp magazines to read the incredible adventures of Captain Trigger, the hero of the Empire!
But all the adventures he had ever dreamed of some how catch up to him and when his father’s ship suddenly appears on the short devoid of any life, deadly creatures start stalking the moors and catacombs, and a mysterious dog jumps off a Russian ship in the distance to stalk the shores of their sleepy town it’s up to Gideon to save the day.
The cast of characters that follow along are quite incredible and outlandish, the sort you expect to find in a ‘modern day pulp novel’ like this. He first meets up with a writer on sabbatical named Bram Stoker who enlists him to help in his own investigations. But when Bram’s efforts become obviously contrary to Gideon’s pursuit of what killed his father the boy takes off for London in search of Captain Trigger and his partner John Reed. Meanwhile Bram meets up with Countess Dracula, Elizabeth Bathory (Count Dracula having been murdered) and continues his efforts while the portly Bent investigates the Jack the Ripper murders with the assistance of some of Sherlock Holmes’ Irregulars. All of the classic Victorian characters, figures, and such all seem to be quiet well and quite real along with all of the author’s own invented heroes and villains. (Captain Trigger and his John take on the fandom personas of BBC’s Sherlock and John in a very obvious way we soon discover.) Later we meet Texans and sky captains and, of course, Maria the Mechanical Girl who Gideon rescues after a chance encounter after staying the night during a storm in a cottage belonging to a Herr Einstein (father of Albert Einstein, by the way).
Sometimes the cast of characters seems a bit large and they often are separated from time to time as the plot diverges. There is a lot going on and it’s easy to get lost if you decide to take a significant break from the story. Luckily, it’s action packed enough to keep you reading a long wondering what will happen next. And a lot does happen next. Gideon goes from being just a fisherman to an adventurer very quickly as he finds himself battling ancient Egyptian monsters, traveling with a vampire, and dashing about from London to the Egyptian desert on a rescue mission. He travels in trains, steampowered cars, airships, submersibles… He gets to live his dreams while also seeking out revenge for his father’s sake. But he does all these incredible things often just to help others and as Captain Trigger tells him at one point that’s the measure of a true hero.
I don’t want to give too much away in this review or reveal too many of the plot points. Or even the cameos that pop up now and again because there are a lot of them and it’s fun to pick them out.
I will say, though, that I look forward to seeing the rest of the world in the sequels should they come. The British Empire in this world never lost it’s former colonies and has a habit of building and stealing wonders of the world and bringing them to Hyde Park. The United States seems split between Britain, Texas, and Japan (why Japan invaded Spanish owned California I don’t really understand) and the Civil War was apparently fought between British colonists and evil, slave owning Texans. Which, by the way, as a Texan, I really resent. I resented a lot of the Texas bashing. I pushed through it but I really almost stopped reading a few times because of that.
Obviously, I got over it. But it did sour my enjoyment of the book throughout.
Also, interestingly enough, though the book is called Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, Maria never seemed to be quite as important as the book made her out to be. Even when she was that important I never really gave it much thought. She was absent for probably a good half of the book either taking off her own, getting kidnapped, or just not being introduced into the story quite yet. In the end, yes, she was quite important. But I had hoped that she would get a bit more character development and that her relationship with Gideon would have been expanded upon a bit more because right now I’m not seeing how any of this works out in the end. Fanshawe and the Countess at least kept the strong-willed, bad-ass ladies quota well filled.
I really enjoyed reading this book and stayed up until four o’clock in the morning to finish this because of the climactic ending. I swear, once you get to the pyramid you just need to be prepared to read all the way through. I mean, the very ending was a bit face palmingly predictable but the rest of it is great. I’m really looking forward to reading more about Gideon Smith and I think this book might have won me over for steampunk just in general. It’s just so fun and campy and ridiculous. You don’t have to hold back and the author certainly does not. I feel like he’s got plenty of surprises and adventures ready for us down the road assuming the book does well and gets optioned into a full series. (Unless it already has.)
And if you want a bit more of Gideon Smith and his adventures – as well as a kind of jarring cameo – check out this short story set during Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl at Tor.com.
Barnett has crafted quite the little steampunk work for us here and he’s given us just the sort of adventure we need to get the most out of it. Gideon Smith is a likable character whose changing perceptions of heroism and own heroic deeds add a relatable element to the story to balance out the incredible cast of other characters – some based on real, historical figures and others based on the fictional, pulp novel adventurers in stories at the time. It’s a fun read and I think anyone whose not opposed to steampunk as a genre just generally would enjoy.