2014; 348 pages. New Author? : Yes. Book One (out of three, plus a novella) in “The Infernal Aether” series. Genre : Steampunk; Dark Fantasy; Paranormal; Dark Gothic Fantasy (so sez the author). Overall Rating : 8*/10.
London nights during the Victorian Era can be very dark. The fog comes on little cat’s feet, sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches, then moves on.
Lately, according to those Londoners who have to walk the streets alone late at night, the darkness has become dangerous. There are rumors (or, “rumours” in this book) of some of the “working girls of the night” getting snatched up and disappearing into thick air, never to return.
Of course, any news about a few hookers going missing never reaches the ears of the gentry, and Augustus “Gus” Potts is one of those, albeit one whose financial situation has fallen upon some troubled times. But even he can see that the darkness has become, well, a lot darker lately. And eerier. Who knows what evil might lurk inside it?
Gus’s brother, Max, is a scientist. He admits the night’s blackness seems more pervasive lately, but he finds it to be fascinating, not frightening. He thinks something’s been added to the darkness, and he calls it “the Luminiferous Aether”. He wants to study it. After all, it might some sort of communications medium between here and another dimension.
Well, there’s only one time to do such scientific testing – at night. And Max seems to be blissfully unaware of the dangers of being out in the Aether, so Gus tags along. This turns out to be quite prudent when, on their first night out “sciencing”, they came across a guy who’s just been mugged a huge brute of a creature.
Maybe we should call it “The Infernal Aether” instead, Max.
What’s To Like...
The Infernal Aether is a nice blending of the Steampunk and Horror genres. The action starts quickly and the pace is fast the entire way. I don’t recall any slow spots. The story is told in the first-person POV, Gus’s. There are 43 chapters covering 348 pages, and those chapters are further broken down into 8 “parts”. The first seven parts are pretty equal in length, each one comprising 4-5 chapters. The final part, the thrilling ending, is about twice as long.
The book is written in English, not American, which I always enjoy, so you encounter words like storey, sceptical, despatched, glocky, and meagre. I had fun trying to suss out some of the phrases, such as: “Old Bill” (the London police force), “Burke and Hare” (which reference a series of 16 murders in Scotland in 1827-28 - Wiki it); and “Cocking a Snook” (detailed in the Kewlest New Word Section, below).
I liked the how Peter Oxley developed the characters. I wouldn’t call them “deep”, but what made them stand out was their “grayness”. Our protagonist, Gus, borders on being an anti-hero. And the main antagonist, Andras, may be a demon, but he does have a couple - just a couple, mind you – of redeeming qualities. I don’t recall any of the secondary characters being all-white or all-black, although none of them were “half-and-half” either. Even the “magic sword” is gray – it can slice through anything, but it overheats if you use it for too long of a time.
There’s a nice variety of critters to meet and flee from, most of which can rip us puny humans to shreds. The settings are all in Great Britain, mostly around the greater London area, except for one stay in Yorkshire (where they don’t think much of city slickers), and one excursion clear up to Scotland. I particularly delighted to visit Seven Dials, (to which I was introduced to in a book I read earlier this year), and Windsor Castle (I’ve been there!), as well as the nods to Fermat’s Last Theorem and the infamous and historic “Window Tax”.
The overall themes were pretty standard – Deal with the beasties that are wreaking havoc in the Aether, shoo them away, and somehow get everything back to normal again. You might think that sounds kinda trite, but Peter Oxley has put a fresh spin on it, and tosses in just a smidgen of Goethe’s Faust to spice things up. I thought it all worked rather well.
Kewlest New Word . . .
Cocking a Snook (phrase) : The posture of holding a spread hand up to one’s face, with the thumb on the nose, preferably with crossed eyes, waggling fingers, and any other annoying gesticulation that comes to mind. (A Britishism. The Yankeeism equivalent is “the five-fingered salute”.)
Others : Glocky (adj.; Britishism); Cove (n. Britishism); Peaky (adj.; Britishism); Louche (adj.) Preternatural (adj.).
“Oh come on!” she said. “You must have heard the rumours about the creature that stalks the streets in the early hours, picking off girls when they’re on their way home? They say it can jump over buildings and walk through walls.”
“If it can walk through walls, why go to the effort of jumping over buildings?” I asked. “Sounds like quite a waste of-“ (loc. 557)
Lieutenant Pearce, though, greeted the man like a hero from his favourite book. “I have heard so much of your exploits,” he said. “I did not truly believe that it was you we were going to meet.”
Freddie glared at him. “Young man, have I really slipped so far from the danger list as to warrant the respect of Her Majesty’s finest? Time was, my name inspired fear and loathing. Such happy days…” (loc. 4285)
The Infernal Aether sells for $4.99 at Amazon, as do the other two full-length books in the series. The novella goes for $2.99. Or you can buy the boxed set of the four books for $7.99, which is a significant savings.
”I don’t have the time for this. I have some intense moping around to do.” (loc. 1563)
The quibbles are minor. I never did see any reason for one of the characters to scamper off all the way to Scotland, other than to induce a time crisis for our heroes. Then again, I’ve seen Steve Berry pull this same stunt and get away with it, and I must admit it generates an impressive amount of tension.
Second, although it's true that the primary and secondary characters aren’t totally black or white, the fact that they all “lean” one way or the other makes it easy to slot them into the proper “good guys/bad guys” category, and quickly spot any potential double-dealers. Yes, I’m picking nits about the shades of grey.
The ending is an ambitious one: it’s reasonably exciting, somewhat twisty, completes the immediate story, and sets up the sequel. Overall, The Infernal Aether falls into the “purty durn good” category, and I’m surprised Peter Oxley hasn’t written any more Dark Gothic Fantasy series since completing this one.
8 Stars. Add 1 Star if Steampunk novels float your boat. Subtract 1 star if reading books written in English make you want to cock a snook at them.