2013; 446 pages. New Author? : Yes. Book 1 (out of 2 so far) in the 'Pneumatic Zeppelin' series. Genre : Steampunk; Action-Adventure; Post-Apocalyptic Thriller. Overall Rating : 7½*/10.
At first glance, Romulus Buckle, he of the Crankshaft clan, seems mighty young to be already commanding an airship. But his crew is equally youthful, and these are desperate times. A rival clan, the Founders, has kidnapped the leader of Buckle's clan, and he and his crew are on their way in the airship to attempt a rescue.
There are many ways for a zeppelin and its crew to be catastrophically lost, including crashes (pop goes the airbag; plop goes the zeppelin), fires (the hydrogen gas in the dirigible is extremely flammable), and in the course of combat, which includes suicide missions. Such as this one.
So maybe it isn't so unusual to be a young zeppelin captain and crew. Because, with so many ways to perish so quickly, there may be no such thing as an old airship captain.
What’s To Like...
Romulus Buckle & The City of the Founders is set in the post-apocalyptic greater Los Angeles area, where the land is covered year-round by layers of (from bottom to top) snow, mustard gas, and fog. Richard Ellis Preston Jr. gives only scant details about the “Day of the Storming” that destroyed almost everything on Earth; presumably this will be fleshed out in subsequent books in the series We know the adversaries were the Martians – the mustard gas is courtesy of them – yet Romulus’ chief engineer, Max, is half-Martian (a nod to Mr. Spock, perhaps?), so it might not be quite the simple “us versus them” scenario.
There is action and adventure, and a poopload of characters to meet. But above all else, this is a Steampunk novel. The Martian attack somehow wiped out all electrical power, so to travel by land means choosing between steam-powered railroad engines or walking. And air travel is mostly via hydrogen-inflated dirigibles.
There are kewl beasties (such as tanglers and wugglebats), nasty baddies (such as forgewalkers and steampipers), and lethal weapons of war (such as sticky bombs and robotic owls). The bad guys seem to be every bit as potent and resourceful as the good guys; and I have a feeling we have not yet seen the Ultimate Evil, Isambard Fawkes, at his best …er… worst.
The book ends at a logical place – the resolution of the attempt to free Balthazar, but there is a long way to go in the overall storyline. I have a feeling this series will have a “united we stand, divided we fall” motif, but that is speculation only. And I am certain the question “What about old Shadrack” will be addressed somewhere down the line.
Kewlest New Word ...
Empennage (n.) : an arrangement of stabilizing surfaces at the tail of an aircraft.
One might think Buckle was young to be in command of a sky vessel as dauntingly impressive as the Pneumatic Zeppelin – and he was – but he led a crew whose average age did not exceed twenty years by much, except for Max, of course. Nobody knew how old Max was, and she was never in the mood for telling. But then, there was no “getting old” around the Snow World – the old California – in those days, not in the time of the Noxious Mustard (also referred to as stinkum if you were using gutter talk) and the Carbuncle Plague, with the nasty beasties a-lurkin’, Bloodfreezer storms, and the high-percentage risk of one’s blackbang musket exploding in one’s face every time one pulled the trigger. (pg. 3)
Buckle couldn’t see any weapons on the Owl. “What’s she for?”
“She’s a reconnaissance robot,” Zwicky said, clicking shut the access panel he’d just been tinkering inside. Zwicky’s personality was much more prickly than Wolfgang’s. although Buckle sensed it was more a nervous insecurity than true rudeness. “The Owl sees with sound, like a bat. She emits a distinct series of whistles, and when the sound waves bounce back she can ‘see’ them.”
“Shouldn’t you call them ears, then?” Buckle asked. (pg. 156)
“Taste some Imperial revenge, you bumptious fog-sucker!” (pg. 363)
Romulus Buckle & The City of the Founders is a promising start to an ambitious Steampunk series, but the pacing leaves something to be desired. Richard Ellis Preston Jr. seems to love giving overly extensive descriptions of every square inch of the Pneumatic Zeppelin (the name of Romulus Buckle’s airship), detailed bios of a good many of the cast of characters, and a running travelogue of a lot of the California wasteland as well. I recognize the need for world-building in Book One of any series, but here, after a quarter of the way through, about the only thing accomplished in the plotline was Romulus losing his footing atop the zeppelin.
Also, while the Chapter titles are fantastic, it would’ve been nice to have them listed in the front of the book, for easy reference when trying to remember which character did what.
Still, the descriptions are well done, and aren’t any more excessive than what you’d find in a Tom Clancy novel. Clancy once left me with a feeling that, if you gave me all the parts, I could completely reassemble a Sherman tank. Here, I felt the same way about putting the zeppelin back together.
7½ Stars. Add 1 star if you are a Tom Clancy fan. I’m not.