2015; 292 pages. Book 2 (out of 3) in the Aboard The Great Iron Horse series. New Author? : No. Genre : Steampunk Fantasy. Overall Rating : 7½*/10.
Someone stole the entire supply of Starfall from Socrates, and the locomotive he is the engineer of, The Iron Horse. Which leaves him in dire straits, since the train is a half-mile long, and things like wood and coal are scarce in a post-apocalyptic, Ice Age world.
The thieves were brazen, deftly lifting the entire container off the train with via a way-kewl flying device. And their leader’s identity is well-known, since Burk had been one of Socrates’ crew.
It’s time to get the Starfall back, or, failing that, find some more of it. And both of those approaches can be worked on in the city of New Boston.
It’s a pity Socrates and his crew have never been there before. And that there’s an ocean between them and their destination.
What’s To Like...
Killing The Machine is the second book in Jamie Sedgwick’s steampunk “Iron Horse” series, which takes place in a quasi-fantasy, quasi-futuristic earthly setting. Socrates is a mechanical ape, and although humans predominate (at least so far), there are lots of other species, some living, some undead, to keep your interest.
The story, and the series, is written in “storytelling” style. That is, the action starts immediately, and doesn’t let up until the last page. The characters are all likable, but not particularly complex. The emphasis is on a quick-moving tale, not stopping for anything in-depth.
There are a couple info dumps – one on welding, another on airship mechanics – but these are short enough to where you won’t catch yourself yawning. There are less strange critters and beasties than in the first book, The Clockwork God (reviewed here), but this is balanced by the settings being fleshed out in much greater detail. The question of sentience arises. H. Beam Piper did it in more depth, but Jamie Sedgwick does it wittier.
I wouldn’t call this a standalone novel. You can probably still enjoy it without first reading The Clockwork God, but since that e-book is free, why not read these in order? I don’t recall encountering anything R-rated. And AFAIK, this is a trilogy. I like series that don’t go on forever and ever, with the author expecting you to fund his retirement.
Micah pressed his lips together. I knew it! He thought. I knew something like this would happen.
He heard the commander of the police force shout an order for everyone to leave the train. He heard Kale’s response, telling the commander to do something with his horse that didn’t sound very comfortable or safe.
The commander’s response was to count backwards, from ten to one. Micah wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen after that, because nothing did. The commander shouted out “One!” and then they all sort of sat there on their horses, waiting quietly for something to happen. (loc. 2492)
“That’s all wrong,” said Loren. “Not even Kale would scorn a woman as fine as Rowena. Fine for a human, I mean. I prefer my women thinner, and with pointed ears, but Rowena… A woman like that might change my mind.”
“Fat chance,” said Vann. “She only had eyes for our friend here, not that I understand why. He may be tall and good looking, and strong as any six men, but what’s he got beyond that?” (loc. 3013)
I bought Killing The Machine for $0.99 at Amazon. As is usual for most of Jamie Sedgwick’s trilogies, the first book, The Clockwork God, is free, and the third book, The Dragon’s Breath, is $2.99. I find this to be a most effective marketing device.
“Think of the future. (…) I won’t have a city where snowshovels and steamcarriages are considered human beings!” (loc. 3201)
My quibbles with Killing The Machine are similar to those I had with the first book. While the thrills and spills are non-stop, there’s nothing epic about the storyline. The starfall and the train change hands a couple times, we hang out in a couple new cities, and the question of sentience is again considered and has its usual outcome.
But the series’ overall plotline doesn’t really advance much. The bad guys get away, presumably so we can have a book 3, and I have my doubts as to whether anything earth-changing will have occurred at the close of the trilogy. This may be okay in a Louis L’Amour western, or a Romance, but it doesn’t cut it in a Fantasy series.
There are also a couple WTF’s. In a world of steampunk technology, a submersible locomotive train, hauling a line of railcars a half-mile long, is apparently considered NBD. And when the baddies surprise and capture most (but not quite all) of our plucky band of heroes, they inexplicably merely pen them up and leave them alive, to be rescued later on, and to fight another day. I don’t think I would’ve been so accommodating.
Still, all’s well that ends well, and as long as you’re content with action and adventure for their own sake, you’ll enjoy both this book and this series.
7½ Stars. Subtract ½ star if you didn’t read The Clockwork God first.