2013; 327 pages. Book 3 (out of 4) in the Aboard The Great Iron Horse series. New Author? : No. Genre : Steampunk Fantasy. Overall Rating : 6*/10.
It’s desperation time for Socrates and the crew of their locomotive, The Great Iron Horse. They are out of their vital fuel, Starfall, and thus reduced to scrounging for their fallback energy sources, wood and coal. These are not readily available, due both to the surrounding landscape and the fact that their train is a half mile long.
So their hopes are lifted when late one afternoon they pull into a quaint town called Stormwatch, with an overlooking castle, Dragonwall, and find an indication that there may be some Starfall nearby. The townsfolk don’t seem hostile, which is a welcome relief. They do have a rather odd parting phrase though. “Beware the dragon’s breath!”
Ah, but I don’t see any dragons around; do you? And if one does appear, and has a bad case of halitosis, well so what? We have a good fighting crew, and we can always pop a breath mint in the reptile’s mouth.
But hey, the sun’s about to set, the locals are scurrying to their houses, and time’s a-wasting. So let’s get scouting for Starfall without further ado.
What’s To Like...
The Dragon’s Breath is the third book in a series set in a wonderful post-apocalyptic steampunk world. Socrates is a mechanical ape, and the head of a band of train-riding explorers tasked by their far-distant home base of Sanctuary with finding the indispensable, life-saving Starfall.
This book is similar in style to the first two in the series. The action starts immediately, and doesn’t let up. There’s lots of bloodshed and violence, and there are simply are no slow spots. The writing is not spectacular, but it’s sufficient for making you keep turning the pages. If you like your stories with lots of mechanical details (if you fancy Tom Clancy), this book’s for you. And if sand worms are your favorite beastie (if you’re a Dune loon), you’ll not not be disappointed. Finally, if your tail’s a-waggin’ for dragons, you’re in for a treat.
The backstory of this world is given at 54%, and I always appreciate that. As with the previous book (reviewed here), the plotline, while exciting, is not very twisty. Jamie Sedgwick mixes in enough wit and humor to keep you entertained; I found Kale’s attempt to ride a mechanical horse (18%) to be hilarious. A holdover thread from the previous book (Burk) is resolved here.
Everything builds to a properly tense ending. This borders on being a standalone novel, despite being part of a series. The target audience seems to be adventure-reading YA boys, except that there’s an attempted rape (again) at one point. So I’m not sure. There are also a number of annoying typos. I don’t normally mention these unless they are excessive, but at one point here, Sir Elbereth temporarily becomes Sir Elberone. That’s kinda unforgivable. The proofreaders should be shot.
“What are you working on?”
“It’s a portable submersible oxygenation apparatus.”
“After our trip through the Forgotten Sea, I thought it might be useful to create some sort of portable breathing system, in case we’re ever trapped underwater again.”
“So it’s an air mask?” Micah said.
River looked at him. “No, it’s a portable submersible oxygenation apparatus.” (loc. 58)
At last, Dane sat up and said, “Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter. I can’t spend my nights worrying about rocks falling from the sky when I have very real dragons in my own backyard. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than waking up face to face with a dragon.”
“I know the feeling,” said Kale.
Dane looked at him. “Is that so?” (loc. 1916)
The Dragon’s Breath sells for $2.99 at Amazon. As is usual for most of Jamie Sedgwick’s series (and he has a bunch of them), the first book, The Clockwork God, is free, and the second book, Killing The Machine, is $0.99. I find this to be a most effective marketing device. There is now a fourth book in this series, Clockwork Legion, and it sells for $3.99.
“She’ll be fine as soon as she remembers she’s not a rooster.” (loc. 1019)
There are weaknesses. The dragons may be mean and nasty, but they’re not very resourceful. This allows the strategy for Socrates and his cohorts to basically be: “I came, I plotted, I conquered”. It’s a bit boring when the baddies can’t come up with anything surprising. Similarly, the titular “dragon’s breath” is easily avoided. And after Burk gets sprung, it was immediately obvious, who done it. So why did it take Socrates so long to figure things out?
More serious were the storytelling WTF’s. The townspeople give our heroes the sage admonition “Beware the dragon’s breath!” but then fail to provide any details about what exactly that danger is. WTF? And when River tries to deal with an undetonated artillery shell, she ties a noose around it and drags it along behind her speeding vehicle. Holy explosive situation, Batman! WTF?
Last but not least, is the epilogue. A goodly supply of the vital Starfall is recovered. Yet somehow, after three books of harrowing adventures traveling aboard the Great Iron Horse, including a trip underneath an ocean, the precious cargo is dispatched back to Sanctuary, with nary a detail about just how this was accomplished. WTF? I wonder if they shipped it by USPS (United SteamPunk Service)? That tale could’ve been a great addition to this series.
6 Stars. Overall, this felt like a “let’s crank another one out” effort. All the requisites for a steampunk thriller are here, but without much of a creative spark. This is probably as far as I’ll go with this series.