Fiction Reviews

The Society of Steam Book Two – Hearts of Smoke and Steam

(2011) Andrew P. Mayer, Pyr, £10.99, pbk, 326pp, ISBN 978-1-616-14533-0


Oh, dear, readers out there may remember when reviewing book one of the series how I bleated on about how much I disliked the cover of The Falling Machine, likening it to a comic book cover, namely one that blended something like the Teen Titans with the glowering head of Jack Kirby’s uber-baddie, Darkseid, with glowing eyes just as he is about to release the deadly Omega Effect. Naff cover, I thought, but what of the contents?

Well, this is the next thrilling instalment, and guess what? Surprise, surprise, It’s nicely set up for yet another thrilling instalment as it ends with a far from unexpected cliff-hanger, but Mayer is not hanging about getting to the end of this novel, nor is he wasting time by recapping what happened in book one. This could almost be a stand alone novel – almost. Certainly in the handling of his material, Mayer demonstrates a greater confidence with the world he has created, and is quite merciless in doing away with the old, namely the old guard of superheroes known as the Paragons.

One of the problems that I had with the first book was the slightly clichéd nature of the material: Victorian, steampunky New York, a feisty, rebellious heroine who is out of step with society and its (few) expectations of her, a cabal of super heroes, one of whom happens to be her father, and the kind, generous grandfather/uncle figure who knows her true worth and potential but gets the chop pretty early on. Oh, and lets not forget the subplots about things that are not what they seem. No more spoilers here, although I did like the invention of the central conceit that this is basically a civil war between the Paragons, created by fortified steam and Lord Eschaton, and his 'Children' created by fortified smoke.

So cue book two as Sarah Stanton, daughter of the hero known as 'The Industrialist', has given everything up, left her privileged life behind, but still continues to fight crime under the guise of 'The Adventuress', and walks the streets of New York recruiting fellow superheroes to replace the Paragons. Why does she remind me of Jenny Sparks who led comic-book heroes, 'The Authority'? Oh, that’s why. She also has the brass heart of her old friend, Tom, the Automaton, who has been destroyed as well as possessing the Alpha Element which powers the heart, both of which will be handy if she is going to fulfil her dream of rebuilding Tom, but these devices can be put to other, more sinister uses, so cue Lord Eschaton and his dastardly minions.

The book really comes alive with the introduction of Italian inventor, Emilio Armando, who comes to Sarah’s aid and quickly falls for her, wearing his heart all-too-obviously on his sleeve, which might help in the wooing stakes, given his poor command of the English language. He is accompanied by another great character, his sister, Viola, who is a complete contrast to most of the women of that period, even to Sarah herself. Expect more from these enigmatic siblings, especially on the revelations front.

All-in-all, the plot develops nicely, with some new characters and interesting twists, as all is not what it seems, and people, and super-people, and things that aren’t even people, are not what they seem, and that includes someone who might be an Egyptian God. Roll on book three.

Ian Hunter

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