Streampunk Review: ‘Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl’ by David Barnett

Steampunk adventure!  This book was like reading a blockbuster movie, and it was a whole lot of fun.  Like most blockbusters that come up in the summer months you have to prepare for some conveniences, assume all the characters will find a way to end up in the same spot, and do your best NOT to wonder what the hell the protagonist is thinking at times.  But if one can enjoy the typical summer movie, and sales figures show that most people can, then “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl” should become a very popular book.

Gideon is a fisherman’s son.  In a nice change of pace, despite having his head in the clouds, he is a strong, responsible young man.  He has big dreams of following in the footsteps of his favorite penny-dreadful hero, Captain Trigger.  When his father is lost at sea a chain of events starts up that gives him his chance.  He heads out to find the famous captain and start his adventure!

From there it is pure pulpy goodness with all the normal steampunk trimmings.  Airships and pirates, supernatural beings, smart alleck men and plucky women.  Based in an Elizabethan England that truly threatens to span the globe a reader can also expect little historical cameos that will either work or drive them loony.  In this case I felt the cameos worked well, Bram Stoker as a chronicler especially.  The inevitable ragtag group will globe trot to solve the mystery, and often to save the title’s heroine, Maria.  Friendships are made, double crossing is to be expected, and eventually all the pieces come together (tied up very nicely I may add).  Because it is obviously a first book of a series not everything is OK at the end, but the book ends on just as strong of a note as it started, with a hint of more adventure to follow.

Steampunk fans rejoice, there is a highly enjoyable new book on the lighter side of the genre.  Gideon avoids being a trite farm boy on a mission by proving to be smart and able, learning as he goes in a fairly believable fashion.  Sure his willingness to believe penny dreadfuls is a bit strange, but haven’t we already talked about suspending belief a bit?  Bent is a no-worries smart ass journalist good for a lot of laughs.  The crew has fun interactions, the plot doesn’t get so complicated as to tie itself up in a knot, and the action scenes are fun but short enough to avoid becoming a grind.

If the book is going to turn off some readers it most likely is going to come from the plight of Maria, the mechanical girl from the title.  She is at her core a toy in the form of a beautiful girl who has been given sentience.  Hidden in this light hearted action movie-like romp is a character that has been put through a living hell.  She is abused throughout the book; physically, sexually, and mentally.  At each point it is used to advance the story; even Maria shrugs it off and goes on without dwelling on it.  It doesn’t ruin the story, it is not gratuitous and in fact is easy to overlook.  But I couldn’t not see it throughout the story; she is the lynchpin of the story but never by her own design.

Hey, I am a man who loves a Steampunk romp.  I am happy to see a new series started that looks like it has a lot of potential.  I found a whole lot to like about what I read, and hope to read more in the future.

4 Stars

Review copy received through NetGalley.

edit:  Crossed out a pretty embarrassing historical mistake.  Sometimes writing these late at night causes problems.  Sorry!

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