Note: What follows is a review of two books, The Lazarus Machine and The Osiris Curse. I have chosen to review them together because I read them back to back on a weekend trip and there really isn’t enough to differentiate them into separate reviews.
The rules of steampunk are simple.
1. Set the story in Victorian England.
2. Put a slightly askew male character together with an all-to-aware plucky female character.
3. Have them solve a mystery that involves secret plots against The Empire.
4. Choose one or more of the following: Zombies, Mummys, Secret Societies, Vampires, and any literary characters that fit the time period you want.
Not groundbreaking, but not meant to be. Serial fiction with some by-the-numbers plots, full of adventure and banter. I can’t imagine anyone being fooled going in as to what they are going to get here, so why judge it for anything other than what it is supposed to be?
Tweed is a socially awkward teen genius that helps his dad pull cons off. Nightingale is low rung journalist searching for clues as to where her mother has gone. When Tweed’s dad is taken by what appears to be a once thought dead Moriarty fate works to bring these two unlikely partners together. Learning that they work well together, they fight, search and flirt their way through two books of adventure.
So the question is how well does the book do what its purpose seems to suggest? Does it provide entertaining escapism? Does the dynamic duo work well together and have a good line of banter? (Yes, I consider banter a requirement). I am a person who believes if I enjoy a book it is not a waste of time, no matter how light and fluffy, and for both books in this series I found myself entertained plenty.
What drives the series so far is Tweed and Nightingale as a duo. The series does a little better than some in establishing that the feminist rights movement has a good foothold in this alt world, so Nightingale’s awareness and ability to move within the world is a little less out of place than some Victorian fantasy tales. Tweed is suitable strange and in one facet surprisingly realistic; he is plenty confident in himself, even arrogant at times, yet finds him second guessing himself when in social situations. The pair provides the banter I love, perhaps a little too snappy under duress situations, but that is to be expected. They take turns rescuing each other, switch roles as mastermind of the operations, and in short just WORK. Their requisite romantic feelings are played just enough to be interesting without ever getting in the way of the rest of the story. The second book especially played it well, with some well-timed white knight comments made in relation to both of them.
Plot wise The Lazarus Machine was a better book. It had its share of WTF moments, with an eleven year old hacker really raising my eyebrows (yes, computers ran by punchcards). But it was set up quickly, introducing us to all the various influences that are canon in this alt-world. Tesla machines and Sherlock Holmes are almost assured in the genre; also present is Gibson’s Difference Engine and Frankenstein and his works. The dynamic duo find a plot against the queen, learn of a machine that can move a person’s soul, and of course end up saving the day. (Spoiler? Of course it is, but if you didn’t know it was coming by the end of the book I can’t help you).
The Osiris Curse was a bit weaker. Same fun ideas, same dynamic due, but not as interesting in plot. A missing Egyptologist may have stumbled on a secret that could change everything. Tesla is murdered in his lab. And Tweed and Nightingale stumble into yet another plot against the Empire. This time the team will follow the trail to Egypt, and then into the center of the world. The details were even more farfetched; coincidences came a bit too often, and major characters were painfully clueless at times. But it did have lizard men, so that could be a selling point for some. Not a bad book, it follows the same formula that made the first book endearing. Just not as good in my mind.
Chances are if you have read much steampunk you have a read a book just like these. George Mann, Philippa Balantine, and even Gail Carriger (with a bit more romance) have all written something with this formula. But if this is the kind of thing you like give it a run. It certainly worked for me, and made my down time this weekend fly.
4 stars –The Lazarus Machine
3 stars- The Osiris Curse
Copies for review provided by the publisher.