“We call them engineers. It’s from the Navajo meaning…engineers.”
If you have ever read a short story and thought ‘damn I wish this was just a bit longer.’ Or if you have ever read a novel and thought ‘there is a good story here but the page count seems padded.’ Or perhaps you are a person who has been waiting for a steampunk alternative America with a Jamaican protagonist. If any of these statements apply to you then proceed to pick up Buffalo Soldier immediately.
This is the story of Desmond Coke and Lij. The former a covert agent of Jamaica and the latter just a boy. Well, a boy turned into an object to covet being searched for by man unsavory sorts. Searching for nothing more than a place they won’t be found the pair leave Jamaica, skirt its rival regional power Albion, and make their way near the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes. This is American that wasn’t; splintering at an unknown spot in the historical timeline.
Along the way they meet a colorful cast including a man who claims to be Garrison Hearst and a mysterious woman named Cayt with her own agenda. This is a story with plenty of action (watch Coke’s cane carefully) including some Steampunk goodness. But even more so it is a story of family and stories. Coke claims at one point that Jamaicans have the best stories and Lij seems more than willing to indulge him if it means the stories getting told.
This novella gives the reader the best of what a short story often provides; a more streamlined story with a tighter cast. In fact the bones of the plot would have made a fine short story on its own. But the extended length really lets the stories Coke tells shine and meld into the larger narrative. And it lets the relationship Coke and Lij share gain the emotional potency needed for a reader to truly care about the outcome.
This isn’t a story for people who insist on answers to every question; the mystery of Lij gets some explanation but is never completely transparent and Cayt’s agenda is only half brought out. But it is a story that answers enough to satisfy while leaving just enough to keep one thinking about the implications.
I admit I really hope this is the first of several novellas set in the world. I would be happy to continue following Lij and Coke of course, but Cayt could also prove to be a great main character. Mostly I don’t want this well crafted world to be something I only glimpse once; I could see myself spending a lot of time here.
Copy for review provided by publisher.
As a reminder, I held a nice Q & A with the author a couple of weeks back in which we spoke about the many topics, including this book of course.