The Society of Steam makes you wonder why all super hero stories aren’t set in 1880s New York City. The adventure-quality superheroes fit with the big machines of steampunk like two cogs in a clock. The subgenre is a perfect stage for Andrew P. Mayer, who utilizes his experience as a video game designer to bring his readers cinematic visuals they won’t soon forget. Along with the big visuals come vividly painted characters with big personalities and big flaws, which is every thing we want to see in action-oriented drama.
The volatile characters both provide and justify the numerous sparks of conflict. The trade-off is that the morality of the novel comes off as a bit black and white, simply because everything is so big, including the characters’ convictions. In fact, the only character I didn’t care for was the one who was trying to play both sides. Compared to every one else, I felt that Anibus came off wishy-washy and overly judgemental. However, the other characters, especially Sarah Stanton, more than make up the difference. I enjoyed Mayer’s descriptions of Miss Stanton attempting to adjust to lower class life, which is only sometimes successful, to say nothing of her budding romance with Emilio.
One technique I disliked was the less-than-permanent character deaths. While it’s common for superhero characters to live through events that normal humans would not, I find it aggravating if other super heroes also believe them dead when they are not. Unfortunately, this happens in more than one instance, and I feel that shorter books – as YA often are – should be more careful not to repeat the same kind of plot device in a single novel. On the other hand, that’s a pretty small gripe to be my biggest gripe.
It’s also worth pointing out that The Society of Steam is not marketed as YA. I’ve included this book in the YA Report because the protagonist is a young woman and because I found nothing about the text that screamed that it was not YA or inappropriate for a YA audience. The definition of YA can be blurry and the genre label is often a marketing decision more than anything else. YA readers should enjoy this book nonetheless.
If you are looking for action but still expect to see fully fleshed-out characters, you should read this book. It doesn’t hurt that there’s the whole machine-who-might-qualify-as-a-person conflict, either. And the bad guy can shoot lightning. What more can I say?
Look for more information on The Society of Steam trilogy and Andrew P. Mayer on his website, http://www.andrewpmayer.com/ There is also an adorable little “newpaper” website for the trilogy at http://societyofsteam.com/
Michelle writes short fiction of all speculative fiction genres in between chasing her toddler from tree to tree. The shorter the work, the better, because 200 words looks very long on her cellphone and that keypad is very, very small. You can find out more about her rabid love of Star Trek, podcasting, and raising future geeklings at her blog, wakingdreamsblog.blogspot.com