Monday, January 21, 2013
Book Review # 2 Automatic Woman by Nathan Yocum
It is no secret that I love steampunk. Steampunk itself started off as a small literary genre, or least a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (such as the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, re-imagining of, or rebellion against parts of it (the punk aspect). Steampunk doesn't stop at literature-there is steampunk music, clothes, jewelry, performance art, philosophy and films. In recent years, the subgenre has expanded and gained more popularity among mainstream society.
Automatic Woman has a main character that isn't the handsome loner with a tragic backstory, the Liam Neeson /Jason Statham type heroes in such movies as Taken and Taken 2 or Crank or the wealthy playboy with a heart of gold. Instead, it uses what can be described as a typical British bloke. Make that a fat British bloke named Jacob "Jolly" Fellows with the knack of breaking skulls who works for the Bow Street Firm as a thief catcher and his size happens to also make him one of the best thief wranglers in the business. Don't ask him to tell a joke. Even though that Jolly isn't eye candy, he isn't a mindless brute either. Despite his weight and not being school smart, he makes it up for being able to thinks well on his feet, and relies on observation and intuition.
He also has street smart skills that help him in the story. And anyone who has ever read any of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle can see the influences sprinkled throughout the entire book. Why even Arthur Conan Doyle makes an appearance as a character along with Bram Stoker, Charles Darwin, and Grigori Rasputin. And the best part is that these historically characters are added in but it makes sense to the context of the story. It never came across as random or a poor attempt made by the author to add real historical figures to make the book seem historical plausible.
Automatic Woman is set in an alternate late 19th century London. I was able to suspend my belief and allowed myself to be lost in the story instead of focusing on the minutia. It starts off with a bang- Jolly Fellows latest case involves tracking down and finding a life sized automatic ballerina called the Swan Princess. Yet this case causes him to be thrust into murder and conspiracy. Jolly Fellows finds the Swan Princess who killed her creator before attacking him. He wakes up to find that he's been accused of murder; time is ticking as he tries to clear his name.
The suspense never lets up-not even for a moment- as we follow Jolly on his adventure. The pacing was fast but not too fast that you became lost and didn't know what was going on. The world building is subtle; descriptive but without endless pages of minutia. And there was never a massive info dumps. You get a clear picture of an alternative Victorian London but are left with enough room to fill in the details.
With villains you love to hate and a likable hero, Automatic Woman is one of the best stories I've read in a while. The ending itself leaves you hanging-but in a good way- the mystery of the automatic woman remains at the end, visible but just out of reach, as you know that a sequel is in the works. Just like Guy Richie's Sherlock Holmes-its action packed and has a gripping plot. I looking forward to reading the sequel and hope this develops into a series.