Opening: “Five loud, hard, sharp crashes. Someone was knocking–no, not knocking, rather pounding at the door of Mr. Everdene Baugh’s house on Church Street.”
This is a slightly misleading opening, mostly because Mr. Everdene Baugh disappears after the prologue, never to be seen again. Though he begins the story, it is really about Emily Edwards and Dreadnought Stanton. After a series of spectacularly bad decisions and unhappy events, Emily is forced to leave the town she grew up with Mr. Stanton. They end up journeying across the US, from San Francisco to New York, wreaking havoc along the way.
The good old journey story is obviously a key factor here. Our main characters are on a literal physical journey, but also on a personal one. In this case, the final showdown comes after they reach New York, but the journey itself is what sets up the whole thing, both plotwise and in terms of character development.
The central image of the story is the magical stone that becomes part of Emily’s hand. I found this somewhat disturbing and creepy, as I think it was meant to be. At the same time, it was a very difficult image for me to grasp somehow. It just never quite made sense, and yet I’m at somewhat of a loss to explain what about it was bothersome.
The main relationship in this story is between Dreadnought and Emily (though her parents, real and foster, are important as well). I found it fulfilling, but not ultimately surprising or particularly original. I had called it from the first time Dreadnought appears. That said, there are times where a predictable romance is fine. And in this case it didn’t fall into the instant-attraction theme we’re suffering under currently.
All in all, I didn’t feel unhappy with the book, but I didn’t feel impressed either, and I wanted to be. Once again, it was a book where I felt like the concept was great and the result wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. I’m beginning to think that this genre is just like that for me–the idea will always seem shinier than the execution. In short, I always want to like the steampunky books, and I rarely actually do.
However, if you do like steampunk, I think this would be a fabulous book. It doesn’t have the egregious annoyances that you sometimes encounter, and the story and characters are largely fulfilling and enjoyable. It has a nice flavor, with the California mining towns, the two cities, and the journey between them.
Book source: public library
Book information: Ballantine, 2010; adult (there wasn’t anything particularly shocking, although there is a fair amount of violence; upper teens might also enjoy it)
Recommended by: The Book Smugglers