Sunday, June 12, 2011

Steam Queen by Jack Hessey

Overall: 2.8
  • Plot: 3/5
  • Originality: 4/5
  • Language: 1.8/5
  • Believability: 2.5/5

Steam Queen by Jack Hessey

Europe is a dangerous, virtually lawless place. Armed bandits prowl the railway lines in their armed Steam Locomotive looking for easy marks, and heavily armed mercenary engines travel from town to town looking for work in a world where every day is a struggle for its civilians.

Erica, an emotionally disturbed girl from England finds herself joining one of these mercenary teams. What follows is a trek across Europe to where two mighty cities, each representing a different way of life, stand on the verge of a war which will shape the way Europe develops.

On one side are the Steam using traditionalists of St Vith, led by the charismatic and cunning General Roosje Cuvelier. On the other, stands the mighty Winterscheid Diesel Empire under the iron fist of the merciless Kaiser Sigmund Eisenburg.

Two vicious armies, treachery from her own allies and the world’s deadliest super-weapon are just a few of the dangers that Erica must face in her journey.
Genre: Science Fiction
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In Steam Queen, the opening scene introduces us to Erica, an eighteen-year-old with the megalomania and proclivity towards violence of a sociopath. In spite of her self-righteous and self-centered administration of justice, however, she also feels a deep love for her father. This devotion is what lands here with the Steam Queens, a mercenary team that hunts down targets via locomotive. With a new assignment, they find themselves caught between a female general with a disregard for consequences and a kaiser who has an almost fanatical love for diesel engines.

Steam Queen is, as one might expect, a steampunk novel. Admittedly, I had to spend some quality time with Wikipedia to familiarize myself with the subgenre, whose illustrious residents include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels and HG Wells' The Time Machine. This gave a bit of context to the story and helped me resolve some anachronisms, the most glaring of which was the use of English as a dominant language when the common tongue during the industrial era was French. In an alternate reality, authors are entitled to these kinds of liberties.

Erica proves to be one of those characters that are likeable within the context of the story but not someone you would ever choose to befriend in real life. Her pathological aversion to dirt and her inability to see things from others' point of view make her as entertaining as she is frustrating. There is a brief inconsistency in her personality roughly halfway through the book, but she bounces back readily enough only to slip again towards the end. On the whole, however, her strident personality makes this novel command your attention. The supportive cast is appropriately entertaining without stealing the limelight.

For the first third of the book, I did have a great deal of difficulty understanding the world in which Erica and her companions dwell. In many ways, I felt as if the author was in such a rush to reach the meatier parts of the story that relevant background information was discarded by the wayside. Details were given only when they became immediately relevant, such as the long-winded explanation about the star painted on the side of the Steam Queen. A seamless integration of the information would have rendered the awkward text unnecessary.

One of the reasons that it took me so long to work my way through this novel is because of the writing itself. A fast-paced storyline and plentiful vocabulary do not substitute for adherence to basic rules of grammar. There were several sentences that attempted to convey too much in a disjointed fashion that was difficult to follow. Also, British colloquialisms, such as "was sat", managed to work their way in. While this is appropriate in dialogue (e.g. Holly's use of "have done"), it does not have a place elsewhere in the text.

This book is certainly interesting, but it could stand a few edits for the aforementioned reasons and then some. The copy that I received was rife with errors, including frequent confusion concerning homophones and the inconsistent (and often inappropriate) use of commas, apostrophes, and periods. As much as I liked the adventure, its conveyance left much to be desired.

Steam Queen has the potential to be a great read. Further editing, however, and the inclusion of more well-timed explanations would benefit it greatly. Note: Some of the violent content may not be for the squeamish. Personally, it made me a little sick.

(Review copy provided by the author)

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