Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When his father is lost at sea and his ship found abandoned, Gideon Smith leaves lonely Sandsend behind to venture to London and find Lucian Trigger, hero of many penny dreadfuls, to help him find who is behind it. En route, Gideon befriends a writer named Bram Stoker and a Mechanical Girl named Maria. But will Lucian Trigger be the hero Gideon needs?
I got this book from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!
Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a steampunk adventure tale. I'll be honest, I was planning on tearing it a new orifice for the first 30% or so. Gideon, nearly twenty-four, is really naive, acting like he's fifteen a lot of the time. Also, there was a logjam of the usual Victorian and steampunk tropes hampering my enjoyment, namely Dracula, dirigibles, Jack the Ripper, automatons, and various others. However, I gave Barnett a chance to show me something and he did.
Gideon's travels take him from Sandsend to London and beyond, looking first for Lucian Trigger then for Trigger's partner and paramour, John Reed. Meanwhile, Bram Stoker and Gideon meet then part ways, Stoker pursuing frog-faced mummies in the company of the buxom Countess Dracula.
I love the way Barnett tied things together. I also loved that he went with the Countess instead of tired old Vlad and had the renowned hero Lucian Trigger wind up being an aging homosexual former army officer chronicling the adventures of his opium-addicted lover. Gideon's conflicted feelings for Maria were nicely done. By the time Cockayne started teaching Gideon about being a hero, I was pretty well sold on the book and it's inevitable sequels.
Once the threads converged and the gang headed to Egypt, the story started firing on all cylinders. When the true villain of the piece and the purpose of the MacGuffin were revealed, I couldn't put the book down. The ending was satisfying and not quite happily ever after but I smell a sequel on the horizon.
The writing style reminds me very much of Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air and related books, only with more focus and less disappointment (I'm looking at you, Jack Cloudie).
Despite a rocky start, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl wound up being one of the more enjoyable steampunk books I've read recently. 3.5 out of 5.
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