Wednesday, 6 April 2011

‘The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam Book One)’ – Andrew P. Mayer (Pyr)

You all know this already but I’m a real sucker for well done cover art. If you’re an author and your cover artist has done a good job on your cover then you’ve more than likely already won half the battle in getting me to pick your book up and give it a go. Shallow? Probably but that’s just the way it seems to go sometimes. The other half of the battle lies in the blurb, the very next thing I look at after your cover art has caught my art (sometimes it goes the other way round but you get the general meaning here). If the story looks interesting then I’m in, no question about it!

On first glance, ‘The Falling Machine’ looked like it had things covered on both fronts. Check out that cover art for a start. A giant robot with a Gatling gun for an arm always gets me interested but look at the detail and effort that must have gone into it; lovely stuff. The blurb on the back caught my eye as well so I made sure that I got round to this one a lot quicker than I normally would.
It was a real shame then that I felt more than a bit let down by the time I’d finished reading...
It’s the eighteen eighties and New York’s foremost band of gentlemen adventurers (The Society of Paragons) are powered by the discovery of ‘fortified steam’ in their never ending fight against crime. Sarah Stanton is the daughter of one of the Paragons but has been deliberately kept at arms length from what is a very dangerous world. Her dreams of being a hero have only been dreams, until now...

When the leader of the Paragons is killed before her eyes, a chain of events unfolds that will reveal the lie beneath the surface of the Paragons as well as having Sarah running for her life from some particularly sinister villains of Manhattan’s underworld. Her only ally is the mechanical man known as the Automaton but with the hand of every Paragon set firmly against the Automaton is there any hope that Sarah will be able to bring the truth to light and thwart the plans of Lord Eschaton...?
So... Steam powered superheroes and villains, a feisty heroine and a self aware automaton with a dirty great gun as an arm. These should have been the ingredients for an amazing tale of adventure and for you they might be. Not for me though...
I’ve got to be fair at this point and say that a lot of groundwork is obviously taking place in ‘The Falling Machine’ in preparation for the next book(s) in the series. That’s fair enough I guess, the groundwork has to happen somewhere and I’m sure it’ll make all the difference when the series is complete and the big picture revealed. What I found ‘The Falling Machine’ to be though was a book that was all about setting the scene and not really about telling a story in its own right. Again, all well and good in terms of the big picture at the end but what good is that if the approach taken at the beginning leaves you not wanting to read the rest of the series (that’s where I’m at right now)? There is a lot of info-dumping going on here and I do mean a lot. Everything has to be explained and the story itself doesn’t get to breathe as a result (there is a neat little mystery lurking somewhere underneath all this...). Things move very slowly for the most part and when they did speed up I was left wondering why the rest of the book hadn’t been like this. Mayer can do it but for some reason it felt like he chose not to. I did enjoy his depictions of a gloomy, poverty stricken Manhattan though.

A lot of this could have been bypassed easily if I’d been able to get on with the lead character Sarah Stanton but I was denied even this. This is a little more subjective as Sarah Stanton may well be your cup of tea but she didn’t work for me, especially when she came out with the line, ‘I think I’ve been falling in love with you Professor, perhaps for quite some time.’ That really grated.

While Sarah does do a lot throughout the course of the book I never really got a feel for exactly why she was doing what she did. The best I got was that it was all because her father had told her not to... I’m sure things will pick up in future instalments but what I was left with in the meantime was a very shallow character that almost didn’t want to be engaged with. There were certainly others who were worth my time, the Automaton for example. Watching all of his well intended actions fall apart was sad to see.

‘The Falling Machine’ may work for you (if you can get past the info-dumps then the plot does have the potential to be very interesting with lots of questions asked) but I personally can’t see myself picking up the next book in the series.
Six out of Ten

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