A Bannon and Clare Case Review
I have been searching for a good Steampunk novel to read and I have been failing to find one. There are novels filled with predictable atomatons, clockwork marvels and all too often zombies. I hate zombies. There are a few other Steampunk works that I have been exploring. The author of one such series is Lilith Saintcrow (aka St Crow).
She has started a series revolving around Emma Bannon and Archibald Clare. The first novel is titled The Iron Wyrm Affair, which I read late last summer. The second, most recent book is The Red Plague Affair. Both books are set in a Victorian-like world filled with amazing mechanicals, magical sorcerers, and mentaths (super geniuses). Bannon and Clare are clearly set up to resemble Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson – where doctor becomes sorcerous of great importance.
There are many things about these books that I enjoy. First, the author sets a good tone with her use of language. One of my great irritations occurs when authors write a period piece but use modern dialogue and vocabulary. It ruins the ambiance often more than the ludicrous plot they have slapped together.
I am also grateful the author changed the names of places and historical figures. Though generally extremely similar to their real-life counter parts, these small changes allow me to imagine a different world not completely dependent on our history. Cause the presence of magic clearly means this is not taking place in our reality.
But several things have left me feeling a little baffled. The mentaths are a weakness in the stories. The author has created a small number of super-geniuses, whose brains run on pure logic and whose minds wither to soup if not constantly stimulated with interesting things. Unfortunately the author spends most of her time telling us mentaths are super-geniuses rather than showing us. Also, her description of their methods and abilities often sounds more magical in nature than the sorcerous casting spells. She tried so hard to set up magic and mentaths as polar opposites, but in the end their extremes making them sound nearly identical.
Another aspect I struggled with while reading the Red Plague Affair was the author’s lack of introduction to her characters. On one hand it is tedious to read a sequel which summarizes all the events of the previous book(s). Yet, some introduction is necessary for those of us with poor memories. Whether it was tied to this point or just a trick of the author’s, I was not found of the way she dangled the origins of one secondary character while never actually dealing with it – even obtusely. She has left large neon signs to indicate Mikal has a dark and mysterious past which is significant without ever telling the reader how it is significant. I find this lack of information, remarked upon by other main characters, irritating.
All of this brings me to my current quandary: Do I actually like these books? Truthfully, I don’t know. I have never read something that has left me feeling so confused about my own preferences before. As mentioned the books have some good characteristics and some frustrating aspects. What I would really like is to discuss these books with another individual who has read them. Perhaps at that time I will finally decide if they are good and enjoyable or utter rubbish.