Monday, 25 February 2013

Vacant Graves by Christopher Beats

Masked stormtroopers, mad scientists and mysterious miners make this book a non-stop riot of action, one which I thoroughly appreciated. Donovan Schist is the world-weary PI hired to rescue a girl from sex-traffickers in steampunk New York c. 1870. He thinks that it will be an easy job, but he is, predictably, wrong and he gets swept up in an intrigue that he could never have imagined.
Since I love both steampunk and noir I was bound to like this book. I haven't read the first one, so I can't comment on these books as a series, but I am going to get it at the next available opportunity. Donovan is a well-written character. I imagined him to be like the American bloke on Ripper Street (although I would guess that Christopher Beats probably didn't imagine him to be so good looking...). He was a soldier for the Union in the American Civil War, and in the reality of Vacant Graves they lost. His experiences in battle have both traumatised and jaded him, which was well portrayed, although I got a bit irritated with constant references to "limey bastards" being as I am British. I also felt that while his character wasn't racist towards the black or Irish characters in the book, in common with modern social mores, hating the British was a permitted racism - something that I'm not happy with. In fairness to the author, the character has reason to dislike some British people as he was fighting against them in the war, so it is realistic, but it got a bit wearing.
His "ward", Phoebe, grew on me throughout the book. She managed to be vulnerable without being pathetic, which is always a danger with women in Victoriana, and I liked that she had a valuable skill set that didn't feel tacked-on just to give her something to do.
The plot was good, and the smoky atmosphere of the industrial town well-evoked. The steampunk technology was well thought out without going into too much detail. It was quite violent and gory, so if that is not your thing you might not appreciate this book, and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody below the age of 15 as there is also details about the sex-trafficking operation.
Although I adore London, and am fascinated by Victorian London in particular, it was quite refreshing to read a steampunk series grounded in the history of somewhere different. I have studied some American industrial archaeology as well, so although it was a new setting I was able to perceive some familiarity in it which I liked. I recommend this book to lovers of steampunk and noir, and also to those who like a good manly adventure.
Score: 8/10

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