Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Fantastic Review

My thanks to @Barbtaub for her review of "The Rocks Of Aserol."
You can read it in full HERE, complete with an interview I did for her website.
But this is the gist of it.

My writing group used to meet at a steampunk pub in Glasgow, where I once got into a conversation with a couple who were dressed in 1890s-influenced costumes, complete with corset and brass-tooled telescope (her) and top hat with goggles (him). They explained with passion and in great detail how everyone else got steampunk wrong. Although I eventually sneaked off on pretext of finding the loo, I think that the couple would have been completely satisfied with the steampunk world-building in Richard Dee’s new novel,The Rocks of Aserol. As far as I could tell, he ticked off almost every trope:
·         Victorian Trimmings? Step into an orgy of Victorian prudish, class-conscious sensibility, full of over the top clothes, dashing heroes who will risk all for honor, the King, and a cup of tea.
·         Gadget-loving Geek? Our hero, Horis Strongman (he’s not) is a civil servant struggling to move into the middle classes, slightly ashamed of his fascination with technology and science, and completely innocent when it comes to the political machinations of his superiors, who see him as the perfect fall guy for their ruthless schemes.
·         Officer and a Gentleman? Horis is saved by the dashing former military hero Maloney, a part-time hotel valet with a clockwork arm and stringent code of honor.
·         Young Lady with Spirit? Grace is both smarter and more independent than the women bemused Horis has encountered before. To his amazement and delight, she makes up her mind that he needs her and proceeds accordingly.
·         Alternate history? Dragons!
·         Alternate technology? The internal combustion engine never had a chance against gigantic steam-powered installations and intricate clockwork artistry.
·         Romance vs Science? (Did you get the part about the dragons?)

When the very junior bureaucrat Horis Strongman is tapped to investigate a mysterious development in the rural coal mines of Aserol, he is pleased at the chance to experience life far from the bustling metropolitan capital. Given the mine’s strategic importance to the coal-driven economy, he is surprised that such an insignificant member of the ministry is sent to investigate. Still, he’s excited when that experience soon includes dragons, and even more thrilled when he meets the beautiful hotel clerk, Grace. But even the innocent Horis is soon aware that something very strange is happening at the mines.

After a horrifying tragedy occurs and Horis is set up to take the blame, he’s rescued by Grace and by the dashing one-armed former military hero, Maloney. Soon the three are deeply involved in uncovering a conspiracy that extends to top levels of society.

But the conflict goes even deeper, as scientific discoveries begin to question the hitherto unchallenged superiority of the steam-driven mechanicals controlling their world, especially as they look to conquer the skies above, despite the menacing presence of dragons. Balloonists are the darlings of the day, but controlled flight is the goal. The filthy water and air of the coal powered world is contrasted with the “natural” dragons (although flight in both human and dragon form is invariably lethal). Religion, although still an influence in the more “natural” countryside, is being replaced by the new devotion to technology. “Priests were becoming a rarity in the city and worship was declining, being replaced more with the religion of science.”

Author Richard Dee uses clever little tricks to remind us that we’re not in Kansas (or London) any more. Breakfast is a “fast-breaker”, at which you might enjoy “porker” and eggs, or perhaps even some “bovine”. Of course, like all proper Victorians, you’ll pair that with a nice cup of “char” (tea). While the country carriages are still drawn by “equines”, they are slowly being replaced by the steam-driven equineless-carriages.

While The Rocks of Aserol is undoubtedly an old-fashioned adventure in the tradition of HG Wells and Jules Verne, it is also clearly and quietly subversive. At every step along the way, the rulers and leaders of society are shown with their feet of clay, just as their religion of science is exposed for both its miraculous advances and its deadly costs.

The Rocks of Aserol goes for the heroic adventure, romanticism of gorgeous “artisan” build machines, and nostalgia for a manners-driven bygone era. But author Richard Dee just as cleverly deconstructs all of that as he exposes and makes no apologies for the deadly costs of such progress. The characters begin as stock genre cut-outs, but soon develop into well-rounded three dimensional people that you find yourself caring about, while the pace of the story is well-suited to the ups and downs of an old-fashioned adventure thriller. I wouldn’t hesitate to give it four stars and to look forward to the sequel.

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