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Saturday, July 4, 2015

NEW STEAMPUNK NOVEL! Ed Greenwood: "The Iron Assassin"

Author:  Ed Greenwood  
Title:  The Iron Assassin: Or A Clockwork Prometheus
Plot Type: Alternate History; Steampunk Fantasy
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3-4; Humor—3   
Publisher:  Tor (6/2015)

Introductory Note Regarding a Few Inconsistencies: I have included two different blurbs from the publisher because I wanted to point out that they both contain errors. The first sentence of the Amazon blurb is incorrect in that in this world, Victoria is definitely the Queen, and she is the head of the House of Hanover. The only member of the House of Harminster who appears in the novel is Rose Gordhammond, Lady Harminster, who functions as the heroine. The cover-flap blurb also contains an error: Jack Straker is Lord Tempest, not Lord Templeton

     And one more thing: My hardcover copy includes a subtitle on the title page: The Iron Assassin: Or a Clockwork Prometheus. The Prometheus-related subtitle isn't on the cover or in any of the on-line excerpts, but I did find it in an image of the ARC (at right). On his "Edverse" blog, Greenwood describes the novel as follows: "My steampunk romp...A gaslamp fantasy set in an alternative Victorian London and involving clubs, a clockwork Prometheus, dastardly plots against the throne, beautiful secret agents, sinister cults, mad scientists, and of course airships, it’s just good old ripping yarn fun."    

                      PUBLISHER'S BLURB ON AMAZON                        
     In Ed Greenwood's The Iron Assassin, Victoria never ascended the throne; the House of Hanover held England only briefly before being supplanted by the House of Harminster. It is a time of gas lamps and regularly scheduled airship flights, of trams and steam-driven clockwork with countless smoke-belching stacks. London, the capitol of the Empire of the Lion, is a filthy, crowded, fast-growing city where a series of shocking murders threatens the throne itself.

     Energetic young inventor Jack Straker believes he has created a weapon to defend the Crown: a reanimated, clockwork-enhanced corpse he can control. He introduces "the Iron Assassin" to the highly placed Lords who will decide if Straker's invention becomes a weapon of the Lion-or something to be destroyed.

     It quickly becomes apparent that the Iron Assassin is more self-willed than Straker intended, and that the zombie's past life is far more sinister than Straker thought. Has he created a runaway monster? Or the best guardian the Lion could ever hope for?

                         COVER-FLAP BLURB                         
     Victoria has ascended the throne—several times in various new bodies. It is a time of gas lamps and regularly scheduled airship flights, of trams and steam-driven clockwork with countless smoke-belching stacks. In filthy, crowded, fast-growing London, the capital oft he Empire of the Lion, a series of shocking murders threatens the throne itself.

     Jack Straker, Lord Templeton, the energetic young inventor and Dread Agent for the Crown, believes he has created a weapon to defend the Prince Regent: a reanimated, clockwork-enhanced corpse he can control But members of the Ancient Order of the Tentacles have other plans for the "Iron Assassin."

     Together with his friend Mr. Bleys Hardcastle and the recently recruited Dread Agent Rose Gordhammond, Lady Harminster, Jack must outwit the Ancient Order and regain control of his invention before they can assassinate the Prince Regent.

                         INTRODUCTION AND WORLD-BUILDING                         
     The book opens with an eleven-page "Dramatis Personae"an annotated list of 98 characters in order of appearance. That list is quite helpful if you read the book in one sitting, but if you put it down for a day or two and then go back, it is difficult to remember who is who and time-consuming to find them on the list. If you'd like an on-line version of the list, click HERE to go to the  excerpt on GoogleBooks. One point about the list: Some of the villains are listed twice, once under their real names and once under their nicknames. Also, be aware of the fact that the titled nobility are called, variously, by their given names, their surnames, and their House names. For example, Jack Straker, Lord Tempest is sometimes Jack, sometimes Straker, and sometimes Tempest. I do not exaggerate when I say that keeping up with who is who can be extremely frustrating. I found it best to just try to remember, in general, which ones were the primary bad guys/gals and which were the primary good guys/gals.

     Now to the world-building: The story is set in an alternate Victorian London that is technically ruled by Victoria, but really ruled by her son, "His Royal Highness Frederick Villiers Hanover, Lord Lion of the Empire, Prince Royal of England and Its Dominions Low and High, Sword of the Seas and Defender of the Two Faiths, and Most Dread Lord of London; better known to the Empire as just 'the Lord Lion…' " England is riddled with intrigue as several groups of treasonous nobles vie for power, each group spying on and killing off its rivals. The Ancient Order of the Tentacles, headed by the mysterious "Uncle," is the strongest of these groups. Within the Tentacles, a number of factions have developed, each with its own loyalties and agenda. Suffice it to say, from the very early pages all the way to the end of the book, many, many people die in various gruesome ways, including some very important characters.

     The author wants us to view Jack Straker, Lord Tempest, as a Sherlock Holmsian hero, with Mister Bleys Hardcastle as his Watson. The Holmes reference doesn't really work, though, because Tempest is an inventor who uses science to create clockwork and steam-driven contraptions, while Holmes is an investigator who uses logic, deduction, and forensic science to solve cases. Both characters are extremely intelligent and are both "flamboyant and debonair" in manner and "lean and hawklike" in appearance. 

     The heroine is the intrepid Rose Gordhammond, Lady Harminster, "an earnest young noblewoman of beauty and brains who lost her parents early and so is now the head of her house." Although she and Tempest and Hardcastle become friends, they do not have any romantic interludes. 

     The Prometheus of the story—the Iron Assassin himselfis Mister Bentley Steelforce, "the prototype…code-named "the silent Man" and reanimated by Jack Straker from a dead London chimney sweep, Bentley Roper." Steelforce is "clad in the black, many-straps leathers that knights on horse...wore under their great, gleaming coat-of-plate ceremonial armor. What could be seen of his body looked dead, his hair-shedding head mere shrunken skin over a skull that still had eyes. His hands and feet were bare, the fingers and toes sheathed in silver-coated iron points…Over his leathers was fitted a cage like iron frame, an exoskeleton that glowed with tiny crawling lightnings and gave off sparks whenever its joints bent severely." His fingers and toes are "capped in cold iron coated in silver. With these he burns…prey. When he grips them, and unleashes some of his electricity to course through these points, some of the silverpoison to one who's drunk the consecration cup of the Ancient Order [of Tentacles]floods through them in an instant, searing them from within. He also has forearm bracers fitted with many blades of cold iron and of silver, for intense fighting."  In other words, Steelforce is the ultimate weapon that the loyalists plan to use to take down their treasonous enemies.

     Unfortunately, in his introductory scene, Steelforce murders a man who knows something about his past and disappears into the streets of London, only to be captured and controlled by another tinkerer/inventor, the villainous Norbert Marlshrike, who is loyal to the Ancient Order of Tentacles. The story revolves around the efforts of the various groups to control Steelforce, to kill their rivals, and to take over the kingdom. 

                         MY REVIEW                         
     In my humble opinion, this novel is actually a steampunk parody, if we define parody as an imitation of the style of a particular genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect. The author plays into this possibility by calling the book his "steampunk romp." Everything about the book is over-the-top and larger than life: the enormous cast, the literal overkill of the characters, the ridiculous names of the characters, the maniacal bwa-ha-ha villains, the dauntless paragons of virtue who are the heroes and heroines, and the frenetic hop-scotching of the plot from one set of characters to the next and back. The names are hilarious, and they make it easy to guess immediately whether a character is good or bad. For example, you just know that a character named Jack has to be a good guy, while one called Grimstone or Whipsnade must certainly be evil to the core.

    Another example of Greenwood's lampooning is his use of the word "beagle" as a somewhat derogatory nickname for members of the local constabulary. In the real Victorian London, a "beadle" was the actual title for local officials whose job it was to keep order by communicating orders and executing them.  

     And one more bit of spoofery: Greenwood does a great send-off of steampunk's sexy clockwork clothing by giving us a very funny S&M scene involving a pair of the prince's "ladies" wearing elaborate clockwork gowns of burnished copper with a complex system of cogs on the bodices that whir together, causing clamps to close on various body parts for the purpose of mutual pleasure. It's quite a scene.

     The villains are much more fully developed than the good guys, and their scenes are filled with evil grins, bombastic boasting, gruesome threats, and endless, complicated plans for the future. In one hilariously gory scene, two of the bad guys put aside their rivalry long enough to team up, first against yet another treasonous faction and once against Tempest and his allies. Together, and without any other assistance, the two evil-doers manage to murder hundreds (seemingly) of beagles, trading snarky wisecracks all the while.

     Although Greenwood does a great job caricaturing the steampunk and Victorian fiction genres, he goes on too long and throws in so many double-crosses and triple-crosses that I lost interest because it was too hard to keep up with who was on what sidenot to mention trying to keep the characters straight. Yes, there was plenty of farcical humor and lots of roguish, jocular dialogue and an abundance of adventure, and that would have been fine if the story hadn't gone on and on and on to the point of tedious repetition. One final warning: try to read the book in one sittingor at least in several close-together sittings. If you let too much time lapse between readings, I guarantee that you'll be lost when you go back to it.

     The book ends with a several story lines still unresolved, so I assume that there will be a sequel. If that's the case, I probably won't read or review it, but I will update this post with the title, the publication date, and the publisher's blurb.

     To read a lengthy excerpt from beginning of The Iron Assassin, click HERE to go to the novel's page and click on the cover art, or click HERE to go to an excerpt on Google Books

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