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Book Review: The Falling Machine (Society of Steam I) by Andrew Mayer

This is another review printed in Bull Spec #5.  Just go buy it, already!

Just when you think no original ideas could come out of a Steampunk story, along comes Andrew Mayer to prove us wrong.  In the first novel of the Society of Steam series, The Falling Machine, we are treated to a Victorian Manhattan where men dress up in costumes and harness the power of steam to fight crime.  High powered guns, flying machines, and other strange devices round out this fresh new take on the Steampunk genre.

The good guys are part of an organization known as the Paragons.  One of their members is a walking, talking, thinking, and semi-sentient automaton known as Tom.  When Sir Dennis Darby, the leader of the Paragons and Tom’s creator, is killed, the leadership of the organization comes into question.  The membership squabbles and fights over who is to be named their leader, ignoring the successor named by Darby in his final statement to the organization.  This creates a rift in the Paragons.

Sarah Stanton is promoted as the main character of the story, but only appears in about a quarter of the book.  At the end of the book she finally moves into a position of interest.  The book more closely follows Tom as he deals with the loss of his creator, and his subsequent difficulties as people struggle to trust a living machine.  As a result, I never connected with Sarah, except to sympathize with her as her overbearing father bullies her around.  The book would have been more interesting had we followed Sarah.

Sarah’s father, Alexander Stanton, aka The Industrialist, is another point of contention in the story.  All of the Paragons are corrupt in some way, but he seems to be one of the worst as we see how he manipulates people and situations to his benefit.  A trait that is very human, but not very superhero-like.  I found all of the Paragons unlikable (aside from Tom since he is now an outcast and not really one of their number) and as a result I found myself wishing all of them would be taken down.

The biggest flaw in this book was that it ended too quickly.  At the end hardly anything was resolved and I felt that there should have been so much more.  Sarah has blossomed into something new, then runs off into the night.  The Paragons are in disarray.  There is a traitor in their midst, and a very likable character who could have brought all of this to a close is dead.  Characters finding themselves caught in extenuating circumstances and being accused of things they didn’t do gets tedious when repeated, especially within thirty pages of the first instance.  You want the characters to see how foolish they are for jumping to conclusions, but, alas, it never happens.  In this case, The Falling Machine stumbles and never quite gets back on its feet.  A series book should stand on its own, and this book doesn’t do that.

If you are looking for something new and original in the Steampunk arena, look no further than The Falling Machine.  Superheroes, steam powered-weapons and machine, along with excellent action and story make for a memorable tale.  Just be prepared to be left hanging at the end.  The Falling Machine is due from Pyr Books in May of 2011.

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