by Ciar Cullen, fantasy (2010)
Decadent Publishing, $4.99, ISBN 978-1-936394-09-8
Steamside Chronicles is a story that is pretty hard for me to explain coherently, at least not without you scratching your head and raising your hand to ask questions. Still, let me try.
Emily Fenwick is a present day NYPD officer who finds herself recruited - not that she has much say in the matter - to return to 1890 to defend the New York of that time from spooks like zombies and such. She's not alone - she works alongside other folks who are pulled to the 1890 race to save the world from their respective time period. The question is here: why are they doing this? Cue the Lost theme song: are they really pulled back in time or do they just think that this is the case? Maybe they are in purgatory, who knows? This puzzle is what Emily will have to figure out as the story progresses. Then there is their leader, Jack Pettigrew, who seems like a fellow displaced time traveler, only he is from a New York from an alternate dimension. Can Emily trust this cute fellow? Are you confused yet?
This one is a conceptual story, so the reader will have to put some effort into trying to visualize the author's setting. There is barely any romance here, so it's all about the plot. This is a steampunk romp, not a romantic steampunk tale. I can't say I fully understand everything here myself - there are still some things that have me scratching my head at the end of the day.
Still, Steamside Chronicles is an interesting story, since it's different from a typical paranormal tale and there is a strong first person narration voice from the heroine. Emily stands out as a character to remember here, but since everything is told from her point of view, the rest of the cast are drawn in various shades from okay to just being there. I'm afraid I'd have to put Jack in the second category. He is, I believe, written to be an intriguing enigma to Emily and the reader, but I personally find him to be a bit bland compared to Emily.
I just wish the pacing has been sped up considerably. The author spends a lot of time laying out the setting, so much so that the story often gets bogged down by the lack of interesting action. There are moments when I actually get confused by various descriptions of the setting, so I would welcome the distraction of some action-paced drama.
Steamside Chronicles is an interesting story, even if I can't say I completely "get" the author's vision when it comes to her setting. Still, this one feels too much like a pilot episode of a new series, one that is a bit too slow to engage the attention of readers who may be too impatient to wait for the action to start. If there is a sequel, hopefully it will be a more eventful one.
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