This was my first ever steam punk novel. It was a superb introduction to the genre. I must read more; I hope they are all as good as this.
I was impressed by how well this first-time author avoided common pitfalls. Science fiction stories require careful 'world-building' (because the setting is unfamiliar to the reader) and many first time authors go over the top, explaining everything in huge chunks of prose, but Farrelly drip-fed the settings and left just the right amount for the me to puzzle out on my own. The story was told in the past tense from multiple perspectives and this 'head-hopping' can sometimes become confusing; it didn't in this case because Farrelly kept control of the narrative. The author must also strike the right balance between fast-paced page-turning action and story development and again I thought Farrelly was almost perfectly placed on this spectrum: there was plenty of action but that narrative was never spread so thinly that it became shallow.
What most impressed me about the book was the lightness of touch. The tone was often playful and the humour such that I sometimes laughed aloud (and regular readers of this blog know how rarely I laugh even when reading so-called comic novels).
For example, the captain always tells the crew to remember "rule number one"; this changes with the situation and this becomes a running gag:
- “Rule number one,” Gonagain had always said, was, “stay alive.” (Ch 5)
- "He ran his mind through Gonagain’s long list of ‘Rule number ones’. “Rule number one, Bearnárd, always learn from other peoples’ mistakes.”" (Ch 5)
- "Gonagain had broken rule number one – never sleep with one of the crew – but, he rationalised, she was only a temporary member of the crew and besides, the sex was phenomenal." (Ch 13)
- "rule number one: no one gets abandoned.” (Ch 17)
- "There was a pause whilst the crew tried to work out which specific rule number one was most appropriate for this occasion. Gonagain didn’t wait. “Rule number one is ‘No man gets left behind’.” (Ch 19)
One of my favourite moments was when Jao is trying to hide some pulsarnite. She explains to the captain what she has done:
“So, let me get this straight,” he said, “The trunk we brought aboard belongs to Trustworthy?” “Yes.” “And it contained the biggest lump of pulsarnite I’ve ever heard of?” “Yes.” “But now it has a bag of sand in it?” “Yes.” “And you have the key, which you found in this cabin.” “Yes.” “But Trustworthy thinks she has the key in her underwear?” “Yes.” “But it’s really the key to your little trunk?” “Yes.” “And the pulsarnite rock is now in another trunk in your cabin? “Yes.” “And the key to that trunk is…?” “In my underwear.” Gonagain paused thoughtfully. “Show me,” he said eventually. Jao stuttered and blushed for a microday before regaining her composure. “Oh, you mean the pulsarnite.” (Ch 10)
Great characters too: an utterly reckless captain who always thinks of his crew (sometimes lustfully), a female engineer who can fix machines or people, a lady navigator who has learnt much through her long life, mostly from ex-boyfriends (think Ness from Gavin and Stacey), a dog, a robot ('Emily Tutu') learning emotions and a strongman. And assorted other crooks and spies and baddies.
A criticism? Only that I felt that there were a number of storylines left unresolved at the end, and this was clearly because there is a sequel in the offing. I hope it comes out soon; I'll be reading it.
There were some moments of magic:
- “Where’s the undertakers?” Gonagain asked. “Black Horse Square.” The three of them looked at each other vacantly, then back at the storekeeper. “At the end of Longest Walk Lane.” Again, the three looked nonplussed. “Not far from the hospital.” “Which tavern is it near?” asked Bunty, a little impatiently. “The Vigil and Wake.” “Righty-oh, Skipper, let’s go!” (Ch 2)
- "She had known people like this all her life. They were pretty enough, or educated enough, or Machiavellian enough to manipulate people into giving them what they wanted. Or worse they were just wealthy enough to buy whatever they wanted – whether they needed it or not." (Ch 4)
- "there’s no denying that you’re pitch-perfect, but your voice has the timbre of… a parakeet… in a garotte." (Ch 4)
- "if you can get a message to your navigator, you can tell him our exact location is the middle of flippin’ nowhere.” (Ch 5)
- "That was going to go down like an osmium dirigible back at headquarters." (Ch 14)
- "There was only one thing Gonagain hated more than being wrong, and that was having to admit being wrong." (Ch 14)
- "He was unsure whether he needed to walk faster or slower than usual to be at the entrance at the right time. He ended up with an odd gait that betrayed his sense of urgency without actually adding any speed." (Ch 16)
- "What’s the plan?” “Be careful and get him out.” replied Gonagain impatiently. “Not too much detail then – playing it by ear. Jolly good.” (Ch 17)
- "Charlie emerged from Beagán’s cabin, pulling the gusset of Beagán’s breeches from between his buttocks as he went." (Ch 20) This was included because one of my wife's least favourite words is 'gusset'.
- "a column of crystals which hung from the ceiling exploded into a pendulous chandelier at each floor." (Ch 38)
- "He had vowed at his mother’s grave that he would never leave anyone he cared about again." (Ch 39)
A beautifully written story. May 2021