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Whitechapel Gods Mass Market Paperback – February 5, 2008

3.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

With a hiss of steam, mechanisms inside the walls shot a steel beam across the door as Aaron slammed it and leapt away. Something struck the door from the other side with a deafening impact, and the surface of the steel door bent into an impression of knuckles twice the size of a man's.

Searching his coat pockets for a weapon, Aaron stumbled back into Joseph, who grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him.

"Lad," Joseph cried. "There's no way out!"

Aaron threw off the older man's hand and shoved past him onto the walkway.

"There's always a way."

But there wasn't. Barely visible through the currents of smog and falling ash, the walkway took a sharp, downward twist, ending in a tangle of rent braces. It was a gap of almost thirty feet to the other tower; in between, only hot, stinking wind and a hundred-story drop to the street below.

Joseph moved up beside him and wrapped his white-knuckled ham-fists around the bent rail. "Tell me ye've got some flying machine in them pockets of yours, lad," he said between clenched teeth.

Another impact cut the air as Aaron frantically dug through the many pockets of his greatcoat. His fingers closed over lenses, tools, dynamite, compasses, devices for measuring pressure and voltage, and a dozen other objects whose function he could not remember just then. Nothing that could provide a crossing. With a shock of realisation, he willed his hands still.

"It was here," he said. "I checked on it just an hour ago."

"Bugger all." Joseph slammed one fist down on the rail and looked up into the muddy sky. "A damn dog deserves better," he said. Then he bent forward and began to pray quietly.

Aaron struggled to control his suddenly rapid breath. "There's a way, Joseph. I just need to think."

"Not every problem falls to thinkin'" was the reply.

On the next impact, one of the bolt's fittings popped loose from the wall and the door fell open an entire inch.

"If it had been any other walkway..." Aaron looked to both sides, where similar walkways stretched between the two hulking buildings.

"Aye, but it isn't," Joseph said, drawing a heavy army revolver from his jacket pocket. "I think it's time ye made yer peace, lad. Let's make a fight of it."

"One cannot fight the Boiler Men," said Aaron, suppressing the chill in his stomach and wishing he hadn't sounded so certain.

"We'll see" was Joseph's reply.

Trembling, Aaron withdrew a tin box from one of his pockets. He unscrewed the lid and looked at the thin coiled strip of paper inside. Coded letters ran its length in small type.


A boot sheathed in iron slammed into the bottom corner of the door, folding it up like tin. Unblinking electric light spilled from the hole onto the walkway, mingling with the hazy glare from the towers above.

Aaron quickly screwed the lid back onto the box and wished he'd had the time to decode it. He withdrew a stick of dynamite and a pack of matches, conscious that the walkway was too small to escape the explosion when it came.

How many times had he been told that he must be ready to die for England?

How many times had he told others the same thing?

He readied a match and waited.

There must be a way...

The air shuddered as a blast of steam exploded through the hole in the door. It struck Joseph first and the Irishman's scream cut the night. As the white cloud crashed over him, Aaron threw his arms in front of his face. Too late: the steam swept over his hands and head, scorching every inch of exposed skin. The pain drove him to his knees. He crawled blindly towards the walk's edge, where he pitched his head over the end and took a laboured breath of the foul Whitechapel air, collapsing into a fit as the ashes and grit sanded his raw lungs.

He heard the door pop loose from its hinges with one final strike and felt it clatter to the walkway, and he realised they would never escape.

There's a way

Aaron's eyes quivered open. He spotted Joseph's twitching form through the dissipating steam and dragged himself towards his friend. His raw fingers tore on the walk, a sting even more painful than the fire all over his skin.

Aaron grasped Joseph's sleeve. "There's a way!"

Joseph's eyes streamed tears as he cried and screamed. Aaron shoved the tin box into Joseph's hands and forcibly closed the old man's fingers around it.

"Aaron!" Joseph said. "I can't get up! I can't…"

Aaron shoved the tin closer to the man's chest.

"You can take it back," he choked out. "Find someone who can read it."

Without waiting for an answer, he planted his foot on Joseph's chest and shoved. The other man let out a yelp before rolling backwards off the walk and into space. In seconds, the grey of Whitechapel's smog swallowed him, though his muted scream echoed from the towers for some moments longer.

The pounding of iron-shod feet shook the air. Aaron stared down after his falling friend, crying freely.

You'd probably want me to die on my feet.

Aaron slung one arm over the bent railing and hauled himself up. He turned to the monstrous shapes silhouetted in the doorway's glow. The gaze of those cold, glass eyes made him shriveled and small, and he found he could not stop shaking.

He wished he'd chosen a different walkway. He wished he hadn't lost the matches. He wished he'd done a thousand things differently.

The Boiler Men reached for him with iron hands and he wished most of all that he wasn't about to die.


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Roc; First Edition edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451461932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451461933
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #397,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tony Rakittke on May 19, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I finished reading Whitechapel Gods over the weekend and was generally satisfied, but ultimately underwhelmed.

Taking place in Victorian England, and borrowing *heavily* from the plot of The Matrix, Whitechapel Gods depicts an England that is threatened from within by two modern age deities, Mama Engine and Grandfather Clock, who have taken up residence in Jack the Ripper's hunting grounds and rule over their kingdom with fear, paranoia, and brute force....employing steampunk cyborg turncoats known as black and gold cloaks to police the streets, and the fearsome robotic Boiler Men as their stormtroopers. The residents of Whitechapel, after staging an unsuccessful rebellion against their oppressors, now live quiet lives of desperation, and are either controlled in mind by the hypnotic machinations of Grandfather Clock, or in body by fueling the furnaces of Mama Engine's Stack.

We come into this world through Oliver and his small band of insurgents, including Missy, the prostitute with a dark secret, and Tommy, the gentle giant who's been infected with a technovirus that converts the human body into mechanical parts. His is one in a number of terrorist cells in Whitechapel that are all fighting this industrial regime from the shadows as they develop a secret weapon capable of destroying these dark gods.

First time author S.M. Peters is clearly trying to channel the Weirdness of authors like China Mieville and Grant Morrison, and succeeds in the small details, such as his descriptions of Tommy's technovirus, or the grimy, soot-choked, steel prison that Whitechapel has become. However, I feel that he struggled in tying the little ideas into the Big Picture.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
In a somewhat steampunk Victorian London gone very much awry, Whitechapel has been walled off from the world outside, presumably by the "gods" of the title, Mama Engine and Grandfather Clock, or their minions. The people of this sealed-off bit of London are kept quite firmly in their place by the gold cloaks (minions of Grandfather Clock), the black cloaks (minions of Mama Engine), and the Boiler Men, whose precise allegiance I did not determine, but are definitely not on the side of humanity. A disease is sweeping the people, infecting them with a machine plague entirely unlike those the term is usually used to describe by nanotech-era writers - this causes people to bleed oil, and grow gears, and become virtually unkillable. And eventually, they lose themselves in the machine...

The plot here follows an underground group, each with his own reasons for disliking the status quo, in their attempt to bring down the powerful creatures ruling Whitechapel. The plot is fast-paced and fairly gripping, and one does come to be fairly invested in the plucky rebels and their battles. The structure of the thing is a little flimsy, but I'm not so sure that really matters so much in this case, given that it's a fast read, and the pace doesn't really leave one much chance to dwell upon the possible plot holes. Recommended as a vacation book or for other circumstances in which entertainment is key. Not recommended for critical reading practice.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
In case you were wondering, "Whitechapel Gods" is a steampunk book. The first 5 words of the story are, "With a hiss of steam..." Glad the author got that out of the way right up front.

I'm 2/3 through this book and decided to check out the Amazon reviews to see if I'm the only one who thinks it's an underwhelming, derivative effort. I'm not. Someone here noted that it rips off "Matrix." It also seems to rip off Joe Kelly's "Steampunk: Manimatron" comics (2000), and even Joss Whedon's "Firefly" TV show (Oliver, like Mal, was involved in a failed rebellion against the powers-that-be and now heads a "crew" that includes a whore and a strongman and who takes on illegal jobs to make a living; there are certain lines or moments in the book which remind me a lot of Firefly, but the book lacks Whedon's excellent storytelling skills, plot, and character development).

Not to say that being derivative is necessarily bad -- J.K. Rowling became the richest person in England that way. But the writing in "Whitechapel Gods" is not that good. It's difficult to follow, especially when it starts going into dream sequences and surreal meanderings (I'd compare it to H.P. Lovecraft, but it's not that good). The story lacks character development (if Dickens had written something like this, it would have been stunning), and I wonder if the author's ever been to England at all -- the story seems to lack the richness of personal experience in that regard. As someone else here noted, it could have been anywhere in England, or anywhere in the world.
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First, let me say that I wanted to love this book. From its awesome cover art and the summary on Amazon, it looked interesting enough. Authored by S.M. Peters, this debut is a Steampunk-themed story where two mechanical gods, Mama Engine and Grandfather Clock, rule London. You follow the rebels of an uprising who live in this dirty, dystopian city and who only want to free themselves from these mechanical monsters and their murderous henchmen.

It took two months for me to read Whitechapel Gods, and I struggled the entire way, mostly out of disinterest. The prose was easy enough, but the storyline switches gears so many times, it was really hard to follow. I lost interest, forcing my way slowly, until about 2/3 of the way through when it seemed like the characters were actually about to do something important.

The characters seem very interesting, but their individual lives seem to overtake the book, making the plot lose its momentum. Have I mentioned just how many players there are in this drama? There's Oliver (the protagonist), and Missy, Tom, Aaron, Scared, Penny, Bergen, Heckler, Bailey, etc. Delving into so many lives, it's no wonder I got lost. Their abstract dream and drug sequences proves nothing but to confuse more than reveal anything plot-worthy.

In saying all that, though, I believe that my favorite characters are Tom, half man and half machine, and his pet clickrat Jeremy Longshore (who we later find out is embodied by Aaron). Tom is a large man-machine who, yes, takes a licking and keeps on ticking, but his demeanor is gentle and that of a small child. His pet Jeremy is very faithful and turns out to be pretty useful. He convinces metal hounds, through a series of clicks and nods, that his friends are not a threat.
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