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The Clarity of Cold Steel: A Steampunk Detective Novel Kindle Edition
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|Length: 288 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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I asked the author for a copy based on a synopsis and inclusion of steampunk elements.
The story is set in the labyrinth of Mortise Locke - the Machine City, last bastion of mankind tormented by plagues and cruelty. It's a savage world in which people have degenerated and sickness is everywhere. Human organs trade flourishes and those who have no money get used organs on loans. Avinash Shakteel, detective extraordinaire, tries to make ends meet and pay off his new, second quality, liver.
A poor kid, the victim to a neoteric slough, has been abducted. Unluckily, the kid is directly related to Avinash's liver loan holder.
Finding the kid becomes a priority and it doesn't sit well with mysterious forces that abducted him. Everything that happened, happened for a reason. Once it's revealed Avinash will discover bitter truths about life and himself.
The world pictured in the book isn't happy. Humanity is tormented by many problems and it seems the things are about to get worse. The Machine City is an interesting place, although I can't help but notice it's barely sketched. After reading the book I have some general idea of the place but I'm not able to clearly picture it in my head. And that's a pity as post-apocalyptic scenery flavored with steampunk elements is one of my favorites.
The pacing of the story is consistent and good. Information and events lead the main character from one location to the next, from one character to the next, from one reveal to the next. The story never slows down. On the other hand, some of the scenes were a bit chaotic and sometimes jumps between chapters lacked smoothness. As a result, at times I wasn't sure what happened in between the chapters. That said, the story never slows down and remains mostly engaging. The development is here, but sometimes the scenery gets a little hashed over.
The plot is rather straightforward and simple and it has few connected storylines. The main one is Avineesh's quest for the missing kid. Other involve his troubled family relationships. Serious topics like human organ trade, abuse of the power and sexual abuse are touched and done in a pulpy way.
The tone of the book shifts between serious and comedic. As a result, some of the serious scenes lack the strength to punch the reader in the guts. Additionally, descriptions of emotional states aren't perfect.
“Catia?” Parth glares down at his wife. His voice is low. “Please.” He lifts her chin until she’s staring into his puppy dog eyes. He blinks. Begs. Practically whimpers. I couldn’t say no. “Answer the man.”
The prose is rather utilitarian and simple. Wright uses quite a lot of substandard English (there're, y'see etc) and slang that may negatively influence reading experience. There are a few blips in the flow where Wright’s prose gets too terse or too voluminous. there were times I had a hard time following character movement, but on the whole, that’s a small issue compared to the consistent pacing and entertaining action.
Having said that, I'm not that keen on overtly convoluted sentences like this one:
“Oh, you ’re welcome, sunshine,” she calls out in her ginger-peachiest secretary voice, all butter and honey and grandmotherly goodness, all the while dead-eye dicking me through one large caliber eye and chucking me one lone monotone middle finger with that arthritic claw.
Some may find them funny. For me, though, they kill the flow of the story.
Characterization is done mostly well for the genre. Both Avinash and his brother are clearly but roughly defined. His brother is a silent killing machine. Avinash is a wisecracking detective. Their motivations aren't too developed but it's fine as I approached this story the way I approach graphic novels of 1980's action movies. As long as it's fun, characters don't need in-depth characterization. I have an issue with story's villains, though. The main bad guy is literally cut from the cardboard. There's no life to him. He mainly serves to push Avinash around and move the plot a bit. Overall, bad guys in the story weren't too thrilling.
In the end, The Clarity of Cold Steel is an entertaining story. Quick to read, fast, pulpy and with some genuinely good ideas. It feels a bit underdeveloped but, to be fair, I was never tired or bored. I think that Mortise Locke has plenty of potential for future development.
For starters, the protagonist with a particularly unique set of problems, while exotic in some cases, are nonetheless relatable, as are his struggles with them amidst the more external trials of the case he finds himself in.
The setting of Mortis Locke feels like a living, breathing city, albeit wounded and writhing within the same walls that protect it from the horrors beyond.
The story, a staple missing persons case, is nonetheless rich with trial and error, triumph and terror, peopled with interesting characters who feel like they aren't just there to toss the protagonist a clue, but living entities he interacts with.
I've recommended this to my friends, and eagerly await his next book.
Traversing the city's rotting locales is Mr. Shakteel, a private detective and this story's "hero"? Well, main character certainly, but hero is a bit strong a term for this fellow. He's no Sam Spade. Hell, he's not even a Frank Drebin. Let's put him somewhere in the neighborhood of pragmatic coward who isn't above a smartass remark, even if it costs him an internal organ. He's not much for thinking ahead sometimes, but a good comeback is sometimes worth it.
The characters who interact with Shakteel run the gamut from pathetic to powerful, but each leaves its mark on you in their own way.
The story itself has its nobility in purpose, a desperate search for a missing child, but that's about where nobility dies. Shakteel is no knight in shining armor himself, but maybe he's the only one who could swim in the dark underworld setting such as this. Drop another hero in this setting, and they'd be chewed up and spit out in no time. Well, maaaaybe John Creasy.
Bottom Line: Badass steampunk story with unique setting and characters. ...and heck, the cover alone is awesome! Reminds me of those old Choose your Own Adventure books from back in the 80's, well done by both author and artist. Easily Wright's best book yet.