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The Earl of Brass (The Ingenious Mechanical Devices Book 1) Kindle Edition
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I found the main setting--an alternative-history steam-powered Victorian England--a little underdeveloped. Some key fictional creations, like the "steamers" characters ride from time to time, are never really described, which left me having to imagine my own steampunk world with a few cues instead of effortlessly entering the author's world. I also found the main characters' actions, language, and attitudes so modern as to be jarring until I decided to take the disjoint as part of the "alternative" in this alternative history. That said, the worldbuilding in the aforementioned intriguing departure--no spoilers--is rich and imaginative, with lush and enticing descriptions of both the society and the setting.
The underlying themes of equality, tolerance, and self-determination are successfully integrated into the action of the story; many of the key decisions, turning points, and conflicts naturally arise from the story's themes. Unfortunately, the characters also have a tendency to state their positions in extended internal or external monologues. Most of the main antagonists are caricatures of bluff imperialistic bigots, against the protagonists' almost implausibly liberated idealism. The overall effect is heavy-handed, with the story sometimes struggling to hold its own against the statement of the author's message. That and a pattern of conflicts being defused where they could have been escalated kept this book from a 4-star rating in my estimation.
That said, the story has good bones. At its core, what kept me reading was the gradually deepening relationship between the two main characters. Given the thematic urges of the story, mutual respect is a given, but there is also an incredibly refreshing kindness at the heart of their relationship. The growing tenderness, understanding, and easy head-on-shoulder intimacy has a remarkable sweetness--and an impressively gradual but steady development--that goes a long way toward covering the weak points.
I also enjoyed the parts of the world that were more fully developed. Jorgensen shows the early signs of a brilliantly original worldbuilder. The mechanized prosthesis and especially the setting and tools and social structures in the intriguing departure show the scope and depth of the author's skills. For all their novelty, her creations are internally consistent and beautifully presented. It's clear the underdeveloped parts of the world were not due to a lack of skill.
Overall this book gave me the impression of an early effort by a promising author. While this book has some rough spots, Jorgensen is an author who is ready to grapple with big ideas and clearly capable of rich writing and sensitive characterization. I've already bought the next book in the series, and I expect that within a few novels Kara Jorgensen will be making a formidable contribution.
You see, Eilian isn't interested in politics, hunting, smoking, or any of the things that come with his impending title. He uses his wealth and privilege to travel the Empire, and while returning home from a foray to the far East is the victim of a dirigible crash that costs him his right arm. The medical arts of the period, 1890, barely save him, and his wealth allows him to purchase a prosthetic arm that doesn't do much besides fill his sleeve. It is made by the firm of Fenice Brothers, actually by Hadley's brother George, and delivered by her to the estate. Angry at Eilian for something he had nothing to do with, she expresses her displeasure in no uncertain terms, and they don't hit it off well. She later makes a much more articulated and controllable arm, and they become friends, going on a grand adventure at an archeological dig in the Palestine region, and running afoul of any number of unsavory characters and some other spectacular situations and discoveries that I have no intention of spoiling here.
One thing that is immediately apparent is that this book is very much written by a woman, and that is by no means a criticism. Yes, there is a will-they-or-won't-they romance running like a golden thread throughout the narrative, but the very worst thing you can say about that it that it detracts nothing from a huge, sprawling intercontinental tale. The intrigue, exotic cultures, lost civilizations, and larger-than-life villains are worthy of H. Rider Haggard, and unless you're even more jaded than I am, it will add an extra plot line to the tale that will put you through a wringer of emotions.
Like any author, Ms. Jorgensen's world view leaks onto the page, and she isn't subtle about allowing it its space. She has some comments to make about the situation of women and minorities at the end of the 19th century that speak to us today. When her heroine laments that she can only hope that these oppressive and myopic practices will have been abolished by a hundred years in the future, you can't help but feel her pain that so little has actually changed.
So now I need to give a quantitative rating on a one-to-five scale, which is asking a lot of one guy with an opinion, but it's the current standard, so I'll take a run at it.
Four solid stars. Why not perfect? Well, perfection is rarely attained. This is not a plot that I'm seeing for the first time that is blowing me out of my socks. It is a well-crafted adventure with an engaging romance between social inequals that I promise any reader of adventures or romance will deliver the goods and leave you asking for more. There are a couple of minor issues with tense and I recall one extra word left in, I assume, from a rewrite, and these are, sadly, less than perfect, but they in no way detract from an excellently crafted story that tugs at your heartstrings while taking you for a ride you won't soon forget. So pick up a copy and introduce yourself to Kara Jorgensen. She'll broaden your reading horizons in the most enjoyable ways imaginable.
I found the characters flat and two-dimensional, written as stereotypes rather than being fully fleshed out . The plot didn't flow smoothly and events seem to pop out of nowhere without rhyme or reason. The steam punk parts weren't developed or detailed enough for me, with the exception of the prosthetic arm. The homosexual theme was rather heavy handed IMHO.
I had a hard time understanding Eilions love for Hadley and her calm, almost casual acceptance when he baldly announces that he loves her. That seemed to suddenly come up in the book without much of a build up to it or maybe I just did not see the subtle signs of a growing love between them.
There were several good things in the book and the author obviously has a wonderful imagination. There were only a few grammatical errors or typos. I'm sure many readers will enjoy it but this series isn't my cup of tea.