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Revolutionary Magic (The Dashkova Memoirs Book 1) Kindle Edition
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I was drawn to this book because of its clever James Bond-meets-steampunk premise, and for the most part I was not disappointed. Author Thomas Carpenter has done an admirable job of creating an alternate United States, circa 1800, a world where new immigrants arrive aboard enormous trans-continental airships, and where those who can afford to rattle around town in self-propelled steam carriages (what we would call "cars"). Protagonist Kat Dashkova, with her complex back story, makes for a terrific action heroine, a sort of Lara Croft from the days of silk petticoats and whale-bone corsets. The country is young, a new age of enlightenment is in full bloom, technology is advancing in leaps and bounds, and magic may or may not be real. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
As much as all of these elements appeal to me, however, Carpenter may have gone overboard with his clever ideas. His re-imagined Philadelphia is a fascinating place, but when you add Ben Franklin (along with a handful of other historical characters), secret societies, memory theft, a lot of convoluted political intrigue (much of it originating half-way around the globe), and then throw murderous, dimension-hopping alien creatures into the mix, well, that may be taking things a step too far. In my opinion, the biggest problem with placing a story in a universe where anything can happen is that anything can happen. Even an invented universe needs some limits.
I also have a minor quibble with the quality of the first-person narrative. We experience the story through Kat's eyes, which is fine, but she narrates in a rather stilted fashion that at times I found tiresome. I realize that Carpenter is trying to capture a bit of the flavor of the times, but if he could have dialed it back by twenty percent I think the book would have been better. There was also the occasional grammatical error, which I suspect would have leapt out at the writer if only the writing wasn't quite so florid.
Finally, something occurs in "Revolutionary Magic" that I can't let pass without mentioning. About three-quarters into the book our two protagonists (Kat and Ben) discover something that just completely threw me off. It's not that this discovery strained my credulity (the story takes place in a world where anything can happen, after all) but the characters' reactions to it certainly did. Somehow they manage to ascertain the purpose and history behind this new discovery in minutes, even though they lack the information necessary to do so. It's as though I came across a piece of wire in the street and somehow concluded that it came from a left taillight of a 1967 Chrysler Imperial, pink in color, driven by a blonde librarian while on her way to her manicurist - on a Tuesday. Moreover, since this particular element had been in their midst for two years (according to their own conclusions), they absolutely should have stumbled upon it earlier.
All that being said, I really did enjoy this book. Right now I have several other books on hand to be read, but it's likely I will purchase the follow-up volume to "Revolutionary Magic" at some point. It's good escapist fare, even if it does hit the occasional sour note.
As for the book itself, it is a Novella. It has a large cliff hanger at the end. The second book is $2.99. So, I had to decide whether it was worth taking a plunge, albeit a small financial one, for the second book.
It is definitely Steampunk with a magical twist that, although the title of the book prepared me for the magical aspect it caught me a bit off guard. I personally feel the author should have stuck with the Steampunk, alternative universe perspective of the story line, with his excellent bit of science thrown in, and left the magical alone. To me, it just didn't work. As a Steampunk novel, it needs more science, and less magic.
The author is an excellent writer. The characters were crisp and distinctive. I loved his use of historical characters. He was true to their nature as history shows them. The setting was fascinating. I could picture his world building in my mind. I liked the female lead character. She is someone I would like to know more about her in the future.
But, for now, I will not continue on with this series. I didn't like the fact that it was a novella, it has a huge cliff hanger at the end, the next book is a bit expensive for a novella, and the magical aspect, in my personal opinion, just doesn't work.
I am excited about this author, but I think I'll wait awhile before I download his next book.
'Revolutionary Magic' is a combination of things—alternative history, steampunk and an almost Cthulhu-esque sort of urban fantasy. The critters going around doing nasty things are pretty grotesque, and effective at what they do. It makes for an intriguing story what with secret societies (of which Ben belongs to one) trying to solve the crimes plaguing Philly.
Unfortunately, the story is not told from Ben's PoV. It is told by one Katarina Dashkova, a minor Russian Princess come to the states to escape the horrors going down in her own country. It's not that she's a bad character, she's actually quite decent. But she not Benjamin Franklin. For him to relegated to the place of supporting role frustrates a big Franklin fan like myself.
Other historical figures, such as Voltaire, are mentioned or even show up as part of the cast, adding to Katarina's woes (they don't want her in the secret society). Bad guys from Russia are also skulking about. Strange creatures live among the residents of the city adding an otherworldly feel (the visit to the brothel to obtain info was quite effective in displaying the supernatural aspect of the individual they visited). No trite vampires, werewolves or even mummies. Big plus for that.
The steampunk aspect has a lot of the usual—steam carriages,airships, gas lamps, etc. But here again, we get some different twists thanks to the unusual nature of the 'bad guys'. There's a strange glove with mysterious powers. It's obviously connected to the creatures killing and maiming the residents of Philadelphia, but no one is sure how or why. There is the alchemical powder that Ben uses, which turns out to have properties more varied than simply keeping him youthful (although that plenty awesome all by itself - I want some of that stuff).
'Revolutionary Magic' is quite short, only 144 pages, and it reads like a serial. It ends on a cliff hanger and does a good job of making the reader want to know what happens next. Unfortunately, the first person PoV causes the ending to not really work for me. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say, I don't know how Katarina can tell the last part of the story under the circumstances.
Overall, the writing is well done, the dialogue is elaborate but not over the top, and the cover is gorgeous. Yes, I'm a sucker for a gorgeous cover. That weakness has been my undoing on a number of occasions but not this time. I will be picking up the second installment.