Steampunk Book Review: The Machine (2015)
This self-published book by author E. C. Jarvis just came out at the beginning of the month, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre, as long as they can cope with a little torture and violence. The book hit digital bookshelves on November 1st, and you can buy it now.
Unlike many Steampunk stories, this one is not set in an alternative history of the Victorian era. This allows Jarvis great latitude to embrace tropes and the aesthetic of Steampunk without the need to fit them into events of the past. Purple corsets worn on the outside, a sexually aggressive heroine, airship pirates, and complex clockwork machines abound in the story, landing it squarely into the Steampunk camp rather than anything resembling historical fiction.
This adventure centers on Larissa Markus and the mysterious stone set in her necklace; the only link she has to a father whom she never met. We learn early on that this stone has remarkable qualities, including acting as a power source for a fusion reactor being built by the debonair Professor Maximillian Watts. During the initial testing, the lab is rocked by an explosion and the Professor kidnapped by Doctor Orother, a nefarious character hell-bent on learning the secret of the machine. Along with her cat and the Professor’s engineer, Larissa finds herself in a race against the clock to save the Professor.
I thought that the characters were strong and distinct, though I personally could have done with a bit less of the cat who is smarter than the people. I was rooting for Larissa all the way, which is not always the case with “strong female leads” I read. I find that too often the pursuit of this device just leads to stubborn or bitchy women, but I felt that Larissa was a fully developed and flawed character, and that humanity is what I look for in my heroines. I found her actions and reactions to feel authentic, with one notable exception.
(Spoiler) At one point, the airship they are using to rescue the professor is taken by pirates, who take turns beating and raping her (none of this happens ‘on camera,’ it is all implied). A short time later, this deflowered and traumatized woman is making passionate love on a desk. As important as this encounter was for the plot, I found the timing to be unrealistic for the context. If she had only been beaten I could perhaps believe she was seeking solace, which I believe was what the author intended. Or, if she had been more aggressive in the encounter rather I could have seen it as a way to feel like she was taking control back of her body. The reader does not get to see Larissa’s though process, so it is hard to understand her motivation at that moment, so as it was presented it didn’t feel quite right. (Addendum: I am told that the emotional aftermath Larissa’s assault are dealt with more in Book 2)
As much as I liked the dialog, which felt realistic and well-paced, I could have done with fewer f-bombs. Don’t get me wrong, I swear as much as anybody, but I counted it used around 60 times throughout the story. I liked how Larissa picked up its usage from her time spent with Cid, the engineer, but other than that it didn’t really add anything to the story and could have been replaced by any number of more interesting adjectives, or dropped from the sentence without changing the meaning.
Those criticisms aside, I thought this was a strong debut novel. I am very interested to see where to story goes in the next installment and I am looking forward to continuing to follow this story and these characters into the sequel, The Pirate.