Today we are going steam-punk, in a unique way. Dawn of Steam: First Light by Indie author Jeffrey Cook and Sarah Symonds is a compelling story of early 19th century politics, science, and meteorological mayhem.
But first The Blurb:
In 1815, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, two of England's wealthiest lords place a high-stakes wager on whether a popular set of books, which claim that the author has traveled to many unknown corners of the globe, are truth or, more likely, wild fiction. First Light is an epistolary novel, told primarily through the eyes of former aide-de-camp Gregory Conan Watts, describing the journeys of the airship Dame Fortuna and its crew through journals and letters to his beloved fiancee.
The first recruit is, necessarily, the airship's owner: war hero, famed genius, and literal knight in steam-powered armor Sir James Coltrane. Persuading him to lend his talents and refitted airship to the venture requires bringing along his sister, his cousin, and the crew that flew with him during the Napoleonic Wars. Only with their aid can they track down a Scottish rifleman, a pair of shady carnies, and a guide with a strong personal investment in the stories.
When they set out, the wild places of the world, including the far American West, the Australian interior, darkest Africa, and other destinations are thought to be hostile enough. No one expects the trip to involve a legendary storm – or the Year Without a Summer of 1815-1816. The voyage is further complicated by the human element. Some parties are not at all happy with the post-war political map. Most problematic of all, the crew hired by the other side of the wager seem willing to win by any means necessary.
First of all, this tale is well told in an epistolary form--that is, it is told through letters and journal entries. It is also historical fiction, in that it deals with the summer of 1815-16 and infamous Year Without A Summer. But it is fantasy, and completely steampunk, so strap on your goggles--it's gonna be a bumpy ride. There will be steam, there will be gears, and there will be Sir James Coltrane's wondrous mechanical battle-suit!
We really do get to know and like the protagonist, Gregory Conan Watts through his letters to Cordelia, and vice-versa. We also get to know the other members of his crew, some better than others. Gregory is hired to photograph an expedition to various parts of the world that have only been considered mythical to this point.
And we get to know the Dame Fortuna as the miraculous air-ship that she is.
The tale is filtered though Gregory's eyes, as he attempts to chronicle events as they happened.
I loved the twists and turns the plots takes. The 18th century prose is well-done in a literary way, slightly separating the reader from the events. But that is completely in keeping with the epistolary style of this book and in no way detracts from it.
I give this book 5 stars for an excellent adventure, well told. This is book one in a series and I am definitely buying book two, Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun.