Steam Queen by Jack Hessey [Book Review]

I hope you like trains

Imagine Europe fragmented into independent city states crisscrossed by railway lines and channeling the Wild Wild West, the country side infested with railway pirates and groups of train based mercenaries hire out to the highest bidder. Technological advances have gone differently in this universe with steam powered trains becoming dominant and the automobile never invented at the same time they have hand carried radios. The author shows so great enthusiasm for locomotives and trains that I suspect a connection there.

Erica is a formidable if somewhat deranged female protagonist and I mean that in a positive way. She starts the book at psychopathic level but ends up growing in understanding and empathy as she comes to grip with the damage done to her. Her father leaves her with the Steam Queen mercenaries as she has become too disruptive and violent to stay in the village she grew up in. She has many quirky facets to her personality but the most fundamental ones are hate of dirt and that she feels a need to punish any infringement on her person including touching with enough violence, including killing or maiming so that it will never happened again.  This makes fitting in with the mercenaries somewhat problematic.

The plot is really about Erica learning the world and herself but you can read it as an adventure story since there is a hunt for a railroad bandit, a ‘religious war’ between Diesel and Steam, a super weapon, a love interest of sorts, treachery, orphans, imprisonment and escapes before it is over.

It is a quite short book of 281 pages with double spacing making it around 150 pages with normal spacing which is shorter than I like. At first I felt a bit disgruntled with the shortness but I realized it was okay as I went through the review.

The shortness might be the reason the story feels a bit simplistic and the characters a bit sketchy. It could also be an attempt at writing in style of the 19th century but I would have liked more fleshed out characters. Erica is likeable if quirky but she never quite steps out of the pages.

The Steam Queen is a promising debut and I think I will keep my eyes on Jack Hessey in the future. It is a fast read and channels 19th century style of writing in a romp of steam powered war machines in the Wild Wild West of Europe.

Information

Title: Steam Queen
Author: Jack Hessey
Genre: Steampunk
E-book: 871 kB
Publisher: LazyDay Publishing 2010
Copy: Review copy

Order from: Amazon US | UK

Europe is a dangerous, virtually lawless place. Armed bandits prowl the railway lines in their armed Steam Locomotive looking for easy marks, and heavily armed mercenary engines travel from town to town looking for work in a world where every day is a struggle for its civilians.

Erica, an emotionally disturbed girl from England finds herself joining one of these mercenary teams. What follows is a trek across Europe to where two mighty cities, each representing a different way of life, stand on the verge of a war which will shape the way Europe develops.

On one side are the Steam using traditionalists of St Vith, led by the charismatic and cunning General Roosje Cuvelier. On the other, stands the mighty Winterscheid Diesel Empire under the iron fist of the merciless Kaiser Sigmund Eisenburg.

Two vicious armies, treachery from her own allies and the world’s deadliest super-weapon are just a few of the dangers that Erica must face in her journey.