Jeffery Cook asked me to read his novel "Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun". It is the second book in his Dawn of Steam series. I rated the first one highly and you can that review at this link. I was excited to read this and it fulfilled my expectations. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.
The main cast is continuing their exploration but in a significantly different context. The term Wham Episode is appropriate for a letter in the first arc of this book. Things are substantially more difficult for the Coltrane Crew this time around. For instance, they can't take the airship for granted and the probability that will die violently far away from home is a daily occurrence. I would go into detail but that would involve divulging a fundamental change in the status quo. What I can say is that the opposing airship crew is much more prominent in this volume and has different goals than the Coltrane Crew.
There is a great plot progression. There are five arcs in this story based on the location of their setting. Each one is simultaneously self-contained with its own introduction, climbing action and climax while at the same time building up to the box's climax and working to progress the series' overall story. This three layer structure is tricky to pull of but Mr.Cook does it very well, and not only that but he does it in the epistolary format, 'and not only that' but there is a two way distinction in the way in which this is done.
Greggory has three methods of recording this adventure: personal journal, letters to his employer and letters to his girlfriend, and all of them are different in the style he writes it and the information he provides. For instance, he is professional in the employer letters, affectionate in the girlfriend letters and only puts private information that he does not plan on sharing with anyone in the personal journals. Secondly, Greggory is not the only one recording the journey. There are also letters and journal entries from other members of the crew showing their private thoughts and plans and perspectives that differ from Greg's.
The ending is great. Like the previous, it contains one section of the overall journey and ends neatly at a stopping place. No cliffhanger is needed to force interest from readers because there are plenty of sequel hooks that are well imbedded within the story itself.
Greggory's character development is fantastic.
-->In the first book he had a well conceived and defined outlook on the world and its people, and he considered this to be "natural". He often commented on how Sam Bowe was an anomaly as a human being because she was the opposite of what he thought all women were. Now he realizes that there is a difference between what is "natural" and what is "normal" and specifically how "normal" is relative to one's location and company. His present location and company on the Coltrane airship have a different definition of "normal" compared to the society he is part of in England.
-->A second development is Action Survivor. In this book he has to lead companies of men into battle, defend forts and climb mountains. His role on the airship is chronicler and his role in the Napoleonic Wars was messenger but he performs these roles as well as he is able to. It's a running gag for him to write something along the lines of "it was an exciting experience but I never ever want to do it again".
The Coltrane siblings are also substantially developed. The reader learns with Greg about their history, the origin of their teamwork and the true extent of their skills and fame. Jillian has a journal entry that is fascinating in comparison to her behavior as described by Greg and James has a particularly moving journal entry near the end.
The other members of the crew continue to develop as well. Penn becomes the forefront cultural anthropologist in the places they visit and Sam Bowe has a The World Is Just Awesome viewpoint.
Unlike the first book there is now a clearly defined villain. In a way their appearance is sudden and shocking and in a way it is not. In either case, I find them to be a good and appropriate villain.
The epistolary format is well maintained.
There are letter heads, dates (or not in Sam Bowe's case) and notes about whether or not Cordelia had to translate the letter from some other language into English (in the case of Jillian and James Coltrane). The style of writing is also different.
Most importantly, there are few direct quotes for dialogue. I always found it strange in the frame narrative of "the character is writing all this down in-universe" that the writer can remember the exact wording that each character uses for when they write down the event later. In this case, Greg only gives occasional quotes such as something Sam Bowe said which struck him as particularly odd or James Coltrane's Rousing Speech.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun" an A+
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Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).