Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Answering Review Request: Dawn of Steam First Light

Jeffrey Cook asked me to read his book "Dawn of Steam: First Light". It's about a Drean Team exploring the world to either prove or disprove that an adventurer's journals are non-fiction, and all because of a bet made by two aristocrats. I will examine plot, character and polish before assigning a grade.


This story takes place in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, and several people have gotten rich because of it. Two of these newly rich people decide to make a high stakes bet on Dr.Bowe's journals. These journals talk about his adventures across the world, from the American Wild West to India, to Japan, the last of these was closed to outsiders at the time, and the many wonders that he has seen. The bet is that he made all this up and so they hire crews to prove one way or the other.

This book covers the first leg of the trip, thus "First Light". It covers the bet itself, the Avengers Assembled scenes, and the trip across America. There's also an unplanned detour at a Spanish fort in Florida to claim it for England because a certain incident indicates war is coming.

Considering the story is told through Gregory Watt's journal and letters, and in professional and documentary tone, it can hardly be said to be thrilling despite its subject matter. The reader is further removed from the source of the action since Gregory Watts is not the one publishing this story in-universe. His wife is and after 65 years of marriage to boot. HOWEVER, that does not mean that this story is not dramatic or suffuse with tension. For example, there's this horrific storm that the airship is trapped in that leads to tragedy; since Gregory warns of the tragedy before hand (after all, his girlfriend is a delicate thing and might not be able to handle such awful happenings!) it has this "waiting for the other shoe to drop" sort of suspense; of knowing something bad is going to happen and being unable to stop it, because it's already happened.

Also, there is a subplot within the "exploring on a bet" main plot. Up until now, the in-universe public has been unaware of this conspiracy. Cordelia adds extra stuff that wasn't in the original publication. These are revealed in occasional interludes from other characters; other letters that hinted at something bigger and more sinister. It's quite a treat to find those gems.

There's a historical element; a deep sense of history. The events of the story take place in 1815 but the in-universe book is published in 1885. Thus there are footnotes for events that take place between the two. It is fascinating flavor text. It's the sort of small details that can push a story's quality higher.

The Ending is fantastic. Cordelia, the in-universe editor, decides to stop volume 1 after the group's first big achievement. This also marks the end of the first year of their adventure. Thus, it is a milestone and suitable stopping place.


The main cast is a Rag Tag Bunch of Misfits. Their recruitment fills tens of pages. While this may sound boring, the events that occur in the midst of recruitment and the colorful nature of these characters makes it quite entertaining. Gregory's English snarkiness makes it even better.

Gregory Watts is the Supporting Protagonist and documentary/photographer of the expedition. He wastes no time in establishing how silly he thinks the bet is and how it is obvious that Dr.Bowe fabricated his journals. He takes the job in spite of this because he believes such an adventure will bring him fame and fortune enough to convince his girlfriend's father that he is worthy of her hand in marriage. In other words, a modern engagement challenge.

He is an English gentleman. This means that he is polite, chivalrous and patriotic. It also means that he is prejudiced against everyone that is not English, has mild Stay In The Kitchen ideas, and is prone to backhanded compliments and stealth insults.

The people he recruits as follows:
-Sir James Coltrane and Jilian Coltrane are like paragons of English society for their gender. Respectively, they are the gentleman war hero/inventor and the proper lady Silk Hiding Steel social networker. They are dual leadership of the expedition.
-Sam Bowe is frontier hunter and the daughter of Dr.Bowe. She is their guide.  It becomes a minor running gag how her feats impress Gregory yet impress upon him that she must be insane for doing so.
-There's Eddy McBride, a Scottish sniper and a foil for James; gruff, quirky, Scottish, and snipping.
-Harriet is a Cute Clumsy Girl desperately trying to be a Proper Lady like her cousin Jillian. She's also a mechanic from her time on her family's farm in Virgina.
 -An Italian conman named Giovanni Franzini and his assistant,  Julietta Penn, who is a Romanian fortune teller. They provide less reputable skill sets.

There is no clear villain, just the "opposing crew" from the other side of the bet. Very little is revealed about them in the first volume but they still cause a great deal of trouble.

Dawn of Steam is an epistolary novel, that is, it takes the form of letters and journal entries. Never once does this atmosphere break. The illusion of historical documents and 70 year footnotes is perfect. It's impressive stuff.

No spelling or grammar errors.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dawn of Steam First Light" an A+

Click here for the next review request: "Crisis on Stardust Station"

Click here for the previous review request: Blood for Gold: The Fatal Tome

To read about the sequel: Gods of the Sun, click the link.

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).

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