A review copy was provided by the Trident Media Group.
The steampunk genre grabbed hold of my attention roughly four years ago. I was unfamiliar with the concept, but was instantly drawn to the idea of a Victorian era society with wild technology. Of course, there’s a lot more to steampunk than what I just mentioned, and the genre has spawned numerous reinterpretations of the core ideas.
Writer Richard Ellis Preston Jr., possessing a self-professed “fascination” with the steampunk genre, brings us Romulus Bucle & the City of Founders, the first book in a series known as the Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin. Does this swashbuckling adventure story hold up to a stern critical gaze?
Our story revolves around the titular Romulus Buckle, captain of the Pneumatic Zeppelin, a massive airship he commandeered from a rival clan. City of Founders is set in California in the far future; after an attack by a violent alien race, humanity was reduced to a shell of its former power and lost the ability to use electrical technology thanks to a series of odd obelisks. This, ultimately, results in a world governed by steam power, where crude firearms (called “blackbang”) and fencing return to prominent pieces of warfare.
Romulus and his crewmates are on a quest to rescue Balthazar Crankshaft, leader of their clan and adoptive father of Romulus and several of his compatriots. To do so, they will have to break into and brave the deadly City of Founders, home of the region’s most powerful clan. With all the odds against them, is Romulus’s devil-may-care attitude enough to win the day?
Overall, I quite enjoyed Romulus Buckle & the City of Founders. Preston excels at crafting intriguing characters, with lots of fun (often alliterative) names. He emphasizes little details, like the clothing choices or particular hobbies of a character, which helps make them feel more human. Furthermore, Preston works to flesh out the mythology of the world, explaining enough ideas to keep the reader following the story yet leaving enough mystery to build interest in future installments of the series.
There a number of great action scenes throughout the book, which serve to give the story a rapid, enjoyable pace. Preston clearly did his research on zeppelins as well, as he makes sure to give detailed accounts of the Pneumatic Zepplin’s functioning and explain the purpose of different machines, crew members, etc. as well as the results of different forms of damage that occur. Furthermore, the dialogue is crisp and full of wit.
That said, the book isn’t perfect. While the first two acts are intriguing and great fun, the third tended to drag, almost feeling like it was shoehorned in simply to delay the ending of this installment. There is a big bombastic finale, but rather than feeling exciting it seemed an endless series of mishaps that broke up an otherwise exciting book. Furthermore, Romulus Buckle himself, while an interesting character, did feel like a bit too perfect at times as he shows expert skill in swordsmanship, marksmanship, leadership, etc.
Ultimately, Romulus Buckle & the City of Founders is worth reading for steampunk fans or anyone who likes a good adventure and needs a quick read. I enjoyed this title a lot, and am definitely interested enough to give the next book in the series a shot.
-intriguing perspective on the steampunk genre
-great dialogue and battle scenes
-ending is unfulfilling
-final third of the book drags
-main character a bit too perfect at times
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