Review: Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War

A review copy was provided by the Trident Media Group.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure to read through the first installment of the Romulus Buckle steampunk adventure series from author Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. I greatly enjoyed the book, and eagerly awaited the opportunity to dive into the next chronicle following these characters. Thus, with great gusto, I picked up the second book chronically the travels of the Pneumatic Zeppelin and her crew: Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War.

Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War

After saving his adoptive father Balthazar from the dreaded City of Founders, Romulus Buckle returns home. With his airship under repairs, Buckle sets out to solve the mystery of the Imperials’ assault on the Crankshafts a year prior, with the words of Imperial Chancellor Katzenjammer Smelt ringing in his ears, claiming the Imperials did not carry out the attack. War looms on the horizon, as the Crankshafts spearhead a Grand Alliance to stand against the Founders. Though the table of camaraderie is set, bringing together the disparate clans may be an impossible task, but the alternative is ensured destruction.

Engines of War allows Preston to build up the world set forth in the previous book. In this volume, readers see the actual strongholds of several clans, and learn more about the various individuals populating the frozen wasteland of what was once California. Every clan has its own character, modeled to some degree off real-world nations of the Victorian era. It’s the little things that especially bring the world to life, such as the food, clothing, and medical instruments discussed within this volume.

The characters within Preston’s work are the biggest draw for me, and I’m sure what will entice the majority of readers. Romulus, Max, and Sabrina all receive a great deal of character development, and I was especially glad to learn more about the latter two. Preston, however, doesn’t give everything away, teasing enough to leave readers clamoring to learn more in future installments. The romantic entanglements were interesting, especially as we had hints of Buckle’s dalliances in the first book, but saw no real action to back them up. The new characters in this book, such as Valkyrie Smelt, were a welcome addition. I was also happy to see the return of my personal favorite character, Katzenjammer Smelt.

Action and adventure are the bread-and-butter of this series, and Engines of War does not disappoint. From a wild battle with sabretooths at the beginning, to a mad melee against a kraken in the middle, to an airship battle near the conclusion, Preston outdoes himself with creative fight scenes. The fact that things often go poorly makes the battles feel more realistic, even if they involve alien monsters and steampunk technology.

My only gripe with Engines of War is that so little is resolved. This book, while developing the world Preston set up, simply does that: set up. While many things happen, much is left hanging that will inevitably be resolved in future books. Still, I would have liked at least some loose ends tied up, as, by my count, we’ve got at least five hanging by this one’s end.

Overall, Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War is an upgrade over the first book in the series. It improves upon everything that made the first book enjoyable, while adding elements to strengthen the narrative. Fans of the steampunk genre and those that like adventure stories will surely enjoy this book, though I’d recommend starting with City of Founders. I’m very excited to read the third book in the series when it lands in Spring 2015.

Pros:

-great characters, both old and new

-exciting action sequences

-superb world-building

Cons:

-many plot threads left hanging by the book’s end

Rating: 4/5

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