Monday, November 1, 2010

Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer

So here we are, another week, another steam book. This week: Johannes Cabal, The Necromancer. I gotta say, I really like this one. It's not the steampunkiest book, per say, but it's pretty awesome no matter what.
For starters, its about about a necromancer. Specifically, a necromancer once written about by HP Lovecraft. You know. The Cthulhu guy.
It's mostly about Johannes Cabal and his quest to make one hundred people sign over their souls to the devil, so he can have his back. Yeah, he sold his to learn necromancy and defeat death. But he needs it back to do the defeating!
Anyway, Cabal makes a bet with the devil that he can get one hundred souls in one year. He's given a carnival to help him in this task, and an alloted amount of demonic magic to assist as well. We receive another supernatural character in the form of Cabal's brother, now a vampire (that had been locked in a basement for twelve years) due to Cabal's own screw up.
It all goes well and Cabal is up to ninety-eight souls when he arrives at Penlow. In Penlow, however, the people don't trust him, since he totally restored their rail station--complete with revived stationmaster--in a single night before he showed up. It is here in Penlow that Cabal must get his final two souls in one night. That night, he gets his first two truly good souls. The other ninety-eight were already walking the path to hell, but Cabal manages to convince two women who aren't to sign over their souls anyway. 
Cabal then takes his box of signed-over souls to the devil, and tricks him into taking only the original ninety-eight souls, but still getting his own back. 
Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer is funny. Jonathan Howard is just poking fun at any book about necromancers ever. But it's also a serious book; he wants us to watch Cabal be the most horrible person ever, and then fix it. Oh, yeah, by the way, Johannes Cabal is pretty much the biggest jackass of a character you will ever love. He's callous, uncaring, pompous, a know-it-all, and he pulls it off with wit and style. Johannes Cabal: Necromancer is the sort of dry, almost British humor we've become accustomed to from Terry Prattchet and Douglas Adams. If you read any of the books I put up here, dear god, let it be this one. 

(PS: If you enjoyed this book, it has a very lovely sequel, Johannes Cabal: The Detective. It's set primarily on an airship. Squee!)

Monday, October 25, 2010


I know I said I'd read Escapement for last week, and I really did try! Honest! But I just couldn't wade through that monstrosity in a week. I know this because I read Dreadnought in about three days, interrupted by classes and other things, but I still haven't finished Escapement.
So I'll give you Dreadnought instead.
I'll start by saying this: Cherie Priest knows what her audience wants. I mean, she really knows what they're after. A little intrigue, a lot of gore, a touch of foreshadowing for the intuitive reader, and finally the big-ticket topic of the past three or so years, (Good god, has it been that long since zombie-mania started? Has it been longer?) good ol' Z.
Our main character starts in Richmond Hospital, under the guidance of Captain Sally Tompkins (This is especially exciting for me. Sally Tompkins was my great-however-manys-grandmother. No lie!) on the day that she receives the news her husband--who has been fighting for the confederates--is dead. In Dreadnought, Clementine and Boneshaker, the Civil War is about twenty years old. Not too long after, she gets a telegraph that her father (who left her and her mother years ago to chase gold in the Yukon) is dying, and his final wish is to see her.
So begins Mercy's (as she is called) long journey from Virginia to Tacoma. She begins with an airship ride headed to Fort Chattanooga that crashes, leaving her in the middle of a battle between mechanical walkers (Damn, that author knows what we want!!) and as a nurse, temporarily recruited to save a dying officer. After probably saving the man's life, Mercy gets to Chattanooga and then a short train ride later, to Memphis, where another set of circumstances involving her conspicuous Red Cross bag and the recruitment coming from it, sets her on a Texian boat heading up the Mississippi. From Memphis to St. Louis (dropping hints all along the way) the ride lulls, before suddenly we find Mercy riding the terrible Union train Dreadnought, supposedly carrying bodies of the dead out to their homes in the West, which will taker her all the way to Tacoma. It is this journey which is the real and true meat of the story, in my opinion.
Mercy is the only person with medical training on board for several weeks as the train winds through the west, curiously not dropping off any bodies at all. Confederate soldiers attack the train several times, and we hear stories about cannibalistic Mexicans from a Texian ranger and two Mexican inspectors, both trying to find out the same thing. Somewhere around Topeka, Mercy discovers one of the reasons for the Dreadnought's westward push: the Union is trying to buy Chinese immigrants with land and gold. The first two cars of the Dreadnought are filled with deeds and bars of gold. It is not until some time later that Mercy (spurred by a fellow traveler) discovers the purpose behind the last car in the line; it is filled with bodies, but not men who died honorably on the field. It's filled with sap-victims.
In the world of Dreadnought, sap is a drug originating from Seattle, where the Boneshaker (from the previous book) unearthed the a noxious gas that kills then reanimates.
The Union intends to use sap as a weapon, when they can figure out how. It isn't until a harrowing race through the only railroad pass in the Rockies that the final car is cut from the Dreadnought's line-up. But it isn't until the Dreadnought and it's current nemesis, the Shenandoah, get though the tunnel that the 'mystery' of the cannibal Mexicans is solved: they swarm the trains, killing all but four of the Shenandoah's crew. The rest of the book passes as a closing action. Mercy gets to Tacoma, where she is greeted by our last heroine, Briar Wilkes. Mercy's father is Swakhammer, a prominent character in Boneshaker, thought dead or dying by its readers. And there we are left.
I have to say, especially when compared to Mainspring and Escapement, Cherie Priest is indeed the high priestess of steampunk. We have everything we want, in the order we wanted it, and how we wanted it written. Mercy's way isn't easy, and she's in real danger sometimes. But she keeps her wits together, which is exactly what we want in a hero or heroine. Mercy does everything she can, even if she knows there's not much of a point. She's not perfect, either, but nosy in the way that all lady detectives start out as.
This isn't to say that Dreadnought is perfect. Many steampunk books ignore the lack of women's rights in the Victorian age, and although sometimes it seems like Ms. Priest forgets when she's writing, she often has people asking if she's travelling alone, and where her husband is.
All in all, I continue to appreciate Cherie Priest and her contribution to the steampunk lit scene (if there can be said to be such a thing.). Five gears.
In other steampunk-y news, has, it seems, just concluded a steampunk fortnight after the success of their steampunk month not so long ago. If you enjoy anything I read for here, even Mainspring or its sequels, Tor is the place to look for more steam lit.

(PS: If you enjoyed this book, Cherie Priest has written two others currently in print and has a third book in the 'Boneshaker world' in the works. The two in print are the wonderful and stunningly popular Boneshaker, set in Seattle and following Briar Wilkes's tale, and Clementine, which I have not read yet, but promises to be good as it involves espionage!)

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Mainspring is probably not the sort of book a steampunk would ever point to as the ultimate steampunk book. Through the airships and the clockwork world, there's just not the sense of true adventure I consider necessary for steam lit.
Our story goes like this: The main character, Hethor, receives a vision from the angel Gabriel that he needs to find the Key Perilous and rewind the Earth's mainspring (hence, the name). So our hero runs about 'Northern Earth' for half the book before crossing this absolutely enormous gear that runs all around the Earth (called the Wall for its vast height). Past the Wall is Southern Earth, which is completely different from its northern counterpart. Here Hethor meets the 'correct people' and ends up taking a great many of them on his way all the way to the South Pole, where he descends into the clockwork center of the Earth, winds the mainspring, and everybody lives happily ever after.
I'm no book reviewer, but I like to think I've read enough to form a reasonably educated opinion of a story. And I have to say, I'm not a huge fan of Mainspring here. The plot is sort of disjointed, like there were parts Mr. Lake wanted in the story, and he was just chaining them all together. The main antagonist, William of Ghent, shows up at seemingly random points, and the protagonist's sagely helper seems to hinder him just as much.
I could probably rant for a few minutes on the protagonist himself, Hethor Jacques, but I'll limit myself to a few sentences. Hethor is bland. He reminds me of Vaan from Final Fantasy XII, namely, he doesn't truly seem connected to the story. On top of this, there's the problem that Hethor is never really truly in danger of failing his god-given quest. Enemies save him, friends fall, and there's even danger of freezing to death, but Hethor is never really in danger.
I slogged through this book because I promised I would, but I have to say, I don't have high hopes for Escapement.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Steampunk Reading Challenge

I realise I haven't touched this blog in an age and a half, and I mostly apologise for that. Not all the way, though, because I really doubt anybody checked it. For those of you who are checking it now, I'm delighted to give you a reason to continue checking it.
The internet has yielded this: link. Yes! A steampunk reading challenge. I'm not exactly sure how it's a challenge, as this is it: 'The challenge runs from October to October and there are no obligations other than to have fun discovering a genre and let other participants know about what you find.' But I think I can make that into something usable. Oh! I've got it. Here's my steampunk challenge.

I will read one steampunk book a week.

My definition of a steampunk book will start with this list, and if that runs out I'll put out a new list. There's lots of lists of steampunk books on the internet. I won't be reading a book on that list for my three weeks, though. I've got Jay Lake's Mainspring books for that.
Of course, the Steam Con guest of honor this year is Cherie Priest, so I need to both purchase and read Dreadnough and Boneshaker. I've already read the latter, so I can't use it in my challenge. But I need to buy it for the con, so I can get it signed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Miss me?

The re-emergence of summer leaves me with little to do other than bore you all. So here we go!

I think this will be a summer of boredom, disappointment and anime. The first, because nobody's going to hire me. The second, because I'll continue to hope somebody'll hire me, only to be let down. And the last because why the hell not? Also, the second version of Fullmetal Alchemist (I like this version better.). I've really gotten behind on my Japanese girl cartoons.
There's a special edition of my summer, too. That's the one where I get a job or maybe go to Japan. Japan's seeming less and less likely, though, due to issues of meeting up. That makes me super-sad, but it's alright. It's not like I've never been, right?


Thursday, April 29, 2010


I don't believe I've been this excited since Steam Con. There's a feature-length Jasper Morello in the works, and if I'm to believe the lovely and well-informed people of BG, it should be out soon! This is really just terribly exciting, you know. Or maybe you don't. If you haven't seen the original, which I believe I've previously raved about, you really do have to. Especially since I probably won't shut up about this now. Yay!


Friday, April 16, 2010

Oh my goodness!

Now that I'm back into the regular schedule of school (read; on a computer and unwilling to work) I think you'll find a lot more posts coming. Mostly, though, I've rejoined the Brass Goggles Forum, which has again proven itself to be a plethora of steampunky information (Look for me! I'm Shangri La Postal!)
Already, I've been reminded that I have to register for Steamcon II. Registration just started a couple days ago, so they're definitely not sold out yet. And utter joy, Abney Park is playing again! It's worth the extra money to see them, their show is almost as amazing as their music. It's a pity, though, that Vernian Process isn't playing again, even if they were wicked loud last year.
I have also discovered that there is a tea house in Newport. Honest! It's The Foxwood Teahouse, available on reservation. It seems like a really neat place, though I don't think I'd ever get to go. Who would I invite?
But that's beside the point. The point is, would they hire me?! (Laughable)
Well, I'll leave you all alone for now, with the exception of this last link. Words can't tell you how jealous I am of that man.