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Review - Lazarus Machine

Posted by Mredydd on October 13, 2012 at 10:45 AM

Paul Crilley's dark steampunk tale takes place in a London awash in fantastical technology: soul-powered automatons roam the streets, remotely controlled mechanical spy-camera spiders scurry about, and lightning guns (who can resist lightning guns?) are the weapon of choice for many. A nearly modern state of technology exists, to the point where one may choose between two competing brands of computers.

The novel's point of view switches between the eponymous Sebastian Tweed and Octavia Nightingale, both independent 17-year-olds living in unusual circumstances. Each is searching for a missing loved one who has been abducted, and their captor turns out to be the same mysterious and sinister group. Tweed and Nightingale meet when their investigations collide, and they decide to join forces in order to uncover the truth behind the disappearances and mount a rescue mission, helped along by a diverse cast of friends and associates.

One challenge of speculative fiction that authors succeed at all too rarely is introducing the alternate world of one’s imaginings without bringing the narrative to a screeching halt as every detail of the society/technology/ecology is exhaustively enumerated. In Lazarus, the challenge is met: the various technological marvels of alternate London, though pervasive throughout the novel, are introduced casually without disrupting the narrative flow -- an endeavor admittedly eased by their similarity to modern devices.

Crilley manages to strike a balance between dialogue and description, transitioning easily between the two. His background as a scriptwriter is obvious: action, sound, and visual content predominate. The writing style, vocabulary, and dialogue are all strikingly modern; no attempt has been made to clothe the story in faux-historic language. Whether this is an enticement or a detriment depends, of course, on the reader.

For the most part, I enjoyed Lazarus, yet some aspects stood out as needing improvement. As have many authors before him, Crilley borrows characters from the Sherlock Holmes stories, but in this case no essential aspects of character have been preserved, only superficial qualities. This makes the inclusion of these characters seem gratuitous at best, if not an outright attempt to capitalize on the recent popularity of all things Holmesian. Original characters would have better served his purpose.

Both the protagonists (and a good deal of the supporting cast) suffer somewhat from rather one-dimensional portrayal: Tweed is super smart, but socially awkward! Nightingale is a strong-minded and independent girl! Stepp is a prepubescent computer hacker genius! That is not to say that these are inherently bad tropes of personality, but they require cultivation beyond what Crilley manages in order to blossom into fully-fledged characters. The author is certainly capable of it: Jenny Turner is excellently written, for all that she has little time on centre stage -- quirky without seeming affected, strong-minded without it being her predominant trait, and a good person despite her disregard for the law.

Despite these few shortcomings, The Lazarus Machine is an excellent steampunk YA adventure novel. It's fast-paced -- every potentially dull moment is interrupted by gunfire, exploding buildings, or a high-speed steam carriage chase -- yet includes some interesting commentary on the challenges of ethical scientific research as well. If you like your action/heist tales dressed up in goggles and greatcoats, this is a perfect choice.


The Lazarus Machine: A Tweed and Nightingale Adventure will be available in hardcover and ebook editions in November 2012.

Meredith Weinhold (Steampunk Canada member Mredydd)

Interested in steampunk even before ze knew there was a word for it, Mredydd has been involved with Steampunk Ottawa for multiple years. A voracious reader, Mredydd studied an officially unrecognized, but singularly enjoyable quantity of English literature in university, and is periodically a panelist on steampunk fiction workshops.


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