Book Review #10: Hearts of Smoke and Steam (Society of Steam #2) by Andrew Mayer

Title: Hearts of Smoke & Steam (Society of Steam Book 2)
Author: Andrew Mayer
Publisher: Pyr Books
Release Date: November 22, 2011
Available: Kindle, trade paper from all major resellers

After having reviewed Blackdog by K.V. Johansen, I was eager to check out a couple more books in Pyr’s catalog. For (probably) obvious reasons, I am very interested in Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan. However, that title hasn’t arrived in my mailbox yet, and I happened to have a copy of Hearts of Smoke and Steam at hand..

So on to the review.

Synopsis: Sir Dennis Darby has been murdered, the Automaton has been destroyed, and Sarah Stanton has turned her back on a life of privilege and comfort to try and find her way in the unforgiving streets of New York. But Lord Eschaton, the villain behind all these events, isn’t finished with her yet. His plans to bring his apocalyptic vision of the future to the world are moving forward, but to complete his scheme he needs the clockwork heart that Sarah still holds.

But she has her own plans for the Automaton’s clockwork heart—Sarah is trying to rebuild her mechanical friend, and when she is attacked by the Children of Eschaton, the man who comes to her rescue may be the one to make her dreams come true. Emelio Armando is a genius inventor who had hoped to leave his troubles behind when he and his sister left Italy for a life of anonymity in the New World. Now he finds himself falling in love with the fallen society girl, but he is rapidly discovering just how powerful the forces of villainy aligned against her are, and that fulfilling her desires means opening the door to a world of danger that could destroy everything he has built.

The Society of Steam takes place in a Victorian New York powered by the discovery of Fortified Steam, a substance that allows ordinary men to wield extraordinary abilities and grants powers that can corrupt gentlemen of great moral strength. The secret behind this amazing substance is something that wicked brutes will gladly kill for, and one that Sarah must try and protect, no matter what the cost.

Setting: Hearts of Smoke and Steam is set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century (if an exact date was given, I don’t recall). The city has been redefined in a steampunk motif, and let me say, the outfit Mr. Mayer tailored for the big apple fits like a glove. It was very easy for me to slip into this alternate version of NYC, and see it through the steampunk goggles. The city itself is a very minor character and hasn’t been given a complete makeover, but the principle settings rang true and I very much enjoyed this vision.

Plot: Mr. Mayer wrote Hearts of Smoke and Steam as a sequel to The Falling Machine. To my chagrin, and against my better judgement, I read Hearts without ever having read Machine. However, Hearts of Smoke and Steam easily envelopes even a new reader with an easy to understand plot. The Paragons, a group of steam powered superheroes, has been decimated and is in the process of rebuilding. One of the most powerful of the Paragons sole offspring is on her own and working towards having the heart of the Automaton, a clockwork man, rebuilt.

Characters: With any sequel, there is a likely assumption that you should all ready know the characters. This is a fair assumption. However, even with starting in the middle, Mr. Mayer’s characters were easy to get to know. Some I liked, some I found annoying. However, the ones that were annoying, were crafted to be so. Mr. Mayer paints with a full palette and no two characters are remotely similar.

Odin’s recommendation: There were many things I liked about Hearts of Smoke and Steam and a few I didn’t.

The bad: Mr. Mayer has a tendency to repeat scenes from different characters point of view. Sometimes, entire scenes. I don’t need this and actually found it a bit confusing at times.

Also, there is one character in the book that is Italian. He speaks Italian occasionally. That’s a good thing. However, I wasn’t able to decipher from context clues what he was saying. That made following those passages a bit difficult.

The good: In Hearts of Smoke and Steam Mr. Mayer has firmly captured my interest. I will immediately be purchasing the original story in the series and will also purchase book three as soon as it is published. Mr. Mayer, I suspect, has read a good amount of superhero fiction. That comes through in this book, but it is far from being a comic. Hearts of Smoke and Steam feels like a dream of a reality that should have existed. There is much adventure and treachery in these pages, and enough fortified steam to keep the pages blurring by.

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