As is often the case my nightstand is looking slightly dishevelled with the number of books currently sprue across it in random piles. This is because, as well as been an eclectic reader in taste, I read eclectically. My life is a series of open books, many of them open at the same time, in various places around the house, or piled on top of each other waiting to be read.
This is, I will admit, not the best way to read books, the best way to read books is laying on the sofa, be it one in the front room or the one in the garden, just reading with some light music playing in the back ground, Kate Bush, Alanis Morrissette, The Dresden Dolls, Puke Sidon And The Zombie Plague Rabbits, etc… With a fresh coffee from the machine, or a tall margarita….
Sadly due to the complexity of life, long sofa days are few and far between, unlike margarita’s. So it is rare I read a whole book in entire isolation. That is to say I do not often read a whole book in one go, and without reading something else at the same time.
Currently, among several other books that are open on the night stand, I have just started rereading The Eddings fantasy series The Elenium Trilogy, the first of the two Sparhawk trilogy’s, which were less successful than his 12 book Belgariad series which I reread last year and love with a passion. Despite how much I love Eddings other series I’ve never actually finished the Sparhawk novels. I’ve always come unstuck with them somewhere around the middle of the second trilogy. Possibly because of the usual problem I have reading a long series. Possibly because the second Sparhawk trilogy is just the definition of an author wringing every last cent out of an idea and writing for money…
To be fair, my assessment of Eddings reasons for writing the second Sparhawk trilogy are somewhat backed up by another book on my bookshelves, The Rivan Codex. A book David and Leigh Eddings wrote about writing in general and the writing of their fantasy novels in particular. I highly recommend The Rivan Codex to any aspiring writer, as it is full of great advice. There is however also a certain amount of it I have always found a little dispiriting. First among which is in it the Edding’s explain the reason they started writing fantasy in the first place…
After writing a couple of not particularly successful contemporary novels the Edding’s were wondering around a book store and saw that LOTR’s was on its 50th printing and this inspired them. That is to say, they started writing fantasy novels for no other reason than they thought there was money to be made in doing so… A motivation that goes some way to explain why the Eddings also admit they ‘don’t read in the genre’ which they claim keeps their pallet cleansed, as it were. Which may well be true, but it and the ‘write for profit’ motivation possibly also explain why the second Sparhawk trilogy has never worked for me. Maybe its just not very good… But as its almost a couple of decades since I last read it I’ll withhold judgement on that and see how it goes.
The whole ‘don’t read in the genre’ argument may have some merit though. It’s possibly very easy to have your own idea polluted by other writers if you read extensively in the genre in which your write. Though personally I don’t think that’s the case, provided you don’t read exclusively in one genre. The advice of another writer who wrote a book about writing more or less bares out my point of view in this. In ‘on Writing’ Stephen King says , ‘To be a writer you have to do two things , write a lot, and read a lot.’ Which tends to be my view.
My view is read every genre, but then I also write in many genre’s for all a large portion of my output in the last few years has been Steampunk, it is not ‘my genre’ so much as one of them. I do however not read as much steampunk as people may imagine for someone who moves in steampunk circles. But then Steampunk in of itself is very eclectic, encompassing Victorian urban fantasy, romance, weird west, and many other weird and wonderful things.
All of which, somewhat long-windedly even for me brings me round to my point. Which is to say a review of a steampunk novel I recently read and read I may add in the best way. On the sofa, with coffee, and later a tall margarita or two, in one long sitting on a long lazy day of the kind I seldom get to spend due to life… Which got me thinking about the Eddings book on writing, as I had started The Dimond Throne the evening before and it was laying on my nightstand…
So yes, convoluted but I was reading in ‘my genre’ so to speak. Which is I must admit not always a rewarding experience. I have read too many bad steampunk books, which relies too heavily on ‘I’m a steampunk book look I have cogwheels and airships…’ That said, the good ones make up for it, and this one proved to be one of the good ones…
This is a good old-fashioned detective novel, following the rules of good old-fashioned detective novels. The hero is a ‘down on his luck’ ‘bit of rough’ who finds himself trying to unpick a murderous plot more by bad-luck than ill-judgement. There is an old-flame dredging up old feelings, and old enemies to contend with as the mystery deepens. The authorities and far from convinced there is even a case in the first place and the bloke who hired the hero doesn’t survive the first act. And finally like all good old-fashioned detective novels their is the sarcastic sidekick, who keeps the hero grounded, points them in the right direction and watches their back…
Admittedly the sidekick is a talking steam powered mechanical cat, who occasionally needs connecting to a hose to resupply them with steam…
The important thing is, while this is a very good steampunk novel, full of wit and humour as well as strange and wonderful inventions and oddities it is first and foremost a very good old fashioned detective novel. The kind that keeps you guessing, even when you’re sure your know who the villains are, because while you may be utterly sure, there is just enough doubt to keep you wondering.
Even if you turn out to be right about the villain having guessed it was them half way in, (which I did) you kept read because you can’t be completely sure, and besides the journey is worth it. Its a fun entertaining, humorous read full of clever jokes and well pitched observations.
In short its a really good read, a long lounge on the sofa with a tall margarita* read, I highly recommend it.
(*other cocktails and indeed non-alcoholic drinks are also available).
While this is a steampunk novel, if your not a fan of the genre in general its still well worth a read. At its heart its a humorous detective novel that just happens to have cogwheels, steampower and airships thrown in. In the same way the way the best steampunk generally is something else which just happens to be set in a steampunk environment.
But then steampunk is not really a genre in that respect so much as a setting against which you can pitch any other genre you want. Keith’s novel does that perfectly. or possibly purrrfectly with a slight grinding sound of gears…
I think Steampunk suffers from the exact problem you are flagging with Eddings – writers who think the brass pound is easy to pocket but who don’t read in the genre, listen to the music or have any contact with any actual steampunks.
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Twas ever thus 😦
shiny barbarism has a lot to answer for
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