Sometimes when you start to read a book you get the feeling you have read it before. To be fair in my house there is always a good chance I have read it before, as I reread old books all the time… However that is not the experience I am talking of here. Sometimes you start a new book, and the opening reminds you of books you have read before.
This is occasionally comforting. There is something to be said for walking the well trodden path on occasion. Even a path you know well can have sights you have never witnessed upon it. You never know where you going to find once you put your foot out the door, to paraphrase a hobbit of some renown. So while I tend to look for different journeys, older paths have a certain joy to them.
What is more joyful, however, is a book that starts down a well trodden path that then ventures off the well beaten path into something else entirely. I recently encountered a book of this kind.
Engines and Amulets : The Aethertide Saga Book 1
By Craig Hallam
For a book that starts firmly on well-trodden pathways, Engines and Amulets veers sharply off in a couple of unexpected tangents.
It opens with a grim-dark steampunk London, and a scientist whom for reasons of gender and ethnicity is hiding away in an attic in the unfashionable, dirt-poor end of town. Olivia Heward is a delightfully drawn character but I would expect nothing less from one of Craig Hallam’s characters as he is an artist in characterisation. But I knew where all this was going from the off. Genius inventor fighting the twin poisons of privilege and position granted to less able scientist who would be only too happy to take credit for her inventions… Its a well trodden path in the steampunk genre after all.
Except… While that may well be part of the greater plot of what I hope will be a long series that builds upon this first novella… that is not the well trodden path we are following here. We and Olivia, swiftly leave London behind for elsewhere, and things become strange and complex. There’s strange creatures, wizards and odd tribes, in-another world. There is more as well , hints of stranger things, older things, of things long forgotten as well as newly discovered.
For a novella Craig packs a whole lot into this tale. Unpacking it in a review would be a disservice, because half the joy of this is the strange and a complex little path it all follows. Its not what you expect it to be, certainly not what I expected from the opening chapters.
It is, however, as beautifully written, rich, vibrant , strange and fascinating as always when your reading a story by Craig Hallam and I look forward to seeing where the Aethertide Saga goes from here.