This gritty steampunk western struck me a little across the grain. Though enjoyable, and richly imagined, with reasonably good characterization, a solid plot and a thoroughly engaging setting, I found a lot of the descriptive prose to be repetitive. The same sequences of shadow, gears, cogs, tubes, wires and jeweled lenses serve to describe too many things, people, and places. The villains seem to lose something when they are described the same way, or enter the scene in the same shadowy light, with the same smooth actions every time we see them. Additionally, though I like the western-style language that the characters use, in this tale it also slips deeply into the narrative voice, which is sometimes off-putting. The plot, as I said, is solid, but is also somewhat predictable in scope. Good guys are good, bad guys are bad, and the gullible or bewitched townsfolk are paper thin, much like the two dimensional scenery we see in the old western TV shows.
That said, I did enjoy the play. I love the steampunk elements, love the innocent girl, Rose Small (the richest character in the novel, although only a secondary player) who is a deviser and tinker of unknown birth, an adopted daughter of oppressive, God-fearing parents who think her odd, cursed and a little mad. I found myself wanting more of Rose Small, and less of the determined, soul-cursed, and two-dimensional main character, whose name, Cedar Hunt, is just a little too trite a moniker for my taste, since he is also a hunter by trade. Come on, Ms. Monk, you can do better. You have proven so in your previously successful series. Don’t let the genre dictate your writing.
Lastly, the primary villain, Mr. Shard LaFel, is not very well developed, though he is the supposed motivator of all evil in this tale. The bright spot here, or rather the deliciously evil dark spot, is his sidekick, Mr. Shunt (though a better name here would also have helped). He is a spidery, half clockwork, half Edward Scissor-Hands, half flesh conglomeration of “Strange” bits and pieces, able to stitch himself together after almost any injury or dismantlement. What fails here is the aforementioned repetitive description of his presence. Every time he enters the scene, we get the same shadowy, dark, spindly, figure in black coat, scarf-shrouded face and stovepipe hat with glowing red eyes. I found myself skipping these descriptions, more interested in the character’s actions than his same-old appearance.
I’m not a huge steampunk fan, and the western steampunk is a breed of its own. I find it interesting, but a cool setting alone does not a story make. Don’t know if I’ll delve much further into Devon Monk’s “Age of Steam” series, but I think I’ll be looking for other steampunk tales to plum the waters more deeply. As with many awesome settings, especially with RPG related novels, there is potential here.