Steampunk novels are more fun when something extra is inserted into the story -- space travel, zombies, cloud squirrels, et cetera.
And there is a LOT of extra stuff in "Romulus Buckle & The Engines of War" -- a futuristic, icy version of Earth with sabretoothed tigers, steam-powered airships, and plenty of aliens. It's a pulpy, piratey kind of adventure story, with lots of fun action scenes -- but Richard Ellis Preston Jr. does have a distracting tendency to ramble.
Romulus and a grievously wounded Max are stranded in the Devil's Punchbowl, with wild beasts trying to eat them. But they have no time to rest when they are rescued, because Romulus has discovered a shocking fact -- it was the Founders, not the Imperials, who stole his sister. The only hope of stopping the Founders is by uniting the various disparate groups against them.
But there are obstacles in the way of the Pneumatic Airship -- vast sky krakens, political squabbling, saboteurs, and a shocking revelation about one of Romulus' own crew. As a war starts to rev up between the Founders and the other clans, the airship's crew finds itself on an ambassadorial mission that turns into a battle.
"Romulus Buckle & The Engines of War" is basically steampunk pulp -- which I mean in the most affectionate way possible. It's a colorful, fast-moving story with plenty of vivid scenes (giant sabretoothed tigers with four green glowy eyes!) and exciting action scenes with muskets and cutlasses. It's a rollicking ride, sort of like steampunk pirates without the theft.
The one problem is Preston's writing style. He packs in a lot of solid dialogue and vivid descriptions, which are lots of fun to read. But he has an unfortunate tendency to write in long, rambling sentences. Some of them are as long as a small paragraph, and could be easily divided into two or three smaller ones.
But if you can overlook that easily-fixed flaw, the characters are a likable bunch. Buckle is a rough'n'tumble, hard-drinking, courageous captain, and his rough edges and flaws are enough to distract you from the fact that all women are hot for him. The regal half-Martian Max and the mysterious Sabrina are both nicely rounded out, although their flashbacks can be a bit intrusive (did Sabrina's REALLY need to be in the middle of a kraken attack?).
The second Romulus Buckle is a fun, wild ride with plenty of steampunk flair, as long as the lengthy, rambling sentences don't bother you. Enjoyable steampunk pulp.
This is a pretty good story as a follow on from the first book. The first few chapters are nonstop blood and guts action. Then there are quite a few chapters where nothing much happens finally we get back to the action. WE do get short interludes when Max, one of the crew who is recovering from serious injuries, keeps having dreams. presumably these will beccome relevant is future books. The final battle is all that one could wish for. Then we are left in a bit of a cliff hanger waiting for the next book.
Was excited to read this book as it seemed right up my street. I haven't ready any other books in the series- perhaps that's where I've gone wrong and I came it half way through a story. I was disappointed. I have read about 25% of the book and probably won't read any more. The reason being that it is so poorly paced. One improbable life threatening thing after another without much world building or character building (perhaps I missed all this in the first book). But as a stand alone book, it doesn't work for me.
This is the second Romulus Buckle work I have read and we have now clicked. I love the steampunk universe Ellis Preston jr. invokes. His characterisation is rather "Boys Own", however that's no issue in this context. A fast and fun adventure that (if I m honest) I found hard to put down. I was reminded of W. Rider Haggard with a faster more modern pace and style. I am looking forward to the next...
What can I say? This story has me gripped. I am a 72 year old sci-fi and fantasy reader who has read everything from HG Wells onward and the depth of this story has me transfixed. The characterisation, storyline and atmosphere have re-ignited my tired imagination and taken me to a place I can visualise and almost be. What a movie this would make with our modern CGI. I can't wait for more!