The cover does a great job of conveying the contents and drew me in before I had even opened a page. A pirate ship under a dirigible? Cool and add to that a pirate captain every bit as charismatic as Jack Sparrow and there stands Captain Bonny, who has just stolen a whole load of opium.
The story flows above various areas of England and France as various characters interact with each other. They are pirates for the most part so can't be expected to behave as if in polite society encountered below and that makes them so much fun. The leap out of the pages, each with a very credible life and personality.
I haven't read a lot of steampunk books, but of those I have, this stands in my high regard. There is something inherently fun about the genre and the intrepid characters featured. This book may well turn out to be my favorite read of the year.
I started to read “The Wake of the Dragon,” without knowing what to expect but was quickly drawn into the tale. The story is beautifully written in a style that seems almost classical, and the adventure it leads the reader on is nothing short of imaginative. The loves, fears and addictions of the main characters help them come to life, making it easy to become caught up in their journey. My favorite part was the steampunk aspect that added a different dimension to the traditional pirate tale. Like sea-going pirate ships, flying dirigibles carry their own dangers, and Captain Bonny certainly pushes the limits of his ship and crew throughout the book. I really enjoyed the story and would recommend it to anyone seeking a great adventure—steampunk or otherwise!
This was my first Steampunk novel; immediately I'm wondering my neglect. Hawkins writing is good enough that I was unaware of reading, as the words flowed so effortlessly into the adventure. Some writers can make me feel I'm watching film, I felt that. Hawkins crafts a wonderful adventure out of her genre inspired distortion of 19th Century History. We read about a fictitious battle for wealth, conducted by industry, traders and outright crooks. In particular we observe a battle for the trade in opium and other nefarious goods between all parties from the huge East India Company, down to the lowest of pirates. We are not though, as history would lead us to expect, at sea. We are in the skies above East Anglia, London, Cornwall and eventually Paris. Pirates in airships and other inventively interpreted steam age technologies add a magical layer to Victoriana. Imagine Montgolfier balloons with wooden pirate ships as baskets. Not an exactly new artistic invention, that's true, but newly drawn. With the trade in intoxicants, the presence of spies, prostitutes, crafty merchants and a generous supply of other maverick souls we follow the in the wake of the Dragon. Some of Hawkins characters almost walk out of the words, or at least they do for me.
I was quite excited to read The Wake of the Dragon, as I've recently gotten into steampunk and I've always loved adventure stories, especially historical ones. The book starts off with a bang--air pirates conducting a drug heist. Between the fun plot and the quality of the writing--which is quite good--I began the tale with enthusiasm.
I must confess, however, that I lost that enthusiasm along the way. The content is interesting and the writing is error-free (more or less), often even lyrical and witty, which is why I've given the book 4 stars. It is, technically speaking, a good novel. But for a number of reasons I found it difficult to really enjoy.
My biggest complaint is that the story telling is so reliant on exposition and internal monologue. The characters are ever thinking about all of their options, weighing and measuring, and internally stating things which are already evident. If you were to break this book down between "showing" and "telling" (a distinction that I'm not always in favor of, and shouldn't be viewed as a hard and fast rule, but, in this case, I believe is valid) you would find almost nothing but telling. All of this exposition and thinking serves to drastically slow down the pace of the book and gave it an overall feeling of being bloated and poorly balanced, in my opinion.
Despite the fact that we spend so much time in the heads of the characters, I didn't feel terribly attached to any of them. My biggest problem was with the treatment of the single female character, whose only characteristic seems to be a disturbing level of sexual promiscuity.
**DON'T READ THE NEXT SECTION IF YOU ARE OPPOSED TO SOME MILD SPOILERS**
That character, Ann, is initially presented as a feisty trouble maker. We then get the rather troubling detail that she'd made passes at her own father. Our lead treats her rather abominably at first, and I was hoping that she would show that she was either stronger, more interesting, or more dynamic as the tale went on. Instead, she commits what I can only describe as rape and her tendencies are never really addressed or developed. As the only female character, I was left feeling a bit uncomfortable by all of this. I suppose I've come to expect better treatment of female characters in modern genre fiction.
So, while I can't say I loved this book, I also can't deny that it has elements which will appeal to many readers: a fun concept and strong writing. If you are expecting a fast paced swashbuckler, I don't think this book will be exactly your cup of tea. If you like a slower paced story with a lot of focus on character feeling and choices, this will likely be right up your ally.