Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review - Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris's Dawn's Early Light

Dawn's Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

While Wellington Brooks and Eliza Braun did pull off the impossible in their last adventure for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Doctor Sound has thought that it might be a good idea to get them out of the limelight for awhile and ship them off to the colonies to help their sister agency, The Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical, which is attached to the US Marshals. In the United States Books and Braun meet their American counterparts, Felicity Lovelace the librarian, which is totally different then an archivist, and Wild Bill Wheatley, who Eliza has a grudge against from a previous mission in which their paths crossed. But the mission must come first, not revenge for past slights. Off the shores of North Carolina, known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, airships have been vanishing quite literally.

But Wellington and Felicity don't really care about the mission once they learn that Thomas Edison will be speaking at their hotel! After an eventful night it looks like Edison might be involved in their mission... he might be using a lighthouse as a death ray to cause all these wrecks! Seeing that Edison is their only real lead, the gaggle of agents decide to follow him. First they venture north, to Detroit, and the very hub of Edison's Empire. By the end of their mission they will have travelled coast to coast and hopefully staved of an international incident with the Prince of Wales. Yet questions remain, how involved was the nebulous House of Usher in this scheme? Did her majesty, the Queen, have ulterior motives with regard to her son? And does Wellington want to kiss Eliza again? Or will Eliza end up kissing Bill?

The thing that drew me to Steampunk in the first place was the essential Britishness of it. The fog bound streets, the pub brawls near the docks with a side of a cockney accent, a cup of tea after a day of daring do. This is what Steampunk means to me. So when at the end of the second book in this series, The Janus Affair, it became apparent that our esteemed agents Books and Braun were headed stateside, I wasn't that thrilled at the prospect. Yes, Steampunk isn't limited to Great Britain, yes Pip and Tee have done a good job to have this series, in particular the Tales from the Archives, show the worldwide scope of Steampunk, yes their are authors like Cherie Priest, whose Clockwork Century is very much ingrained in America, but despite all this precedent, Steampunk to me is British. I won't try to explain the logic of my mind, because I don't think I could. But I was seriously worried that Dawn's Early Light would have to overcome my own preconceptions. I should have had more faith in Pip and Tee. The book combined all the Britishness I love and added a Firefly vibe (fangirl sqwee) while also taking on the historical figures whose inventiveness fuels Steampunk, but are decidedly American.

The more I think on it, the American desire for invention, exploration, and looking forward is what drives Steampunk and the Steampunk community. So while my brain always goes "British British British" it is really a combination of the two that create the perfect balance in Steampunk, a perfect balance that was caught in this book. Writing a successful series of books itself is a balancing act. Round about book three is when you start to get bogged down with too much backstory and too many characters being on stage. By sending our beloved agents to the states, Pip and Tee were able to streamline the story and bring it down to the necessary few characters that were needed. While I did occasionally miss all the other agents and the archives, Dawn's Early Light had a cleanliness to it that made it a stronger book. Plus the introduction of Felicity and Bill (aka Jayne from Firefly), Books and Braun's counterparts and also romantic rivals, brought a breath of fresh air into the book. Having our hero and heroine not only trying to deal with their own feelings, but then having these two Americans continually throwing a wrench into any possible hookup brought a frisson of excitement and a worry that the delayed gratification to the inevitable hookup might never happen. Books and Braun belong together... but that doesn't mean temptation and distraction won't be a delicious plot device.

Another plot device that might have overplayed it's hand in this installment is the celebrity cameo. As I said before, everything is about balance. Celebrity cameos are always a fun narrative device in historical fiction, even if it's alternative history. Yet there can be one too many historical figures and this can upset the apple cart. The perfection of some of the cameos is marred by the superfluous ones. Back in undergrad I took film classes for fun. It's ironic that I thought art versus comm arts was a more viable career path. The history of film cannot be told without talking about Edison. Yes, he was brilliant, but yes, he was also a class A bastard. In fact, I had a friend play bastard on my Edison card to win a game of Apples to Apples once. And speaking of Apples, in describing Edison, I liked that Edison really sounded a lot like Steve Jobs and Apple's MO, ah the parallels. I reveled in the introduction of Edison, the asshole. He's a perfect villain, unlike the ill defined House of Usher. And his evilness is not just in his villainous death ray designed to level the competition, but in the slights to women scientists and his raging ego. It was the perfect cameo. To balance that we had Tesla, still surrounded with mystery, dubious morals, and pigeon jokes. Edison and Tesla, Tesla and Edison, the battle for the ages, and the perfect duo for this book. But Henry Ford? Ah Henry Ford, you were one cameo too many. It made me cringe a bit. You upset the apple cart.  

Though the pedant in me now has to put on the lecturing voice and say what I've been saying for two books now. I know this is an ARC, so there will be errors... but seeing as these errors have persisted in the finished copies of the first two books, I have a feeling they might remain. The grammar and the spelling needs a polish. I will seriously do this for free. Yes, I am serious. I love this series and it pains me when errors still abound making it a flawed text... at one point their own character's name is misspelt. Also, it's chaise lounge not chez lounge... unless it's the house of lounges and not a piece of furniture. Aside from the obvious errors, there were also a few anachronisms that got under my skin. Blackbeard's dates are off by a hundred years. Why would Edison being going through Wisconsin to get to Arizona? There's this lake that I've gone over between me and Michigan... plus, to get to Arizona aka, the southwest, you wouldn't go northwest now would you? The OSM seems a little too much like Victorian SHIELD with the reference to Thor's hammer... plus, can we sing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when talking about Wellington's car? I know they are all nudge nudge wink wink, but they are just too modern, and like the typos, pull me out of a story I don't want to leave, like ever. In fact, can the next book be ready now?


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