Book Review: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett, Gideon Smith #1

Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire. Airships ply the skies and Queen Victoria presides over three-quarters of the known world—including the East Coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

London might as well be a world away from Sandsend, a tiny village on the Yorkshire coast. Gideon Smith dreams of the adventure promised him by the lurid tales of Captain Lucian Trigger, the Hero of the Empire, told in Gideon’s favorite “penny dreadful.” When Gideon’s father is lost at sea in highly mysterious circumstances Gideon is convinced that supernatural forces are at work. Deciding only Captain Lucian Trigger himself can aid him, Gideon sets off for London. On the way he rescues the mysterious mechanical girl Maria from a tumbledown house of shadows and iniquities. Together they make for London, where Gideon finally meets Captain Trigger.

But Trigger is little more than an aging fraud, providing cover for the covert activities of his lover, Dr. John Reed, a privateer and sometime agent of the British Crown. Looking for heroes but finding only frauds and crooks, it falls to Gideon to step up to the plate and attempt to save the day...but can a humble fisherman really become the true Hero of the Empire?
 


One of the genres that is a favorite of mine has to be steampunk. Just the theme alone inspires so much cool elements. I recently went to Gamescom in Cologne and they had this stand of The Order 1886 and people dressed up steampunk style. It's just awesome. Everything is possible, and this is exactly what David Barnett shows in Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. I have read a fair share of steampunk themed stories and one that still stands out is the one from Cherie Priest The Clockwork Century and  Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl reminds me the most of it. Just as much creativity, originality and fun to read. Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is written by David Barnett who has worked extensively in newspapers as an editor. He is best knows for his books popCULT, Hinterland and Angleglass.

In Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, you follow the adventures of Gideon Smith a young adolescent boy, 24 years old. Gideon lives in the small town of Sandsend where he grew up as the son of a fisherman, this isn't really that of an exciting life and to seek some adventure in his life he likes nothing more than to sit around and day dream and read one of his many penny dreadful pocket books featuring the enigmatic hero Captain Lucian Trigger. Sandsend isn't really that of a backwater type of village but Gideon doesn't know much about the world yet and combined with his age he is a very naive boy. But this is all about to change, while Gideon's father is out fishing he is lost at see by a set of unexplainable circumstances. These circumstances force Gideon more or less to grow up and become an adult. However the "accident" with his father isn't the only unexplainable thing that happens to Sandsend, other events occur. In Sandsend Gideon suddenly bumps into none other then Bram Stoker and I think we all know where is best known from. After some conversing they come to a divided opinion about what causes the strange things to happen to Sandsend and don't think it's a prank played upon them but think more in the lines of the supernatural, vampires and yes mummies. Now Gideon wants to find out just what exactly happened to his father and the crew of his fisherman's boat, what better way to start that first trying to find your hero, so Gideon sets off to London to find Lucian Trigger. But this is only the start off the story as Gideon soon finds himself in many a strange place and situation. Along his search Gideon makes new friends and amongst one of them, an automaton, is the mechanical girl Maria. I am not going to say that this is a merry adventure because David Barnett paints a dark and dangerous world. 

The storyline is one of a lot of creativity. It already mentioned in the press release the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up. Well I can only second this opinion. David Barnett creates a very dynamic world within Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. You have the steampunk influences from the technology, steamtrawlers and sky ships and mechanical bikes and lets not forget the automaton Maria and the historical Victorian setting is achieved by not only visiting places such a London but also by introducing several well known historical characters like Bram Stoker, Einstein and Elizabeth Bathory. Names help a lot to inspire a setting, but what helps even more is how they act and more what they are or what they become. I already mention in the paragraph above that you have to expect mummies and vampires... Don't expect any fluffy type of supernatural creatures but a dark and nefarious setting that accompanies them. It's all these things combines that make the world of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl very interesting and engaging to say the least. David Barnett shows a great feat of world-building, though it might sound unthinkable, all these different element work very well with each other. 

The characters that David Barnett introduces like the main protagonist Gideon Smith and many of the side characters are all well executed and sound very convincing. Take Gideon for example, he sets on an adventure of a life time in finding out what happened to his father. But never having ventured that far away from Sandsend he is confronted by many new things, Gideon is also just a growing adult, only 24 years old and this is exactly the personality that is shown. An integral part of the journey that Gideon undertakes is coming of age, learning and understanding new things. I really liked this bit about Gideon's characters, it clearly came to show that David Barnett invested a lot of time in make Gideon a star of the show. But luckily not a star that takes of all the attention of the other characters. When you look at the automaton, Maria, she could just as easily be the lead character of the story. I was impressed with the backstory that was told about her character, how she came to be what she is. Let me tell that it wasn't just building her that made her be, there were some horrid experiments carried out to make what she is, though I still thought of her as an automaton, it definitely wasn't one of the "simple" category, David Barnett introduces a very humane and emotional side to her character, just how he achieves this is something that you have to find out for yourself... 

Next to Gideon and Maria there are still plenty of more characters to be mentioned, some that play a more important role in Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl are the historical characters Bram Stoker, Einstein and Elizabeth Bathory. Bram Stoker is of course the famous Irish novelist, he is in search for the mythical creatures known as vampires. Bram is a married man and stumbles by chance on the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the widow of none other than Count Dracula (now you might see a certain direction to the story). Bram kind of falls for the charms of Elizabeth but perhaps more of what she really is. I was very intrigued by the relation that David Barnett created between them, Elizabeth is held in awe for what she is, Bram on some level is drawn to her but fears to give in completely if you know what I mean. It's very interesting and even though the main focus is on Gideon, you will still be engaged and wanting to find out what happens next. And I do have to say the the ending of the book was just perfect. Now as for Einstein, it is not Albert but his father, I am only going to bring him in relation to one other character. Maria. This should say enough. Hermann Einstein is the mad scientist, quite gruesome. All the character that David Barnett introduced were a lot of fun to read about, they all had their own personalities and odd habits. 

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a fantastic steampunk book. I can safely that I haven't come across many such a book as this one. David Barnett pulls all the stops and created a truly creative and highly enjoyable world and story within the book. It might still hit certain tropes set in steampunk but this is unavoidable it is about how you use them in your story to get to new heights and this is exactly what he has done. The characterization and world building that features in Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl  is spot on and felt like you were right there next to Gideon. Added to this comes the writing style and narration of which is one that will get you hooked from the first page onwards and you desperately want to find out just what happens next to our unlikely hero in the making. David Barnett is off to a great start with Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, must read for every steampunk fan. Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon will be out this mid-September later this year. In the meanwhile you can indulgde yourself in two short stories that David Barnett wrote in the Gideon Smith universe: Work Sets You Free and Business as Usual.

Comments

  1. This was a fantastic read. It was one of my top 5 books from 2013. From the concept to the characters, I enjoyed every aspect of it and came away wanting more . . . much more. Fortunately, I just got an ARC of the second book. :)

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  2. Yes, I liked the historical influence from Einstein and Bram Stoker, gave a very dark twist than just simply mentioning vampires. OH NO, you have it already!? I hope mine pops up in the post soon :-)

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