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Book Review: Cerulean Rust by William J Jackson

Cerulean Rust by William J Jackson is the second in a series of semi-dystopian steampunk novels set in Rail City, Missouri, during the 1880s. It takes place in the wake of a cosmic explosion and the failed league of paranormal heroes The Guild of Honor that it temporarily produced. It’s dark, heavy and dirty as it draws us into the charisma of its characters only to drag them through the mud.

Jackson’s first novel An Unsubstantiated Chamber has grown on me since I first read it a year prior and I was eager to see where this follow-up would take me. While the first installment revolved around a status quo of murder-mysteries, this one quickly throws aside any previous formula. We’ve also switched from a first person memoir-like narrator to a third person focus, and though it adds a little more cinematic wiggle room, I was impressed I hardly noticed the difference. The transition is smoother than I would’ve guessed, so much so that I had to go double check. This allows Jackson to break up his dynamic duo of Professor Flag Epsom and Aretha Astin and send them on conflicting subplots, while also providing focus to new characters. Tad, a gravedigger, formerly Chance of the Guild of Honor, is a breakout star for example. And a small band of youthfully optimistic acrobats are a joyful addition as they try to fill the big shoes the Guild left behind. But the biggest benefit comes right at the opening, when we see a side to Flag Epsom that is hauntingly personal and tragic, and breathes so much unexpected life into an otherwise gruff, and almost comedically cold exterior.

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Book Review: Frozen Beauty Series by Steve Turnbull

Spinning out of his Voidships universe, the Frozen Beauty series of adventures is full of twists and turns and classic steampunk stylings to make any fan feel at home. Written by Steve Turnbull, the series includes three novellas, each sold separately on Amazon.com, following Captain Qi Zang and her airship as they smuggle ice from the Himalayas down to places like Delhi and Kerala, but mostly get distracted with problems and complications along the way.Frozen Beauty

Issue 001 “The Chinese Vase” is the first of the batch and faces an uphill battle carrying the burden of all the introductions. It’s also the shortest which might be its saving grace. It doesn’t quite coalesce into as compelling a read as the others but does the legwork of introducing the important characters and the basic premise.

Arriving in Delhi with a batch of Himalayan ice, Captain Qi’s main concern is selling the ice before her competitors can beat her to it. The fact that the ice will melt if they can’t secure a deal fast enough is a nice tension building twist. But her real problem is that the businessmen she deals with are simply too unsavory not to cause complications. The international setting is a wise choice, as is the diverse cast of crewmen from all over the world, especially Asia, but I would’ve liked a little more depth to the cultural flavor. Other than ethnic names and clothing it’s just superficial set dressing that could have been anywhere and made me want more.

Captain Qi Zang is our lead protagonist but struggles to come into focus as a character. Unless you count being female and Chinese she struggles to evolve into much more than her archetype.  Turnbull does attempt to give her some character background, but it’s sparse. Background info is not the same as strong characterization which is less about facts and details and more about how they act in the present. The closest we get is her family’s legacy with Frozen Beauty. Basically the vessel  is on lease from the crime boss Kuan-Yin Sun until she pays some old debt, but when he threatens to take it away from her it becomes her driving motivation. It sounds compelling enough on paper but unfortunately in execution Captain Qi’s attitude and disposition are just not so exciting as the scenarios she finds herself in. She’s too calm and straight forward to make us fall in love with her.

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