Opening with a curmudgeonly engineer, “Cid” adjusting his goggles, moving quickly to the bouncing blond curls of our naive young heroine, “Larissa”, and leading swiftly into the explosion of a mysteriously ominous machine, E.C. Jarvis’ steampunk powered novel, The Machine, kicks off with a literal bang and rollicks along at a near unrelenting pace. We are whisked from Larissa’s fairly mundane existence as a humble clerk at a clothing emporium, her modest apartment where we meet her best friend and confidante, “Imago” her cat, to a flight for her life, and a desperate mission to save the life of a man she might be in love with…delicate details, twists on the all-too-common tropes, are what make The Machine such a pure pleasure to read, that draw us in to discover the true nature of Larissa’s romantic entanglements, as well as to understand the evil machinations, of not only our evident villains, the sadistic “Dr. Orother”, his giant henchman, “Hans” or even the seductive, yet seemingly heartless female assassin, “Serenia”, but later even deeper and more insidious implications of intrigue on a grander scale.
E.C Jarvis paints in vivid hues a world of corsets, cogs, pirates and airships, with a gently restrained romanticism, and even a few heated scenes of sexual passion. She balances these elements skillfully with raw action and harrowing suspense, tempering it all with a touch of playful humor. She is a master at tension and release. I found myself reveling in the beautifully rich descriptions of a somehow familiar yet delightfully exotic future/past, where clerics in robes guard temples to the gods, ladies of the evening laugh raucously from the balconies of a city tavern where denizens of the night brandish knives and pistols under their waistcoats.
Our author warns, “This is a work of adult Steampunk Fantasy. Possible triggers are present within the book including…sex, murder, torture and violence.” I was surprised only once at how far into the abyss she takes us. Yet even when I found myself wince a bit, Ms. Jarvis handles her re-balancing act deftly and with a renewed sense of purpose and worldly wisdom gained by our heroine.
I particularly appreciated the subtle clues leading us into deeper themes, such as Larissa’s reply to the enigmatic “Holt” about his own mission, “…putting an end to a despicable plot to torture innocent people in the name of national security?” How timely and yet timeless of her. The essence of Steampunk, to be relevant and yet escapist at once, to evoke the classic in the Victorian manner and style thrust boldly into a treacherous future of possibility and uncertainty. I suspect these deeper themes exploring politics, state and religion to be explored much further in her books two and three of the trilogy.
The personalities of and relationships between the colorful characters of The Machine are fascinating and complex. E.C. presents Larissa as a sympathetic, somewhat innocent and even mundane girl, basically content living her very average life as a sales clerk before she is thrown into her life-altering adventure. We see her evolve, and share in her discoveries as she develops into her own unique person. She is able to laugh at herself, to question her beliefs, and eventually to accept great and ever harrowing challenges.
First, she charms us with her fresh sense of wonder. Then we sympathize with her and her devoted little feline friend, who follows her faithfully through snow storms, sewers, on airships and through dungeons. Finally, we cheer her on through the most perilous of circumstances.
As I type my closing comments on E.C Jarvis’ The Machine, my own feline companion purrs in a puddle across my lap, reminding me of the amazingly accurate way Larissa’s cat, “Imago” was portrayed. The way he “padded” across the deck of her ship, “switched” his tail and gave a “glance” in that subtle communication that only two twinned souls can understand. Yes, the cat lovers will certainly appreciate this little character more fully. But I believe that every true lover of Steampunk will in the same way, find inspiration, romance, adventure and a singular kind of familiarity in The Machine , by E.C. Jarvis. I highly recommend her work and look forward to the next book in her series.
Purchase The Machine here: http://www.amazon.com/Machine-Blood-Destiny-1/dp/0578169924/
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