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.