What readers have had to say about my signature trilogy
| Begun in the summer of 2020 to help me recover from an utter loss of interest in writing, this is a pure vanity project likely of interest to no one but myself. I attach it nonetheless, mainly to remind me that I used to be good at something, good enough to have a colorful and beloved nickname bestowed by fans at the international level. Reading these reviews, I have to wonder why these books never took off. But that isn't the point. The truth is that I've had a wonderful time writing, and I hope to have more. This is a step in that direction. Enjoy...
Beyond the Rails
JP Wilder — A good airship romp through Victorian Africa — April 9, 2014
This book is in the Fantasy genre, in particular STEAMPUNK. I chose to read this book because I love steampunk fiction and all the steam and clockwork based science.
Being Steampunk, this book is set in the Victorian Age (late 19th century). The truly unique part of the book is the physical location—Africa. It is deep and full of vibrant description of a place and time that is not often explored by authors. With the steampunk addition to it, I found myself mesmerized by the culture and people of the setting.
The characters in this book are well written. I think that they are very much the strong point of the piece. I particularly enjoyed the banter between all of the players. it was largely a series of stop-off points all with individual cool adventures. Pretty nifty all-in-all.
Overall, I thought that this was a good book, and a fun read. I finished it up in just over 3 days, which says a lot, given my schedule. I especially enjoyed the descriptions and technologies employed by the author, they provided me a great way to escape the doldrums of the office. Not many people know what a Webley .455 service revolver is. I am impressed.
GoodBadBizarre — African western with dirigibles, British cowboys, and plenty of adventure — May 17, 2014
Before we begin this review, we would like to take a moment and admit that we are not big fans of Steampunk. A previous experience with this genre was so awful that, up until now, we had sworn off the genre entirely. This one book managed to open our mind to the genre again, which is why we loved it so much.
The book is comprised of several adventures–more like short stories–which center on the plucky crew of an “airship” (that is, a dirigible or blimp). It takes place in the 1880s (according to the preface) in a region of Kenya, Africa, which is being colonized by the British. The railroads in the area only reach a certain distance into the African frontier; after that, everything is “beyond the rails,” and only accessible by air. That’s where our crew and their airship come in, for they have the one thing that everyone needs: mobility. This means that they need to be ready for anything–and everything–that they can encounter, both inside civilization and out. Each story lets us get to know a member of the crew a little better, as we get to see them act alone and interact together. By the end, the book changes gears and moves into a connected narrative, with each chapter starting to add to a larger plot. Unfortunately that plot ends in mid-swing–but the fortunate thing about this is that this also means that there is more to come in future installments...
1) Vibes: Rudyard Kipling, Indiana Jones, and Cowboys & Indians
Right away, the moment the story begins, we found ourselves having a “Western Adventure” kind of vibe. Instead of the American southwest, it was the African frontier. Instead of Cowboys and Indians, it was the Airship Crew and the Africans. Each chapter was a complete story of its own, so we kept experiencing new adventures with every turn of the page. There was a rough-and-tumble, get-yer-guns-ready, we’re-riding-(flying)-into-town sort of feeling in these tales, and we enjoyed the blend of safari story and Wild West. Add to this the fact that most of the characters were not American (there is one person from the USA), then it also becomes a British Cowboy story. Throw in some colonialist themes and there’s Rudyard Kipling waiting in the background, too. Add a dash (a small dash) of magic, and bigger countries’ struggles (English and Prussian strain), and suddenly Indiana Jones is dancing around. In short, anyone who loves the old-fashioned adventure tale will love this book.
2) Great cast
The cast of characters was very flavorful and unique. Each character both embodied a stereotype and possessed his own unique flair, which really allowed us to picture them in our mind. The thing about each of these characters is that we’re given time to spend with each of them. They are each given a portion of the story to themselves, and we get to follow them around, get a feel for them as individuals, and see a little about what makes them tick. This is a wonderful way to become invested in their fates throughout the story. We really liked how different they all were, and yet how they all functioned together as a single unit: the intrepid crew of the airship Kestrel.
3) Portrayal of women
The women in this story were both strong… and feminine. This is not a story where a woman had to give up being female in order to be taken seriously. Our favorite female character, Patience Hobbs, is allowed to show a softer, more feminine side: she sticks up for those who need a helping hand (like Ellsworth), and she in general acts more like a tough woman than a man’s man, and nobody holds this against her or thinks that she’s below them because of it. The women in this story were three-dimensional and well used throughout the plot.
4) Saves the magic… until later
One thing we first thought about this story was that it took its time. The book handled the eventual introduction of magic (!) and super-science (!) with a great deal of finesse and subtlety. By the time the first hints of magic appeared on the page, we were so engrossed with the characters that we were not confused by it–in fact, if anything, we were thrilled. It made sense, given the context of everything that had happened previously, and it added new flavor to the story. It takes about one half of the way through the book before magic is brought into the picture. And super-science–or at least its 1800’s equivalent–only appeared about three-fourths of the way into the book. We suppose that the sequel would have these things in much larger proportions, but truth is we wouldn’t mind that very much. We were permitted to learn the characters and the normal world’s customs before we went running off into the great wild unknown of sorcery and science, which is good enough for us.
1) Incomplete ending
Despite all the awesomeness in this book, it does end on an unfinished note. Again, some people will like this, and we (kind of) can’t begrudge it, because it means that there will definitely be more stories in the future. All the same, we like when a book ends with a completed plot, not halfway through the major arc of the next book. It sounds good and it ends on an intriguing note, but a cliffhanger is still a cliffhanger. Arg! We’re not rock climbers, so we’ve got to mention this.
1) Dirigibles… er, we mean blimps… uh, actually make that “airships”
The story concerns a lot of dirigibles, as one can guess (hey, the title is “Beyond the Rails,” and only dirigibles–or “airships”–can really travel that far). The characters actually go into detail explaining how these massive contraptions work, which is awesome. A large part of the plot concerns them and how they fly, the mechanics of how travel like this affects the characters, and so forth. This must have been the result of a lot of research and it was fascinating for us, given that blimps aren’t really things that we know (or think) that much about. We’re definitely noticing the Goodyear blimp next time it hovers around our house.
…AND THE VERDICT:
This book is GOOD.
We have to say, this book single-handedly convinced us to reconsider our dislike of Steampunk. This is a feat all by itself. And with that, we can’t say that it’s anything but Good, even though it has plenty of Bizarreness everywhere–which, of course, just adds flavor to the whole shebang. And, best news of all, according to the author’s blog, he’s also already hard at work on the sequel, and has the eighth “short story / next chapter” posted online as a FREE SAMPLE. We hope this means that it will be done soon, so we can continue the adventure. In a single book we’ve gone from hating Steampunk to giving it a second chance, so we have big expectations for the upcoming sequel.
D. Murray — Five stars — January 15, 2015
A wonderful set of stories in a great style. Well worth the read.
Memo — Five stars — February 25, 2015
Great read!! Can't wait for the next book!
Amazon Customer — Mix it with any ship movie or my fave Star Trek — April 23, 2015
Take either version of Clark Gable's Mugambo. Mix it with any great ship movie or my fave Star Trek, and you have this neo-classic ride over the African veldt. Jack Tyler delivers the goods and a fine crew of characters. Patterned after the show Firefly, it hits the mark nimbly. The writer took me back to writing before vulgarity, sex, and graphic imagery dulled the imagination.
Tracy Moore — Steampunk Africa — April 28, 2015
Steampunk Africa with Imagination, action and adventure plus accurate Swahili this is a truly original creation in the Steampunk Genre. The characters of the crew of the Kestrel are real and compelling. Jack Tyler has researched the British Empire in Africa and does not shy away from difficult subjects like racism and the negative side of Imperialism. It is handled deftly and does not detract from the fast paced well written action yarn. Asante Sana, Mr Tyler.
David Lee Summers — A thrilling voyage to steampunk Africa — May 17, 2015
Botanist Nicholas Ellsworth travels to Africa to collect plant samples and ends up aboard the cargo dirigible Kestrel, crewed by a band of misfits and outcasts from England, the United States, and Prussia. Their adventures range from botanical plague to occultists to international intrigue to mad scientists. The tale harkens back to the adventure stories I loved as a kid. The Africans we meet are as real and well developed as the Kestrel's crew. My only regret is that we didn't get to know more of the African characters better. Much of the dialogue from German speakers is written phonetically, which was a little challenging in a couple of places. Overall, this was a fine adventure, especially for those who like their steampunk in settings outside of Victorian England.
C. William Perkins — Exactly what I was looking for! — August 19, 2015
Beyond the Rails, written by Jack Tyler is the unique kind of steampunk you secretly hope for when you open the cover. A series of stories following the crew of the airship Kestrel and their travels through the adventurous African interior. Tyler single handedly adds mystery, romance and excitement to a genre so often stuck in the same familiar foggy London alleys or dusty American frontier. Part of this owes itself to Tyler’s seeming familiarity with the dark continent. It’s a relief to find an airship story that is just an airship story, without the zombies, vampires and gratuitous brass gadgets.He trusts us to enjoy the minutia of simply piloting a freelance airship on its routine (but inevitably dangerous) supply runs. And I for one, did enjoy it.
Read the rest of my review at Steampunk-Reviews.com or at my blog CWilliamPerkins.weebly.com/Reviews
Don Elwell — Exotic, engrossing, and just plain fun — April 1, 2016
Well drawn, exotic locations, a wonderfully plausible backstory, and some really interesting characters and plot twists make this collection of interlocked stories a really enjoyable read. Mr. Tyler has clearly done his research, both on the region and on the era, and the interjection of the melange of languages in Africa during the colonial era, the mix and collision of cultures, and the inventiveness of his storytelling make this a very fun steampunk read. Happily, the author has left himself a number of interesting character and plotlines to pursue, and I look forward to reading the sequel (Beyond the Rails II).
Diesel Jester — Collection of short steampunk stories — June 2, 2016
All Aboard the airship Kestrel as they travel across the frontier of the British Empire meeting new people and picking up new crew. This is a series of six short stories that capture the essence of steampunk and life aboard a privateer airship. A definite must read for any steampunk fan.
Amazon Customer — Beyond the Rails is colonial African steampunk awesomeness — July 16, 2016
A few years ago, I became a member of the Steampunk Empire, an online community dedicated to steampunk. It was there that I came across a post from a member who called himself Blimprider. A steampunk writer like myself, Blimprider was the alias of Jack Tyler, whose discussion (entitled "Why I Write") intrigued me enough that I later followed him to his own Steampunk Empire group, Scribblers' Den. It also prompted me to add his work to my goodreads list. Why it's taken me so long to finally get to reading his work can only be explained by the fact that I'm a slow reader. I'm hopeful that Jack won't mind me quoting his discussion from the Empire.
"I was a child of the 50s, which means that I just caught the tail end of the old Victorian mores and attitudes as they were being swept out to make room for the modern era of snatchin' and grabbin', of "Me first, and eff you!" I miss those times. More to the point, as a lifelong avid reader, I did my formative reading in the genre of adventure books for boys. This was at a time when villains were slimy, ladies had elegance, and the hero had perfect teeth...and since it's fairly obvious that no one else is going to write them, I'm making it my business to do it. And here's the funny thing: Unless a few dozen total strangers who don't know each other are lying through their teeth for no other reason than to boost my ego, everyone who reads these stories, and takes the time to leave a comment or write a review, LOVES them! I am humbled, honored, and blown away by turns. I had no idea that something so obsolete could strike such a chord with so many diverse people."
This nostalgia for those adventure books for boys is evident in Tyler's writing, and it's a joy to read. It has an old-world feeling that recalls Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells, and Rudyard Kipling, but which manages to feel fresh and modern at the same time. It has a similar feeling to Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, with its fast pace, its character-driven narrative, its "steampunk light" approach to the genre, and - without the silliness of Carriger's series - its excellent use of witty banter between the characters. Also, like the Parasol Protectorate series, Beyond The Rails often sees the story's heroes traveling from place to place aboard an airship, unraveling mysteries, and kicking ass.
The females are strong, but not masculine, and their personalities are nuanced and believable. The male characters are equally compelling; they have rich backstories, which are introduced to us from multiple viewpoints, which allows the reader to form their own opinions, as well as their own favourite characters. Personally, I'm a big fan of Clinton Monroe, the ship's captain, and Patience Hobbs, her pilot, and I love the banter between them.
You want African steampunk? You've got it!
Jules Verne meets Firefly in this series of tales by a new voice on the steampunk landscape. Join this group of misfits, castoffs, and fugitives as they try to make a living moving cargo in Colonial Africa on their ramshackle blimp, the Kestrel, in the face of everything an untamed land can throw at them.
Beyond The Rails is a collection of short stories that follow the Kestrel crew through a series of rugged adventures set in Kenya. It's a format I'm not used to, and it felt a bit like the literary equivalent of episodic television. The binge-worthy kind. The stories do follow a continuity, with several of them ending with just enough of a cliffhanger to get me reading the next story. It's the perfect format - and the stories are the perfect length - for bus trip reading, although I must admit that each time I opened up the book to read, I was in serious danger of missing my stop. I can be a tough reader to impress; the slightest misstep can take me right out of the moment and spoil my suspension of disbelief. One wrong word, one grammar error, that's all it takes. And yet, Beyond The Rails had me forgetting that I wasn't actually aboard an airship in Colonial Africa.
Tyler's writing style is straight-forward, unpretentious, and effortless to read. It's also clearly researched very thoroughly. It's difficult to imagine that he didn't actually build his own Kestrel and fly it through Nairobi and Mombasa before putting pen to paper. The airship terminology seems to follow nautical jargon, which makes sense, especially given the airship's design; it's basically a riverboat suspended beneath a blimp. The "science" is never over-explained; instead, the reader is simply shown a device in action and allowed to form their own understanding of how it works.
As for the negatives, they were few and far between, but I will admit that the phonetic spelling in some of the character dialogue was at times a distraction.
I also would have liked to have seen more African characters, especially one who was a member of the crew; it takes place in Africa, after all. Of course, the Africans are portrayed sympathetically. Just like the Caucasian cast, the Africans are intelligent and nuanced - not all of them are good nor are all of them bad - and those who make ignorant assumptions about them are quickly put in their place (usually by Patience Hobbs). All in all, this was one of the most diverse casts I've had the pleasure of reading, with characters from America, England, Kenya, Prussia, China, Australia, and other equally exotic locales.
This book deserves to be read
It's worth mentioning that Beyond the Rails is self-published. It's a testament to Jack Tyler's skill as a writer that it's as polished as it is. I've read books from major publishers that weren't nearly as polished. In this day and age, where any old idiot with a computer can upload their stories to Amazon and hit the publish button, it isn't a mistake to be wary of self-published stories. The best way to weed out those books that don't deserve to see the light of day? Read the reviews. You'll see I'm not the only one who loved reading Beyond The Rails.
I can confidently recommend Beyond The Rails to any steampunk enthusiast, lover of adventure stories, or simply anyone who enjoys a good story. Don't believe me? See for yourself! You can read the first story for free. As for me, I can't wait to grab myself a copy of Beyond the Rails II!
Stephanie Kato — Airships and excitement! — August 14, 2016
This was a delightful book. I was pleasantly surprised. Jack Tyler provides us with an entertaining steampunk adventure that features witty characters and a lesson about overly zealous colonialism. It's an easy read that is genuinely fun. I believe too many books are missing the fun value, so this was refreshing. Beyond the Rails is appropriate for both adults and teenagers.
LatitudeAdjustment — Great read — August 22, 2016
Great series of short stories but like many steampunk novels leaves a lot of loose ends, maybe that's for volume 3?
Eric Zeigler — I enjoyed every page — October 5, 2016
Well worth the price, I enjoyed every page.
CW Hawes — Reminded me a bit of Haggard — January 3, 2017
Reminicent of H Rider Haggard's African adventures. Good, light reads, with plenty of adventure. Steampunk takes the sci-fi imagined by the Victorians and treats it as if it really happened and we see that in Tyler's tales. Recommended!
Lynda A. Dietz — Great introduction to steampunk — January 24, 2018
This is the first time I've read any steampunk, and I'm glad this is the book I chose for it. Beyond the Rails is a book filled with short stories about a crew and their adventures, and though there are plenty of adventures, the crew and their relationships to each other and the African natives are the real focus. Each character had a distinct personality, a manner of speaking, and patterns of behavior that had my interest from the first pages. I was fully invested in learning more about them, their back stories, and their future interactions.
Some of the descriptions of the technology were almost magical in their setting, but not all the action happened in the air. There was always something around the corner, from bizarre tribal rituals to evil geniuses set on taking over as much of their world as they possibly could.
Tyler has done well in his exploration of the steampunk world, and since there is a second book and a third this series, I'm sure I'll be continuing on to read about the characters I've grown attached to.
C. Davis — A fun read — February 28, 2018
A fun read.
Gary Allen Henson — Marvelous Victorian-Age steampunk adventure — June 7, 2018
This book is a series of short stories about the privateer, steampunk balloon Kestrel and its crew for hire in Victorian Age Africa. Be prepared to soar 'beyond the rails', where the railroads cannot go, to marvelously crafted adventures. There is more danger from Africa's two legged creatures than you might think.
The stories are compact and complete within themselves. But the stories all have the commonality of characters, the Kestrel and wonderfully creative adventure in the African savannas. The small crew is diverse and each interesting on their own. Put together on the tiny sky ship they make a great team that doesn't shy from danger or adventure.
This book would be a great intro for anyone into the Steampunk genre, but can easily stand beside others in this genre.
I loved this book and look forward to more for Mr. Tyler!
Beyond the Rails II: Soldier of the Crown
C. Davis — All aboard for a fun adventure — March 23, 2015
A great sequel to the first book.
Amazon Customer — Steampunks unite here! Scifi and adventure readers! — October 29, 2015
To say that this is Firefly combined with the Victorian Era is a vast understatement. What we have here is a concise, fun, well researched expedition by air, land and sea into 19th century Africa, courtesy of a master wordsmith who himself seems to have his own feet firmly placed in two worlds.
The crew of the airship Kestrel are indie book legends: intelligent, familial, bold but not too reckless, intrepid persons trying to scratch a few coins out of the African soil. The short stories herein are more connected than in the previous volume, upping an already wonderful background to give it a more fluid feel.Their escapades bring them into contact with classic style villains. I won't give anything away, but if you're a fan of adventure before the advent of splatter and vulgarity, live steampunk of the Victorian period, pay for a ride on the Kestrel friend. The view is spectacular.
C. William Perkins — Addictive and enticing! Some of the best steampunk you can find — November 15, 2015
Beyond the Rails II: Soldier of the Crown is a fantastic return to form for indie author Jack Tyler. Following once again the crew of the airship Kestrel in 1880’s colonial Kenya, these six new stories are a welcome continuation, further building the world, developing the characters and shaking up the status quo.
We pick up not long after the events of last book and Tyler continues to succeed in his episodic, almost TV Season like approach to storytelling. The memories of “last season’s finale” are still fresh as he picks up a new adventure with the Kestrel crew. Only Captain Monroe, the American cowboy Smith, and the young tag-along botanist Dr. Ellsworth remain to keep the ship aloft and take on new missions. Even in her absence though, the prodigious pilot Patience Hobbs leaves a noticeable impression on the others, like a daughter who has run away from home and might not come back this time. Though Tyler never lets us forget her, he uses the break wisely to let the others stand out and prove their worth. Monroe languishes over keeping the Kestrel in the air and on mission, and Smith with his Peacemaker and rugged Clint Eastwood charm always entertains.
Previous Prussian engineer Gunther has vanished like an actor who asked for more money in the off season and didn’t get it. I thought he more than earned his keep but I can’t say as I missed him for long, so maybe it was for the best. Ellsworth covers for him in the engine room until he’s replaced but still can’t find time to be as interesting as the rest of the cast. As for Hobbs, I won’t spoil what Tyler does with her, but he makes sure we don’t forget about her and he definitely uses the absence to enhance the story. In fact, the first couple tales she sits out are easily some of Tyler’s best crafted stories.
The first is a quick jumpstart, sucking you back to the audacious African frontier with Tyler’s usual sense of mystery and danger. This time it’s reminiscent of The Island of Dr. Moreau, as they find themselves trapped with a family of mad scientists. The third story (one of my favorites) takes a break from the action when one of their passengers lures them into his international treasure hunt, evoking a Raiders of the Lost Ark, feel. Tyler plays with a lot of fun but familiar tropes: the daring escape from capture, the interrogation of a bad guy high in the air, the race-against-the-clock chase to save a life, or the framed-for-murder mystery. Each is familiar to anyone who has seen an action movie in the last forty years, but Tyler handles each one with poise, using the various scenes to illuminate his characters, build suspense, or tease us into second guessing our own expectations.
Tyler’s writing was good before, but his straightforward and direct style is even sharper this time. His extensive research makes me wonder once again about the kind life he’s lived. His maritime vocabulary and proficiency with the mechanics of the ship’s boiler suggest he could quite possibly build his own airship and tour us across Kenya himself if he felt like it. Unlike a lot of steampunk, he keeps one foot firmly grounded in real life and doesn’t get swept up in fanciful genre indulgences. I wouldn’t call this hard science-fiction just yet, but his “steampunk-light” approach retains the kind of gravitas and depth that we all first fell in love with during 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or Around the World in 80 Days, where one good premise is enough to inspire awe rather than a slew of improbable gadgets and pedantic mad scientists. Not to say he doesn’t dip his toes into some darkly ominous human experiments, but when he does he stops short of gratuity to make sure his characters and their experience come first. To say it works is an understatement. I loved it and it’s a high standard for others in the genre to live up to.
His guest stars once again are so compelling that he fools me almost every time into thinking they’re about to join the cast. The underrated Chang Wei, the treasure hunting Eric Hafner, or the Maasai priestess Darweshi all prove to be as fully realized as the main cast. Recurring characters like Governor General Sanderson or the barman Faraji are equally delightful. I look for them every time we return to port.
As the Kestrel rises above Mombasa, you really feel like you’ve joined their crew. Part of that comes with time, having simply had more exposure to the characters after twelve stories total, but their interactions really do feel more authentic and “in the moment” this time. And that’s what makes these stories so compelling. Like Star Trek or Firefly or Battlestar Galactica, you really want to be a part of this family and you wonder what they’re up to between scenes. Part of that comes as a result of Tyler’s story-craft. For each main plot, there are little digressions, mini-episodes, or scenes that stand on their own, like a meal at the bar, or the negotiation of a new fare, or an innocuous walk through the market before being mugged. Or even just the denouement after the dust has settled where they discuss the mundane practicalities of refueling, restocking and how they’ll find their next paid gig. When each story ends, the most satisfying element is the excitement of wondering what mayhem and misadventure is lurking behind the horizon.
Conclusion: 5 out of 5 stars. I usually save this for the kind of professional-level books you find in a book store, but if I could find anything like this from a traditional publisher, I’d buy it for sure. Tyler succeeds in taking us along for another African airship adventure and like the season finale to your favorite guilty pleasure, you can’t wait till next year to see what’s going to happen.
Check out more of my reviews at steampunk-reviews.com or at my blog CWilliamPerkins.weebly.com
Latitude Adjustment — This wraps up the loose ends from volume one and an opening for more to come — August 31, 2016
Not sure if it was the la-ck of ed-iting or the do-wnload b-ut the da-shes w-ere ann-oying.
This was a good read but went too fast. This left the crew intact and ready for more adventures, let's hope more are coming.
Eva — Fun with Beyond the Rails II: Soldier of the Crown — August 30, 2018
"The anchor's loose! We're adrift!" Come on board the airship Kestrel. Captain Monroe and Pilot Patience Hobbs will entertain you all the way.
Beyond the Rails III: Slayer of Darkness
Amazon Customer — Won in Goodreads giveaway. Like an old friend coming by... — February 14, 2017
Really this book, the third in the series, was like having a trusted friend stop by to spin a fantastic tale of a far off world. I am a huge fan of BtR, the writing, pacing, professional quality, strong reliable characters. It's been said this is a blend of the show Firefly (love it), old adventure tales (love) but book three gives a dash of Indiana Jones (BIG love) and enhances the steampunk gadgetry, which I won't spoil here. Jack Tyler adores old adventure books and it shows. As this book was the first to offer one continuous story, I felt it added to the drama, for it took me away again from troubles and into a world of leather-strapped daring folk trying to scrape by. Tyler expands his universe somewhat this time, and does it so well I pray he returns to it again some day. A great steampunk read. I can't say enough about it. Get the first one. Get the second. Then, come back here and make the airship Kestrel your second home.
C. William Perkins — More of this, please — July 31, 2017
The stakes are high and I can’t promise a happy ending, but at least you can always enjoy the ride. The gang is back aboard the rickety airship Kestrel for another adventure in colonial Kenya.
Beyond the Rails III: Slayer of Darkness is Jack Tyler’s third foray into the world of wild nineteenth century. I always liked his episodic structure, but this is a nice change of pace. The slow-burn pacing here is a natural extension of the fact it has always been one long saga anyway. Tyler’s best scenes are always the character moments that fill in between plot-points and this only gives him more of them work with. Captain Monroe, hotshot pilot Patty Hobbs, and the mysterious American David Smith shine as the core cast. Previous holdovers like the new engineer Bakari and the tribal girl Darweshi stay mostly out of the way this time and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It means the leads get better development, but I kept waiting for these side-characters to rise to the surface and have their moment.
As usual, the guest stars are all standouts, including the return of Jinx Jenkins from Book 1. Newcomers like Jubilee Bellouard and her crew of bounty hunters are a nice addition as they attempt to collect on David Smith, if that is his real name… (it’s not!). They add an unpredictable subplot to the mix that haunts the story unbeknownst to our heroes. Tyler has fun with all this dramatic irony, keeping his crew in the dark until close to the end. At one point, the villain’s own right-hand man, Mutala, charters the Kestrel to get from A to B and nobody but the reader has any idea the implications.
Tyler usually mixes an eclectic dose of old pulp adventuring into his Firefly-esque, steampunk-light vision, but this time I sensed just a hint of James Bond or the Man from U.N.C.L.E. with the global governmental conspiracies just out of frame. He avoids letting these larger than life problems over-inflate the core premise by always presenting them through unreliable sources. At the end of the day, the world’s governments may be banding together in secret to fight a clandestine collection of mobsters and terrorists, but the crew of the Kestrel still has to earn their keep if they intend to keep hydrogen in the bag before the rainy season hits. It’s these down to earth mundanities that make Tyler’s stories so charming and relatable.
I had some problems with Act III resolving abruptly but it was Act I that really carried the novel for me with its strong setup. Old friend and previous crew-mate Ellsworth from Book I has been assaulted by accident when the enemy goes after the wrong storefront. It’s the perfect pulpy-noir kind of chance plot-point that carries you miles in verisimilitude. This is the dirty, chaotic world of Kenya, and the police are useless. Say nothing of the precarious financial ruin Kestrel is always on the brink of. Act II is like lighting a long fuse and watching it burn. You know eventually something is going to explode, so even when things seem slow there is a subtext of inescapable tension. Tyler keeps his characters moving around from place to place, often completely oblivious to each other, as he sets up the final action.
Conclusion 4.5 out of 5 stars. Excellent setup and slow burn storytelling with our favorite characters is more than enough to keep this story afloat despite the Star Trek-like abruptness of its ending. Jack Tyler continues to be among the best of indie steampunk writers out there!
Read the full review and others at CWilliamPerkins.weebly.com
Makes me wonder why I ever stopped writing these tales; it might be time to rectify that...