Fighting on the Home Front
Created by NMcCullough on 2/4/2013 6:42:46 PM

Correspondent Nancy McCullough reviews The Automata Wars: The Home Front, a novel by L.M. Cooke.


It is true that war is Hell on all fronts, especially the home front. Using the common thread of “rented women” who are under the protection of Madame Jewel, LM Cooke weaves a tale that provides an unbiased view of how insidious warfare can be. In her first novel in the series The Automata Wars, Cooke chronicles vignettes of life in the city during wartime. Madame Jewel’s girls are the harbingers of doom for anyone who crosses their path. Easily found with their gemstone names, too short skirts and necklines that are just a little too low, these Victorian Mata Haris serve as spies and protectors of their home.
Cooke opens her novel with her picture of wealth. The Waverley family is preparing for their youngest daughter’s debut into society. The patriarch is away at war, leaving the trio of women to “keep calm and carry on." Alice, the older of the two is more interested in her beau, the mysterious Mr. Black, than her bouncy sister’s party preparations. Almost everyone of wealth or political importance is invited to the party, making it a perfect target. Mr. Black, true to his name, manipulates Alice to kill the guests first by bullet and then by bomb. The house is leveled. Having responded to a disturbance by one of Madame Jewel’s girls, the guests outside are spared. After an introduction to Jewel as the thread that permeates the book, Cooke then moves to another vignette.
The reader is transported into the vignette of the shadowy Saint Haimon and his chapel located in the most degraded area of the city. Under the guise of religion and feasting on the pilgrims who attend his tomb Saint Haimon appears almost vampiric. These supplicants seek the Nameless God’s intervention to protect them from the ravages of war. Their prayers are answered with a terrible price. From a pseudo-religious vignette, the story precedes down the spiral staircase of society. Visiting places throughout the city including the underground, Cooke continues her story of its residents searching unsuccessfully for a positive ending to the war. Vignettes include stories about spies, miners, military men and scientists. True to nature, they all fall prey to Madame Jewel’s machinations. No one escapes the gloves of Madame Jewel. Not even Mr. Black and his compatriot, Mr. White, escape her touch.
Cooke inserts communiqués to more clearly define Mme. Jewel’s plots. Characters are not often clearly delineated, creating an open-ended quality to the novel. The reader is never sure of who is friend or foe. Madam Jewel is the consummate puppet master. Like a spider, she weaves her web with her girls as bait. With Madam Jewel’s girls as the most attractive and desirable, Cooke explores the world of prostitution. Juxtaposed to Madam Jewel are the infamous Misters Black and White. Unlike the colorful girls, they are colorless, mechanical, and loyal to their masters. This automatic duo creates the perfect man versus machine clash that is present in the steampunk culture.
The Automata Wars is not about combat or survival on the home front, but is about the ever-changing face of the enemy in civilian society and the constant struggle between man and machine. Although set in the Victorian Era, the exact nature of the war and setting are not disclosed. The communications interspersed throughout the novel often confuse the reader, so be prepared to reread passages. Cooke clearly expects the reader to continue the series to get the full picture. The reader is left hungry or knowledge, and unsure of the outcome. Ending the book with a rhetorical question, Cooke makes the reader thirsty for more. For those interested in subterfuge with a steampunk touch, this is your cup of tea.
By day, Nancy McCullough works at the Environmental Protection Division as a scientist testing drinking water to detect traces of brain altering microbes that can cause a zombie apocalypse. By night, she is a staunch supporter of Penny Dreadful’s REMNANT. She trains in martial arts, knits, and creates unique costumes for her steampunk persona. If her review is not appealing, blame the gremlin Gwai who loves to make airplanes out of her notes.


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