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Created by ggrihn on 9/23/2016 11:09:17 AM

The Transference Engine, by Julia Verne St. John

Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor

The Transference Engine presents a potentially interesting premise: George Gordon, Lord Byron, famous Romantic poet, is/was also a necromancer, who has survived his putative death, and seeks to batten upon the life of his daughter, Augusta Ada, in aid of his quest for immortality. The novel's protagonist, Elise Vollans, was once a servant who helped Byron's wife and daughter escape his machinations, and who has since reinvented herself as "Madame Magdala," the supposed widow of a "Gypsy King" who runs a stylish café and reading room in London. From this base of operations, she supposedly monitors necromantic activity and keeps a watchful eye on Ada.

I say, "supposedly" since the novel really doesn't show her actually doing that. What we do see is that she spends way more time managing her kitchen and the crew of street urchins she's bringing up to help her than she does fighting evil. We end up with a kind of uneasy mixture of Steampunk and the kind of "cozy" mystery where the detective is also a chef and you get recipes at the end of chapters.

Lord Byron and the Transference Engine, a nefarious device created to facilitate moving souls between bodies, never actually appear. Instead, Elise spends her time vaguely worrying about missing children (but seldom actually looking for them), and stumbling into a vague and ill-conceived plot by necromancer "Lord Ruthven" to assassinate the Archbishop of Canterbury during the coronation of Victoria, in the illogical hope of precipitating some sort of governmental crisis. This is to be done by firing the ridiculously named "kinetic galvatron," a Steampunk death ray powered by soul energy, from his ominous black balloon. The times that Elise actually finds herself in position to hinder the evil plot, it's because she bumps into the bad guys while on her way to do something else and not through positive action on her part. Character actions are vague and unmotivated. Elise's erstwhile allies, a nobleman and a Church of England priest, find themselves unable to resist the influence of the otherwise characterless Lord Ruthven. The denouement reminds one of an old-time Gothic novel with the villain destroyed by vengeful spirits.

In a word, it's a mess. I have no idea why a major publisher like DAW accepted this drivel, nor its threatened sequel, particularly when there are way better books being Kickstarted.

Not recommended.

The Transference Engine at Amazon

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