Review: The Falling Machine

Posted: October 28, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Andrew P. Mayer, Steampunk

Sarah Stanton is the only child of business magnate Alexander Stanton. She’s a woman ahead of her time—her time being New York’s 1880s, the Gilded Age of industry and technology, but otherwise behind on women’s suffrage.

However, Sarah doesn’t let her father or society’s strictures slow her down. Sure she has to wear a bustle and corset, and her father wants to marry her off by the end of the season, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to find Sir Dennis Darby’s killer.

In the meantime, Darby’s magnum opus, an automaton named Tom, is also trying to find his creator’s killer. Unfortunately as a machine he’s considered persona non grata, and the Paragons—the vigilante heroes of New York who use steam and technology to serve and protect, among whom is Alexander Stanton himself—refuse to follow Darby’s last request to make Tom their new leader. They even go so far as to confine the automaton and refuse to repair him. Sarah sympathizes.

THE FALLING MACHINE (Amazon) by newcomer Andrew P. Mayer covers a lot of ground. What really makes a hero? Is it the mask and costume? Is it supernatural abilities? Is it their sense of morality? Steampunk fans—especially the YA variety—will enjoy this recent addition to the sub-genre. Not only are there superheroes and robots, but the steampunk tech plays an integral part of the story, there’s a mystery to uncover, societal issues, aging superheros, and a villain who truly believes that he’s doing the right thing—even if it means murder and the breakdown of their way of life.

THE FALLING MACHINE mixes steampunk with superheros, and asks the question: What makes a hero? The mask? The costume? Or something else?

Mayer does a good job explaining the story’s machines and inventions, and he includes some fascinating concepts. Even though these descriptions can slow the pace, it helps develop the atmosphere, and since the tech is important to the story, it’s worth the time to pay attention. We only get a taste of his portrayal of Industrial Revolution-era New York, its high society as well as the common man. Despite this brief glimpse, I still got a good feel for the time and place, and I suspect there will be more as the series continues, as there simply wasn’t time to go into depth here.

Mayer creates the story’s superhero crossovers with enough stereotypes to make them familiar, but without being lazy—they still feel like real people. I enjoyed both the main characters, Tom and Sarah. Tom is more than a machine, as he attempts to carry out his maker’s plans. Readers will learn a lot about Darby and the kind of man he was from the machines he made. Sarah is barely into womanhood and discovering the kind of woman she is and wants to be. Her relationship with her father feels a little forced, but it isn’t hard to believe that Alexander Stanton behaves as a result of his era and class.

Unlike the wealth of steampunk coming out today, there’s no magic or vampires or werewolves in THE FALLING MACHINE. I can’t say I’m too sad about it. The result is that the focus is on the tech itself and its importance to the story, and not simply tech for its own sake with the supernatural stealing the show.

While the pace moves forward consistently, revelations come slowly, and the story isn’t much further along by the time we reach the end of the book. Most of the novel is told from Tom and Sarah’s PoV (with minor references from Alexander Stanton and the Sleuth Paragon Peter Wickham), so the storyline involves following clues and trying to come to a conclusion. Another issue with the pacing involves the villain not even appearing until the end of the novel. While THE FALLING MACHINE storyline itself is mostly self-contained, the ending leaves the conclusion too open, and readers will have to wait until the second book, HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM (Amazon), to hopefully find some answers to their inevitable questions.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: A handful of moderate uses
  • Violence: Tom and Sarah's sleuthing does lead to danger; there's blood, but otherwise it's not gory
  • Sex: Vague references; one of the Paragons is referred to as a sodomite a few times

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