Review: Hearts of Smoke and Steam

Posted: November 22, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Andrew P. Mayer, Steampunk

In THE FALLING MACHINE (EBR Review) you were left with a cliffhanger: during the battle with Lord Eschaton, Tom is dismantled and Sarah leaves home after a fight with her father.

The continuation, HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM (Amazon) begins over a month later. Even though Tom was destroyed, Sarah was able to recover his heart in the chaos. Unfortunately it’s broken, and she needs to find someone to repair the heart, but doesn’t trust the majority of the people in New York who are able to do it. Her search leads her to Emilio Armando, an Italian immigrant and inventor—whose past, if Sarah knew it, would make her think twice about trusting him with Tom’s secret.

In the meantime, the Paragons have lost two of their rank, and must find help, as the remainder of them aren’t getting any younger. They interview new applicants—a strange and varied assortment—and discover King Jupiter, who appears to not only be able to create amazing technology, but who may just have supernatural powers. Don’t forget, however, that in FALLING we learn that one of the Paragons is a traitor. The Paragons are in great danger, and as a result so is New York.

After a slow start, the action in HEARTS moves very quickly, even more than in FALLING. I read the books in succession, and after I was finished I had to sit on it for a while to absorb everything before I could disseminate how I feel about this series thus far. The action moves fast and is detailed, but like in FALLING the actual plot isn’t much further than when we started; I could probably number the main plot events on one hand. This doesn’t mean, however, that FALLING and HEART aren’t lots of fun to read, because they are. I only wished there were more. (Hrm. Wanting more isn’t necessarily a bad thing, is it?)

There are more PoVs here compared to the previous book, and the switching back and forth isn’t strictly chronological. Mayer will move PoVs around in time in order to cover simultaneous character viewpoints in an important scene. While it’s helpful for knowing all the events in a scene and each character’s motivations, it does get confusing. Mayer did it in FALLING, too, but not as much as he does in HEART and it got frustrating when I was more interested in the forward movement of the plot.

Sarah must deal with the reality of being a working-class girl in 1880s New York, find a trustworthy repairman, and keep her identity secret from the Children of Eschaton who will do anything to retrieve the heart. She wants to be a hero like her father and the Paragons, but she’s discovering that it isn’t all adventure—it’s dangerous and frightening work. But Sarah is determined, and works past her worries in order to restore Tom, which she believes is the only thing that can stop Lord Eschaton and his ‘children’. Tom was the most interesting character in FALLING, but in HEART there’s very little of him—and most of that is his disassembled parts. This was a frustration. The story is about him, and yet we see very little of him. Fortunately we are introduced to some new characters, including Emilio, who’s trying to move past his complicated history. These new viewpoints add flavor to the storytelling.

Sarah may be a working class girl in 1880s New York, but she has a secret: her father is a superhero in HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM.

The majority of the setting is established in FALLING, but in HEART Mayer doesn’t set it aside in favor of plot advancement. We still get to see new and exciting inventions, learn more about what life was like in 1880s New York, and discover some fascinating things about Tom and the true genius of Dennis Darby, his inventor.

More self-contained than the first book, HEARTS ends without as big of a cliffhanger…comparably. Not that Mayer doesn’t like to leave you at the edge of your seat. He promises more adventure, and has set up for a spectacular continuation.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Very little
  • Violence: People get stabbed or shot, some death, but not detailed enough to be gory
  • Sex: Innuendo—there was none at all in FALLING, but here there's the potential for a romantic relationship, and the prudish mores of New York's high society are addressed; there are also references to erotic art

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