Review: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl
Gideon Smith’s father is a fisherman, and one day the ship returns to port in Sandsend, England, without his father or the crew. Determined to find out how a ship could lose its crew on a calm sea, Gideon begins to hear reports about monsters appearing in the local caves. He happens across a Mr. Bram Stoker, who is searching for inspiration for a new story. But Gideon’s obsession with World Marvels & Wonders, a penny dreadful that recounts the heroic exploits of Captain Lucian Trigger, at first makes Bram wonder about the believability of Gideon’s story.
They part ways: Gideon to London to look for Captain Trigger and Bram to investigate the arrival of a Russian ship without its crew. We are thrown into an adventure with vampires, mummies, automatons, dirigibles, and Egyptian artifacts. The characters are varied, with a cast of recognizable heroes: the inexperienced but enthusiastic youth, the cynical reporter, the mentor, the woman dirigible pilot, the pirate, and etc. The world terrain is different than we’re used to, steampunk technology is everywhere, and yet much of it is still familiar.
GIDEON SMITH AND THE MECHANICAL GIRL (Amazon) uses these with flair in a pulp fiction style. The main character is likable, but even our heroes have their dark sides, who despite their foibles can overcome their weaknesses to save the day. It’s a story of love, hope, redemption, and what makes a true hero.
So why did it take me so long to read this book? Why did I drag myself through each chapter and PoV?
GIDEON SMITH is not a bad story or poorly written. In fact the prose is pretty nice, the plot engaging and twisty enough to keep you guessing. There are so many cameos, such as Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Google her, seriously), Bram Stoker, Walter Jones (Henry’s father), and so many more, many of whom I found amusing if somewhat distracting.
It’s an entertaining enough read, but Barnett adds things that give it a dark edge which turned me off to the story. It’s really a personal thing, you may not be bothered, and perhaps even like the realistic dark side of people and events. For example, the reporter was a crass, profane guy who was obsessed with the female form in a way that was juvenile and not funny. Or the married man knowingly being drawn into circumstances that hurt his reputation and strained his relationship with his wife. References to the automaton’s sexual slavery. There are other examples. I guess I didn’t see how such additions made the story better and all it did was make me want to put the book down because it caused me to distrust the characters when I should have been compelled to keep reading about them.
Another problem was the pacing, which suffered up until the end as characters move from place to place, make discoveries, cross paths, and etc. This is just the style of Barnett’s storytelling, the prose more interested in detail of movement than actually moving the story along. I think the voice/prose/style is great for the genre, but because I felt that disconnect from the characters the story felt slow.
Barnett makes up for the pacing by the last quarter when events start snowballing and we make discoveries that build on what’s come before. By the exciting end you are rooting for Gideon and you may even want to check out the sequel as a result.
- Recommended Age: 17+
- Language: Yes
- Violence: Fairly frequent, although not gruesome
- Sex: Referenced, one character in particular is quite crass