The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam)
by Andrew Mayer
Cover Artist: Cover: Justin Gerard / Interior Art: Steven Sanders.
Review by Gayle Surrette
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616143756
Date: 24 May 2011 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The story opens with Sarah Stanton, Sir Dennis Darby (head of the Society of Paragons), Nathaniel (a member of the Paragons), and Tom (an automaton) taking a trip to inspect the Brooklyn Bridge. After climbing to the tower, they are attacked and Darby is killed, Nathaniel injured and, thanks to Tom, who is also badly injured, the supervillain is driven off.
The death of Darby leaves the Society of Paragons, an aging group of superheroes, in need of a new leader. It's also a change for Sarah as Darby treated her as an intelligent adult. Now she is being treated as most women in 1880 are treated – as an emotional-driven woman, only expected to look pretty, get married, and produce heirs. Her father, also a member of the Paragons, hasn't paid much attention to Sarah's upbringing since the death of her mother, which left Sarah a lot of leeway to do and learn many things not usually available to young socialites.
Darby's death leaves Sarah without her mentor. She decides to check on Tom and his repairs, to find that the Paragons have locked him in Darby’s work area, chained to a table, and forbidden him to repair himself. Something is very rotten in the Society of Paragons. The Paragons have decided to ignore Darby's last will and testament and one of the Paragons, Darby's best friend, shares his concern that there is a traitor among the Paragons and asks for Sarah's help.
Sarah is nothing if not plucky with a strong sense of justice, so she agrees to help. As she begins to notice the things going on around her and the Paragons, she begins to question some very basic assumptions. Soon she realizes she must make some very difficult and irrevocable decisions.
This is the first book in a series and it is a great start. The character of Sarah is an interesting choice, but leaves the author a lot of room for dealing with the time period, social injustice, and the plight of women – not to mention crime fighting vigilantes. As I was reading through the book and getting up a bit of steam about how the men treated Sarah, how they belittled her concerns, and ignored her direct and astute questions, it becomes obvious that Sarah has a good head on her shoulders and she's not afraid to use it.
There's real texture to the background society and environment which makes the actions of the characters play out against a time period when society was changing along with the roles of women and the rise of the middle class. New York in 1880s, even in a steampunk universe, is going to make for an interesting setting.
The pace of the story is a bit slow at first as the time period and the setting are detailed for the reader, but it quickly takes off and, with some wry humor and lots of action, it speeds along to the cliff-hanger conclusion that leaves readers waiting for the next book.
If you haven't tried steampunk, this is a fun way to start, with some social commentary on the times and with a great steampunk action heroine fighting for truth and justice – oh, wait that's another superhero's line. Check out The Falling Machine.