I recently read through a new steampunk book called Romulus Buckler & the City of the Founders by Richard Preston Ellis Jr. Its a bit different than regular steampunk in that this appears to be a dystopian future steampunk, though I’m not entirely certain on that. Despite being more than half way through the follow up book, I’m really not certain how far in the future this is or even if it is future as compared to us. The timeline of this world is really uncertain, like the author thinks that 1) readers won’t care about that bit of detail or 2) the characters don’t really care about their own history.
The gist of this is that there was an invasion by Martians some unknown time ago. Yes, you read that right, Martians invaded earth. Its all very War of the Worlds. It made me think that maybe this world ending event of Martian invasion was meant to be that 1938 Orson Welles broadcast but again, it is really not clear. All that we learn is that the Martians brought with them these giant obelisk things (like bigger than the Empire State building it sounded like) that do something to interrupt all electricity in the world. Something else vague and unclear turned the world into a desolate, nuclear winter type world. Perhaps we’ll find out in a later book?
At any rate, we’re far enough in the future that Martians (and half Martians because these humanoid Martians can breed with humans) are integrated into society as it remains. The world is demarcated into territories of clans, each one of them specializing in something that makes living in this new terrible world possible. And they all jealously guard their secrets.
Our here, Romulus Buckle, is the eighteen year old adopted sun of the leader of the Crankshaft Clan. In this book, Romulus is on a mission to save his father, Balthazar Crankshaft, after he and a number of other clan leaders had been kidnapped by the Founders Clan. The Founders are the most mysterious clan of the lot. They don’t really deal or trade with anyone. They’re entirely self contained. So why they kidnapped these other clan leaders is uncertain.
Romulus leads a suicide mission into Founders territory to get his father back with the help of almost all of his adoptive siblings. Only those who are physically unable to serve aboard a zeppelin don’t make the trip with him. Things start going wrong from the get go, naturally. There are attempted boardings by pirates, attacks by weird animals that the Martians brought with them and Romulus himself goes overboard in the territory of a rival clan.
Luckily for Romulus (or should we say deus ex machina-y), this clan’s leader was also kidnapped. They agree to return Romulus to his ship if and only if he takes a contingent of their soldiers and rescues their leader. With nothing else for it, he agrees. Once aboard, they all sneak into the mysterious City of the Founders (hence our title). It turns out that his adoptive sister and chief engineer (whose name I’m blanking on) escaped from the city when she was very young and knows how to get in and out.
And because I’m in book two, naturally they make it through this harrowing and mysterious city, find their quarries and escape, though not entirely unharmed. We also learn that the Founders are up to something and are, most likely, trying to get the clans to fight amongst themselves.
I found this book to be a bit Scooby-Doo-y and full of tropes. All the women are in love with Romulus, the dashing airship captain. He, of course, is just too enamored of his ship to bother trying to marry though he does have a series of one night stands. He’s unnecessarily reckless and hot-headed and people are all like ‘oh that’s okay’ because he’s the clan golden boy. Its a bit ridiculous. Romulus has a mysterious background and a missing (presumed dead at this point) sister.
The Founders have mysterious and advanced weapons that no one else has access to or have even seen and yet our heroes get away and with relatively few and minor injuries. The important people all survive, Romulus is the hero of the hour and Crankshafts have two new allies from the rescued clan leaders they helped escape.
This book had so much potential that I was rather disappointed there wasn’t more world building. What was it in those Martian obelisks that disrupted electricity and continues to do so? Why does tea exist but not coffee? The both come from the same parts of the world. One would presume that if tea plants survived, coffee plants also survived. Why did the Martians come to Earth in the first place? Why did they bring these weird alien creatures with them? Is that what ended the world? There are so, so many questions and not enough answers. There aren’t really enough hints to let the reader do their own world building.
I’m honestly not sure why I’m even bothering with the second book other than the fact that it was cheap (I think it was one of those 2 dollar Kindle sales days) and that I hate to leave books unfinished once I’ve started them. I suppose I hope that it’ll get better but it doesn’t really seem like it. This book was an easy read but I found myself skimming at some parts because what the author chose to go into detail with wasn’t really what needed detail. All in all I’d say if you’re looking for something to kill time, pick this up, but if you’re looking for something good, give it a miss. Rating: D+/C-