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The Dragon Men by Steven Harper—with a title like that, you expect knights and dragons and damsels and magic-users. Then, you look at the cover—a guy in goggles, upside-down over a giant squid and a lighter-than-air airship. Oh! It’s steampunk! We’re going to have modern, science-fictionish inventions using Victorian technology: lots of brass and rivets. Captain Nemo’s Nautilus submarine. Post-modern Jules Verne. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Goths playing at Star Trek.
It opens with a quasi-penny-dreadful summary of The Doomsday Vault and The Impossible Cube, the previous books in the series, then throws you into a world where a contagious disease has turned millions into maimed, staggering, zombie-like creatures. A few victims get a genetic topspin that turns them into clockworkers—inventive geniuses who become fascinated by insignificant details and go into coma-like reveries….or ignore the fact that their work might destroy the universe. They go mad and die.
Unfortunately, Gavin, the love of Alice, Lady Michaels, is a clockworker with a month left to live. Alice’s blood contains a cure for the plague zombies, but not for the clockworkers. Her cure has stopped the flow of new plague-spawned inventors. They rush toward China, hoping to find a solution that will avert Gavin’s death among the Dragon Men, the honored plague geniuses of the Empire, but the borders are closed.
MEANWHILE…an honored Chinese concubine (which was a pretty good job in that culture; a high-placed favorite wielded a lot of power) and her son, the Emperor’s only male heir, try to outwit a power-mad general who wants to use China’s new superiority in crazed mechanical creation (Dragon Men are respected, not feared, and are commemorated after they die) to conquer the Western World.
The reader will find squid-men, mechanical cats, flying ships, a little bit of Shangri-La, DNA-testing metal birds, steam-powered dragons, drowned puppies, lopped-off limbs, crafty eunuchs, flying suits, young love (not for the eunuchs), Zen philosophy, and mechanical spiders.
At first, all of this stuff struck me as a bit much, over the top, and you-expect-me-to-believe-that…but it started to grow on me, sort of like the ear-burrowing devices that keep the Dragon Men from overpowering the Emperor. Not everybody likes steampunk, but it does have a Gosh-and-Golly quality that can be attractive, with dashing heroes and heroines that see a bright future in their inventions…if they don’t blow up the world.
Hey! It’s more fun than watching the news…and sometimes, more believable.
To enter to win a copy of The Dragon Men, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Dragon”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 2, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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