The Transference Engine by Julia Verne St. John
Published by DAW
Publication Date : July 5th, 2016
Available as eBook – 320 Pages
Source : NetGalley (Thank you!) and Purchased
A fantastical steampunk novel of magic and machines set in an alternate 1830s London.
Madame Magdala has settled comfortably into her new life in London, as the proprietress of the Book View Café, a coffee shop and extensive library. Her silent partner is Ada Lovelace, who will one day become the world’s first computer programmer—but who now is simply the young woman for whom Madame Magdala was a nursery maid.
Ten years ago, Ada’s father, Lord Bryon, was known as a great writer. But few knew of his powers as a necromancer. Upon his death, his devoted followers tried to repair the Transference Engine—a device that would allow Byron’s soul to claim the body of its choice. Magadala, along with Mary Godwin—a.k.a. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley—had to stop them.
While the original Transference Engine was destroyed, they were unsure whether they truly stopped Bryon and his followers. Together, they fled to safety in London, and built new futures for themselves.
Now, Magdala and Mary care for the Book View Café’s community, leading fashion, following gossip, and reading the latest periodicals. But when members of the café’s community mysteriously disappear, and rumors of a threat of royal assassinaton grow, Magdala finds herself with new mysteries to solve. The more she learns, the clearer it becomes that this is the same mystery returned—the Transference Engine is back with a vengeance.
Necromancy and Steampunk. Two things I’m always willing to give a try. Naturally this, back when I saw the cover revealed on (I think it was Bibliosanctum), was one of my most anticipated reads for this year. Not only did I get a digital ARC but I did in fact buy a physical copy of the book. I was stoked!
The book was interesting – but not as mind blowing as I had hoped unfortunately. It had a few things going for it and few things batting against it. The good things were the ideas and the settings, again I have to state Necromancy and Steampunk. Great ideas and the actual premise of this sounded super promising. The bits that dealt with Byron and Ada, spoke about them at length, those were some of my favorite parts.
The world in this one was also interesting to me. She built what could be a pretty typical steampunk London but I give her kudos – she made it seem very gritty and dirty. The idea of the coal being burnt for the steam to power everything made the city very dirty, something she conveyed well. I always love a good cost to an exotic setting.
Where it stumbled for me was in the pacing and characters. The pacing was odd, slightly slow at first building to a breakneck pace at the end. The constant and weirdly spaced flashbacks really did not add a lot to the story – confusing me at times. Every time we had one I had to reread the beginning to be sure we weren’t in the book’s present but the past. Also, I felt like I was reading a sequel, and I was! I had to look at other reviews and research but most of the grand escapades referenced (constantly) by our heroine are in a collection of short stories. I wish I’d known that going in.
Probably due to the pacing I couldn’t get attached to the characters. I found it hard to enjoy our main narrative because of the almost infallibility of the main character. This could entirely be because I didn’t get to read those short stories but she always seemed to know what to do and when, no problems. Other characters came and went at her disposal, an awkward and hazy after sex scene accompanying many out the door. I didn’t get to enjoy those characters – again because of the strange over-familiarity that never introduced me to them.
I wish, ultimately, that someone had told me this was a sequel of sorts. Was it the fault of the publisher for leaving that very important information out or is digging up that collection (which, may I add is under another name of the author’s) on the reader’s head? Remains to be seen. I think I’ll give the collection a shot then perhaps return to this one for another try. It definitely has some first book syndromes that could be solved with time, but I’m hoping the short stories could clear up the bigger issues I had.
I can’t recommend this knowing the stories are needed – but if you’ve read those, give this a shot! Maybe tell me if it helps?