A steampunk series (that’s actually dieselpunk fantasy)

For CJ’s birthday, I bought him “The Laws of Magic: Hour of Need” by Michael Pryor. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it’s the last book in the series (most writers who get past three books can’t seem to stop).

The series is about Aubrey FitzWilliam, son of the PM in an alternate reality where an evil sorceror aims to start World War 1. Aubrey is very magically gifted, brave, and loyal to his (rather excellent) parents.

First of all, the important questions when a series ends:

1. Did it really end – are all loose ends tied up as well as they should be? Yes.

2. Is it satisfying/does it have the feeling of an end? Yes.

3. Did the writer get sick of their series and rush through when they glimpsed the end of all that work? Maaaayyybe, a little. This should be the strongest (or second-strongest, after book 1), and in my opinion it’s only okay (although the series as a whole is pretty good, so that’s in context).

Backing up slightly, what do I think of the steampunk-ness of the series?

I like it. Steampunk often has a strong bent towards technology, which I tend to find a little dull compared to magic. This series has a unique and effective magic system. It’s rare when a book manages to “show, not tell” that the hero is magically gifted (because first you have to educate the reader on how it works), but these books absolutely do. It’s instantly understandable, and instantly impressive – with no list of “This is what this array of magical devices does”.

The world itself has a sense of honour and courage which I always enjoy. Plus, airships. The plots are exciting and I particularly loved a large plot about the consequences of Aubrey’s inexperience early on in the series – which continues to have an impact in the very end.

How about the characters?

I hate them. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Especially Aubrey. And his best friend (very much a “Watson” type character). Oh, and the love interest.

They’re just sooooooo, soooooooo irritating. Specifically, they’re pompous – Aubrey worst of all. (In addition to being a sexist idiot – which, given the strength of his mum and female friends, can’t be excused by the historical period.) Even the neutral narrator is pompous. The entire “voice” of the series irritates me.

It took me quite a while to get into the books, because they work really hard at being funny. I almost never like that (even Terry Pratchett, who I know intellectually is a genius, feels like an amateur to me – humour has that effect on me when it’s written down). Then I got into them, and found them funny. Then irritating again. Then mildly amusing.

CJ likes the books better than I do, but often stops dead as Aubrey does something especially stupid. He leaves it for several weeks or months, then grits his teeth and jumps back in.

I’ve read the whole series, and no-one made me do it – but I was relieved to finally be finished with it. I doubt I’ll read Michael Pryor again – but you never know.

(Next time I review a book, I’ll pick one I actually like 🙂 ).

Published by Felicity Banks

I write books (mainly adventure fantasy for kids and young adults), real-time twittertales, and a blog of Daily Awesomeness. @Louise_Curtis_ and http://twittertales.wordpress.com. My fantasy ebook is on sale at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/278981.

4 thoughts on “A steampunk series (that’s actually dieselpunk fantasy)

  1. This was a really interesting review. You learn more about a book when people say what they don’t like than what they do like. This sounds like the kind of thing I’d put down halfway through and not pick up again. I’m pretty unforgiving with my reading time.

    I really like Philip Reeve’s “Mortal Engines” series, but I couldn’t get into Larklight because of the voice. I find that with a lot of “steampunk” writing – Caitlin R. Keirnan is another one I struggle with, even though I know intellectually I should adore her books.

    I love Terry Pratchett – for him I find it’s the actual shape of the words on the page that creates the humor. They’re almost visual jokes in that sense. Have you ever read Jasper Fforde? He wrote Shades of Grey, which aside from being about colour-blindness, is probably the funniest book I’ve ever read. The climax is the punchline, and I had to walk around the house with my mouth zipped for three weeks while CDH read it so I wouldn’t tell him what it was.

    1. Steff: Hah! I LOVE “Larklight”, can’t re-read “Mortal Engines” (too dark for me), and was meh about “Shades of Grey” (preferred Fforde’s earlier work).

  2. I like them a bit better than you, as you know. I’m completely aware that Aubrey’s a pompous ass. It’s “his one flaw”, which is a pretty typical one for this sort of work. It does make sense to me, however, that he would come across that way – he’s not sexist so much as overpriveliged and completely and utterly self-centred and everything stems from that, which results in everything that happens with his love interest. That bit is kind of painful to read, yes.

    1. W: One of the annoying things about Aubrey is he was still pointless now, in book 5. He was self-aware about it, but still.

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