Very recently I finished reading Railroad! Volume One by Tonia Brown.
It is a delightful mix of Weird West and Steampunk, bringing some very fun stuff to the table that I haven't seen done elsewhere as of yet. I'll try to avoid spoilers and simply touch on the basics, which I feel are quite solid.
Let's start with the characters. Just about every one of them pops. I am easily able to attach names to characters, which is something I actually struggle with. For some reason I just really have a problem attaching names to characters in most books I read. It's rarely the fault of the author, but I often find myself halfway through a book and wondering "Who is this person again?" I don't have that problem with this book, so it's safe to say that Tonia has character representation down! Many of the characters are archetypes, but they are executed very well, so I have no problem with that.
The character that stands out most to me is a rather emaciated fellow by the name of Ched, who I won't say much about for fear of spoilers, but he really sticks out. Every character feels like they have a history together even though we aren't told about it, which helps them feel more natural and organic.
My only complaint is that the main character, Dodger, clearly has a shady past but it is laid down a bit too thickly in places. Just mentioned a bit too often is all.
Now for the techy bits! This is where I really started nerding out and salivating. We get to see some darned fun inventions that are very well thought out and interesting. Often I see it said that authors shouldn't do too much explaining on technology in their books, as it can be boring. Well screw that, here it's oodles of fun! I'm going to read and write about strange tech and like it! Take that snooty naysayers! Hahahaha!
I'm sorry, where was I? Oh, right! Tech. Let's start with the loco, named Sleipnir after the mythological Norse horse who had eight legs, which seems quite fitting. The engine and cars each have one letter of the name across it as a nice touch, but this is no ordinary train, no sir! This one works without rails!
Yeah, I know that sounds like a plane that flies without wheels or a boat that floats without a keel, but hear me out! I myself was wondering about the idea of a locomotive working without rails, and by golly the author makes a darned convincing case in this story! It lays down its own tracks that work very much like treads on a tank or bulldozer that run down the length of the train. The thing is even able to turn, which is right dandy! We even get to see some other nifty little innovations on the loco that the owner, Professor Dittmeyer, has invented and stuck on. If you find that boring, then the door is out to your left.
We only get to see a few of the cars following the engine, but they certainly have an air of mystery about them. I wanna hop on board to see what's inside! I wanna see more of the cool gadgets dangit!
Ahem. There are other cool gizmos such as some sets of special goggles that I thought were most amusing and a few other things, but one other thing in particular really caught my eye. The guns! The author really did her research to come up with something extremely innovative and cool yet at the same time realistic and practical. Nine-shooter revolvers!
Sit back down, I wasn't finished. The twin revolvers have three barrels and nine chambers in the cylinder in a pattern that lets each pull of the trigger fire three bullets. So you've got three shots before you're empty, but heaven help whoever is in front of it when it goes off! They even come with custom speed loaders! If that weren't awesome enough, they are master crafted and are described with such passionate detail that I almost started drooling on my Kindle screen. A casual observer of firearms can tell they are above average. To a gun nut like me I began coveting the imaginary weapons!
|It looks a lot like this. Except more practical. And prettier. And not so... so... French.|
I really have to tip my hat to Mrs. Brown here. She does an amazing job conveying the tech and weapons. She even gets the recoil down pretty well! And it's mentioned that there are other goodies tucked away or new things that will be invented. Gosh that gets me excited!
Okay, I'd best move on or I'm likely to dehydrate from salivating over the fun inventions. Pardon me.
I hesitate to even mention the enemies that we encounter in this first book, but suffice it to say that even I was taken aback by who and what they turned out to be like! And I'm one of those losers who has watched the crap out of The X-Files, Kolchak and more pulp than is healthy for someone my age. And these guys seem to only be the tip of the iceberg!
I also feel it necessary to mention that the dialogue while sometimes drawn out too much, is pretty good. But what really stuck out to me was what was given to Ched. Seemingly suffering from lockjaw, not spoiling anything, he has to speak through clenched teeth and the author conveys his impediment flawlessly. Folks, doing dialogue like that without making it indecipherable jibberish that you just end up skipping is extremely hard. Not only did I understand everything he said without trouble though, but it actually added more flavor to his character! This is a darned good indicator of the writer's skill.
The plot itself isn't necessarily anything mind blowing, but that's perfectly fine. It's a bit slow, but it's more about introducing the characters and getting the series rolling. Think of it as a pilot episode for a TV show. I have very few complaints, but have a bit of constructive criticism. Some of the dialogue and interactions drag on a bit too long and coming to the point of some issues become a bit of a slog. I wasn't really tempted to skip, but I did feel inclined to smack someone to pick up on the obvious and just get to the point. Some of these could have been streamlined a bit, but they are by no means deal breakers.
I apologize if I seem vague on many points, but I only do that when I don't want to spoil a good read. I'm one of those kids who didn't want to peek at presents before Christmas. The anticipation is all part of the fun!
Overall, I recommend it to anyone interested in Weird West or Steampunk. It's a fun, imaginative and well written story that promises to only get more interesting with time. It is most certainly worth the money if you are into either genre. You can bet that I myself will be spending a bit of money getting the other books!
If you're interested you can find it right here: http://www.amazon.com/Railroad-Volume-One-steampunk-western-ebook/dp/B0059HC0IO/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406402033&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=weird+west+railroad
You can read up for more info on Tonia Brown's blog here: http://steampunktrain.blogspot.com/