Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: The Wrath of Fate, by Robert Brown

Robert Brown - aka "Captain Robert" - has been at the helm of the band Abney Park for over a decade. As one of the prototypical Steampunk bands, Abney Park has released three albums (Lost Horizons, Aether Shanties, The End of Days) chronicling the band's adventures on the airship Ophelia. The songs often describe a post-apocolyptic society, filled with airship pirates, bedouins, and clockwork devices, many times with clever wordplay.

Now the good Captain has written a book, The Wrath of Fate - the title comes from an Abney Park song, naturally - that weaves together the narrative of the songs into the story of how an early 21st century band found themselves working as airship pirates in a shadowy future time. The struggling band, in a small aircraft on the way to a concert, collides with the Ophelia, which has traveled from 1903 to the present day. After receiving a message from Captain Robert's younger self admonishing him not to lead a dreary existence, the Captain decides to stay aboard the ship and travel through time, intervening in historical events to help the underdogs, first in India during Robert Clive's mission to subdue the natives, then during the Atlantic slave trade. Of course, as any reader of science fiction knows, messing with time tends to lead to unforeseen but typically unfortunate consequences. So it was with the Ophelia.

I don't want to give away too many plot spoilers, so I'll end my summary there. In any event, this is not a plot-driven book. It's a breezy read, a few hours spent with your favorite Steampunk family jumping from one adventure to the next. The book is filled with clever touches - the elites in the post-apocolyptic society are known as "Victorians," but named not after good Queen Vicky but after the totalitarian King Victor. (Captain Robert once complained on Twitter that he never understood fans writing to him in faux-Victorian language, as his band's backstory was clearly not set in the 19th century.)*

For a book that was inspired by song lyrics, the novel is remarkably cohesive. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that one theme of the novel is that interfering with time leads to unforeseen (and generally unpleasant) consequences. Another lesson - one that Star Trek's Captain Kirk had trouble remembering - is that interfering with the natural order of mankind also has unforeseen consequences. Gentlemen, there's a reason for the Prime Directive.

The book is written in a breezy style that is perfect for bedtime reading - except that I felt compelled to keep turning the pages long after I should have turned in. And if any Abney Park fans wondered what those songs were about…well, now they have one explanation.


*On a less happy note, the reader also has to contend with Captain Robert's casual attitude toward spelling. The world of self-publishing has many advantages over the traditional publishing model, but the lack of copy editors is not one of them. My suggestion for the next book: ask a Steampunk-loving, anal-retentive grammar nerd (not a null set) to do a copy edit for free. Yes, I'm volunteering.


Bookworm Hienrichs said...

Re: Spelling and grammar--uff da. That's just what I was afraid of. I don't know if my inner grammarian could take it. *wry grin*

Rhianon Jameson said...

If it helps, the book is edited much better than the Captain's twitter stream and newsletters.

I find it fascinating that so many in the Steamlands are fastidious about spelling and grammar. Perhaps it's just that so many writers are drawn to RP areas in general and Steampunk in particular. In any event, it's a pleasant oasis in an increasingly grammar-challenged world!