I normally wouldn’t go near wacky with a ten-foot pole. But occasionally, those gambles pay off.
Jack Fletcher always seems to land in situations. He didn’t actually hijack a whaling ship in Alaska, and he didn’t actually save his boss from being sacrificed on a Mayan altar, but no one believes that he’s just a victim of circumstances. Fate, however, throws him a circumstance he would never have imagined: A workplace accident zaps him and his sister into an alternate reality.
Welcome to the year 2010, steampunk style. The British have swallowed all of Europe, North America is one giant country, and the Asian Moghuls are encroaching on Constantinople’s doorstep. People dress like the late Victorians and fly around in airships, and everything is powered by steam or aether (aka an alternate form of nuclear fission). Within this world, when two strangers with weird accents appear on Captain Octavia Pye’s airship, she’s understandably perturbed. She decides to trust them only insofar as dropping them off in Rome, but all bets are off when her attraction to Jack rockets away and Jack’s sister is kidnapped.
There’s a lot to like about Steamed, and it comes down to the fact that it’s well balanced. Ms. MacAlister certainly fills the pages with enough examples of what is presumably her particular brand of wackiness, and it won’t be for everyone. I’m a little surprised that I find it hilarious that two people get arrested by the palace guards because they’re too busy bonking in a secret corridor to hear anyone coming – but that’s what I mean. The book is wacky Sandra Bullock sitcom that works only because it’s counterweighted with a solid portion of grit. Ms. MacAlister’s alternate world isn’t innovative or thought-provoking, but it is rich and detailed enough to merit a recommendation.
The other thing the book has going for it is sound, if unimaginative, characterization. Jack and Octavia are strong, independent, and mutually complementary. Both are clear products of their worlds. Jack, a computer nerd who goes to punk band concerts, enjoys life with a goofy streak two miles wide, and doesn’t take himself seriously; Octavia is a bit tighter, rather single-minded, but quite lovable.
My greatest criticism might be seen by some to be one of the book’s greatest strengths. Wackiness has its place, but at times characterization and depth are overrun in favour of a titter (if there’s a story about Jack’s sister I’m not reading it, because she is dumb and a half). Still, I can heartily say that the action is rocking, the romance is believable, the story is fun, and the setting pretty awesome. No worries there, mate.