Beyond the Cogs: A Steampunk Anthology

2 Stars

Anthologies are always difficult to review because you have to review every story. Thankfully in this one there weren’t too many. Only three and they were more short story length so you could really sink your teeth into them. In theory, they all should have been the perfect length for what they accomplished but the second story still managed to leave an unfinished feeling. Overall, the only story I loved, and I mean really loved was the first one. So this book sits comfortably at about 2 stars for me.

The first story, the soulless ones, was nothing short of brilliant. I mean the pacing was right. The world was described well. The way the plot unveiled and who the villains actually turned out to be. All of it made good sense. The ending even rounded it out in a nice way that lent itself towards a series while also being complete enough that if that never happens it’s okay. Even the tiny bit of love angle was fun and did not detract or take over the main plot of the story. Honestly, after reading this, I was so psyched for this story but it all slowly went downhill after that. Or quickly as there are only two more stories after this.

The second story started off well. Good action tension and you could feel the desperation of the main character. This one had a lot of potential but after that first scene it sorta just slid down for me. Firstly, power orbs that are essentially weapons were interesting. It was also fun to see them in action, but what are they really. Why is the main character stealing them? Where is he actually from, he apparently has a foreign accent. Just so many questions. Then the plot got weird from there. After being picked up by a cab, someone else joins in who works for the government and is explaining how some of the stolen orbs over the years held such power not even she dared say how destructive they could be, and it reads like the main character is thinking about the thief in his own mind like it isn’t him. It was so bad for a moment I legit thought this heist was his first and he was wondering who this other guy was. But nope. It was him.

Then, how did she know who he was? As far as I could tell the people chasing him didn’t see him and they had no evidence of him from the bigger heist she’s explaining. Like any taxi could’ve picked her up. What are the odds she hails down that one and, if she knew who she was, why is she talking about him like she doesn’t then suddenly she just knows? And, then the whole the soldiers were going to just ignore her for advancement. Why? Generally in stories, this only happens if she was a horrible person and they had reason to take this opportunity but as this was a short story there wasn’t any real reason why they wouldn’t help her bring the villain in mentioned.

The explanation about not knowing what the orbs can really do and coming from a place where there are no orbs was okay, but if he had been stealing them for as long as this story implies how could he not know their power, and where is this world that none of the other characters knows about? Why isn’t this explained deeper? That is the main characters motivation and we never get a glimpse into this world. The book just ends with them going to it, thus leaving the biggest unanswered question about his origins unanswered.

This story was all about the action, and it was great action for that matter, but it was definitely all show and no tell. Like it was the first few chapters of a much much bigger book and not a complete short story amongst other short stories. I couldn’t connect to it because there wasn’t enough about the main character described to understand him, couldn’t get involved in how things panned out for the government worker because I didn’t know anything about her either to justify it, and then the whole reason for stealing the orb in the first place never happens. A portal opens and the story is over. Basically, this story just didn’t offer anything beyond the action and chase to grab onto.

The last story, a romance, was just too predictable. The author set up this world with a disease that affects humans and talks about pure breeding to avoid it. How it is encouraged to marry into your station and not below. So, when the son of someone in high society falls in love with someone who is afflicted with the virus you know what’s going to happen. It’s about how it happens and the deeper you got into this the less you could feel for the guy. He knew what might happen, knew she could die at any moment, and didn’t bother at all to face this fact. Then, after being the subject of abuse, turns into a raving murderous lunatic when what he knew would happen, happened.

The whole son turning into his father that he hates plot accept here it was just hard to sympathise with him when it was clear that this was a possibility. And, as a botanist, he could’ve still shunned his father and devoted his life to finding a herbal cure instead of becoming a mad man bent on recreating a human droid, with a soul of its own. I skimmed through most of this because the clear and obvious emphasis placed on how deeply in love with her he was and how much he hated his parents could only lead to one conclusion. A young man doing something stupid for love. Instead of feeling a connection, my only thought was ‘so you’re going to become a murderer for something you knew for years could happen at any moment?’

Overall, the writing for all the stories was great. Excellent even. The problem with the second two was what the plot itself offered up. The second didn’t answer much. It gave amazing fight sequences and good pacing but not enough about the actual players to understand why they did what they did and why the things that happened to them happened. The third upselled the love angle and hate for parents so much to sell the ending without considering readers might already see it coming. The set-up of the virus was so perfectly executed the moment we find out about the love connection there was only one way this could go. How the MC responded to that was what would make or break the book and, as I said, the further in you got the more obvious the route it would take became.

The first story, however, is all sorts of awesome. It plays in the steampunk realm of the collection nicely. Brings something fresh, if not new, into it with a splash of fantasy and manages to weave details of the main character into the plot by directly relating backstory to present-day events so it didn’t slow down by going backwards. The plot progression was basically everything I expect from a short story with a perfectly tied up ending with that lingering bit of there could be more there to entice us without a feeling of the story being unfinished. To be fair the third one did this well too but the direction it ultimately went took away from this.

Steampunk is so much fun, and I went into this with high hopes, and even higher ones after the first short, but ultimately this one just didn’t do it for me.

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