The Mechanikals – John Dodds

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Edwin, an orphaned child factory worker in an alternate early 1900s England gets caught in a struggle between selkie evildoers and the Mechanikals, valiant do-gooders with odd powers. The story plays out against the growing risk of war with Germania when one of the Mechanikals takes the boy under his wing as the group fight the selkies.

I’m not really that much of a superhero guy (my wife would agree), but I like the occasional steampunk story, and ‘steampunk superheroes’ sounded interesting.

The book starts well, rapidly establishing locale, era, and a likable protagonist. There were a few typos in the early pages, but I try to be more forgiving for indie authors, and I liked the overall tone. Unfortunately, things went the wrong way. The typos multiplied and morphed into grammatical errors. The tone of the writing stayed strong, but the plot got lost along the way.

It’s one thing to miss a few typos. Everyone does, and even professionally published/edited work usually has a few. Many more than ‘a few’, though, and it starts to look like the author didn’t care enough to look for them. I’m sorry to say that this book had quite a lot – missing words, repeated words, incorrect words, incorrect grammar, you name it. There was at least one every several pages, which I count as far too many for reading pleasure, and certainly too many to suggest that the book got a thorough edit. I usually mark typos so that I can edit them out later, but here I eventually gave up and only marked the egregious ones. It was still quite a lot, and it definitely got in the way of the story. I’m not even counting the content errors – such as a dirigible’s helium tanks that are somehow at risk from flame. I put that aside as an unsignaled error by the protagonist rather than the author, but eventually (minor spoiler) the tanks explode due to their hydrogen content.

The storytelling was good, at the micro level. The writing was smooth, the environment was clear, and I cared about the characters. The main actors were decently rounded and distinguishable.

The plot was not as effective. Clearly, the author is establishing the foundation for a series in which mysteries will gradually be revealed, and adventures will occur. That can work nicely. However, in this case, far too little is revealed, resulting in a bewildering mish-mash of actions not linked by cause and effect. We know broadly where the story is going, but the steps to get there are a frustrating act of faith on the reader’s part. Little is resolved by the end of the book. We’ve learned a little about our protagonist’s past, but other threads are spliced in and simply left hanging.

The early portions went well, but by about page 70 (of 212), I was pretty sure I’d made a mistake in reading so far. I hate to give up, but by page 130, the rest was a long trudge.

I do think there’s something here – the author has skill and vision, but I see this more as an early draft than a finished product, and I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend it.

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