A steampunk super-hero secret society. What’s not to like about that? The Paragons are such a group. Sarah Stanton is the only child of The Industrialist, the source of much of the Paragon’s technology. As befits a 19th century young woman, her place in the Paragon society is passive one. However, her nature is to seek adventure and fight for justice.
Sarah is propelled into action when the Paragon’s leader, Sir Dennis Derby, is murdered in front of her. The Paragons close ranks and blame Tom The Automaton. Only Wickham ‘The Sleuth’ and Tom are willing to help as she sets out to who really murdered Sir Dennis. Andrew P Stanton has set up a very slick and well-imagined world. The various members of The Paragons are described nicely and stretch their stereotypical characteristics nicely. The stern German shows humour and the aloof Englishman shows a deeper caring side. This demonstrates Stanton’s nice expansion of stock steampunk staples. Realism is a difficult word to use here but, within the confines of this story, the technology is appropriate.
Many stories in this genre seem to degenerate into the supernatural. This is fine if well-handled but often feels glib and a cop-out. In this story, there are touches of many real world things such as kung fu and atomic power. The description of seemingly unshielded nuclear piles and the potential new super-heroes generated is also nicely done.
The pitch of the story is an interesting thing. The writing style at times feels somewhat young adult but, other times, feels like the framework for a graphic novel. Stanton has a background in graphic novels, so this makes sense. The novel is relatively short but there is no doubt it is meant to be the beginning of a series. I did wonder at times if it could have been fleshed out more. The falling out between Sarah and her father was too quickly built up. Stanton avoids a lot of character exposition but a few pages on each character might have been desirable. It is tough to feel much for a sketch of a person.
There was a few examples of anachronistic language creeping in. One wonders if a 19th century gentleman would have used ‘math’ for mathematics or if ‘in back’, would have been used to refer to the rear of a premises. These are not huge issues but they detracted from the enjoyment of the story.
Perhaps the biggest letdown for me was there wasn’t much actual steampunkiness. There were horse-drawn cabs but not any horseless carriages. It is mentioned in passing that the Paragons have electric light bulbs before Edison, but no cars before Daimler.
The world feels pretty unchanged to our own. Despite there being nuclear power, the lot of the average street urchin is still pretty grim. A society committed to protecting the inhabitants of New York, they seem somewhat indifferent to their suffering. This is perhaps a conscious effort to distance the lofty Paragons from the normal world.
Overall, there is much to commend in this book. A noble heroine and her mechanical friend battling the forces of evil work well in this steampunk world. Genre fans will like it as well as fans of YA fiction. Harder SF fans will possibly feel like they could do with a bit more.
(pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books. 278 page enlarged paperback. Price: $16.00 (US). E-book: $11.99. ISBN: 978-1-61614-375-6)