A guest review by Sirius
Summary: Early reveal of the villain made this story a very frustrating read for me.
Crimean war veteran-turned-newspaper editor Gareth Charles finds himself embroiled in the blackest side of the new Reform government when he investigates a string of arsons in the snowbound colonial outpost of New Eddington. After saving Firewalker Thomas Cole from the latest blaze, the two men find themselves in possession of a deadly secret — and falling in love. Fugitives from justice, they must unravel the terrifying mystery before there’s no New Eddington left to save.
As the firebug’s evil plan comes to fruition, the two veterans realize the only things worth saving might just be each other.
Before I continue I have to warn you guys, if you want to actually read this story as some sort of mystery, do NOT, I repeat, do NOT read the prologue. Skip it instead, because very soon you will realize that prologue actually reveals the villain of the story. I reread this story twice and I still do not understand this artistic choice by the author. Granted, I have read stories before, which supposedly had mystery plot or subplot where villain was revealed early enough, however those stories placed more emphasis on the character development and not on the plot, so at least these revelations early on made some sense to me because who villain actually was did not matter much, the reactions of other characters mattered significantly more. In this story our two heroes actually investigate in the story, trying to find who the villain is and it felt all very plot based, so I was scratching my head and wondering what was the point?
This is steampunk, thus we are in the world where the history went in alternate way from our world. The action is happening in the British Colonies, which I am guessing never became or had not became yet the United States. I am really not sure what year it is, but we are in the city New Eddington. I am guessing that it is nineteenth century, but I am not sure. In fact I wished for the setting to be more detailed, because overall it was just confusing and a little bit annoying to me. I love exploring alternate history scenarios, and here the author hints at something but never dives too deep if that makes sense. For example we are told that our two protagonists served in the Crimea War, which was horrible, really horrible, but we are never told who was the other party in the war.
One of the guys is Garreth Charles, journalist and newspaper owner and veteran of that mysterious Crimea war. He is shown to come to play cards at the countess’ house and here he meets Thomas Cole, whose luck at the tables is not nearly as good as Garreth’s. Garreth recognizes a fellow veteran, feels kingship for him and in two days he falls in love and thinks that he wants to spend his life with Cole. Do not get me wrong, this is actually far from being the worst of Insta!Love scenarios I have encountered before. In fact it totally made sense to me that two veterans would feel an immediate pull to each other. I would have even been okay with the Insta!Lust, but two days and you think you want the other guy to stay with you for the rest of your life?
There are fires in the city and city is attempting to stop them with the firewalkers who are sitting in the firebugs machines and use the foam to stop the fires, only the firebugs are not sturdy, and firewalkers have short life expectancy. Somebody tipped Garreth off about the fires, but instead of going to the government, Garreth decides to investigate on his own. He feels awfully guilty about it by the time he meets Cole, who is also incidentally a firewalker, because Garreth is not very successful with his investigations. The police inspector of New Eddington decides that Garreth should be among the suspects because he is always there when fires start, and of course when Cole gets involved, things are getting really really hot for our heroes. This story had the potential to show us a really fun alternate history setting, only I felt that settings were barely sketched. This story had the potential to be a great mystery/action/adventure, only when I was supposed to be wondering who is behind the fires, I was thinking oh wait, I already know that.
I had problems with characterizations in this one as well; for me both of the characters just were not given enough depth. Both guys are noble war veterans who have PTSD and fall in love with each other and really want to do the right thing, but that is all I learned about them. They did not feel to me like real people, they felt to me as characters in the book, if that makes sense. I could see that they are supposed to be really sympathetic and likeable human beings, but I just did not feel that these characters wanted to jump off the page. I did really like, though, that they were both in their forties, I always enjoy reading about older protagonists.
If you skip prologue, I can see how this story can be enjoyed as a pretty decent plot based action/adventure/mystery in the not very detailed AU world.