I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher.
Gideon Smith, a trawlerman’s son, has grown up with the tales of Captain Lucian Trigger almost since he could read. So when his father’s boat is found abandoned one morning, Smith sets out to find the Hero of the Empire to help him get revenge on his father’s killers. But David Barnett doesn’t make things easy for his hero in Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl.
Before Gideon makes it out of Sandsend, another abandoned ship arrives from Varna. (If you’ve read Dracula, this should sound familiar.) Mysterious mummified frogmen show up. Bram Stoker arrives in nearby Whitby looking for inspiration and runs into the Elizabeth Bathory, widow of the late Count Dracula. When Gideon actually gets out of town, he helps a mechanical girl escape from the laboratory of a man who appears to be Albert Einstein’s father. There are references to Frankenstein, the Sherlock Holmes stories, and an archaeologist named Jones. (Jones is considered to be a hack by the other treasure hunters in the book.)
I was enjoying the pastiche that Barnett set up, giggling over the many literary references I ran across. I wasn’t expecting the book to be anything better than a clever alternate history/steampunk/metafictional mashup. But Barnett surprised me. As Gideon travels to London, then Egypt, on his quest for revenge, there are interesting meditations on what it means to be a real hero, what bravery is, and how to love someone unexpected. Instead of feeling piecemeal, Barnett’s alternate British Empire lives and breathes. I had a great time reading this book, and I marveled at the ending. Barnett weaves all the various mysteries and impossibilities to create an ending that actually satisfies as well as sets you up for the next Gideon Smith adventure.