Monday, January 26, 2009
In Victorian London, the Whitechapel section has been cut off, enclosed by an impassable wall, and is now ruled by two mysterious mechanical gods. Mama Engine is the goddess of sentiment, a mother to her believers. Grandfather Clock represents logic and precision. A few years have passed since the Uprising, when humans fought the gold cloaks, the black cloaks, and even the vicious Boiler men, the brutal police force responsible for keeping humans in check. Today, Whitechapel is a mechanized, steam-driven hell. But a few brave veterans of the Uprising have formed a new resistance, and they are gathering for another attack. For now they have a secret weapon that may finally free them... or kill them. -Description of Whitechapel Gods, by S.M. Peters. I'm a huge fan of Steampunk, mostly because I think the clothing and tech mods are extremely cool and partially because I appreciate the Victorian aesthetic. Whitechapel Gods is everything that could go wrong with a Steampunk world. This debut novel from S.M Peters combines fantasy with science fiction to create a dark, gritty, smog filled world that is a caricature of the real Whitechapel's industrial and literary history - notable for its representation in Dickens's Pickwick Papers and as the haunt of Jack the Ripper. This novel is steeped in the socio-historical-cultural aspects of Whitechapel, with characters that are both original yet all too familiar. The denizens of this blackened London are ruled by the iron fist and burning heart of the mechanical gods, Grandfather Clock and Mama Engine. Their forces troll the streets sniffing out any dissent. This is where the fantasy plays heavily into the novel, and yet it remains largely unexplained. These are all-powerful, all-seeing gods whose worshippers give up heart and limb to become steam powered cyborgs. However, S.M. Peters neglects to fully explain where these gods came from and how they gained so much power. The powers that be outside of London have cut off Whitechapel in an effort to stem the influence of Grandfather Clock and Mama Engine, leaving thousands of people at the mercy of these ever hungry gods. I couldn't help but wonder though, if the skies are so choked with smog - where do they get food? Oliver Sumner, former leader of the failed Uprising, is desperate to redeem himself without the willingness to sacrifice any life but his own to set Whitechapel free. He is aided by a not-so-merry band of loyal followers who believe unfailingly in their guilt-ridden leader. Only one of them, Oliver's foster father, even remembers a Whitechapel that wasn't under the thumbs of totalitarian machines and most of the citizens of Whitechapel are, if not content, resigned to their fates. Aided by a schizophrenic prostitute with a dark past and hidden motives, a German hunter with his own dark secrets, and an oddly intelligent mouse - this motley band races to use a secret weapon against the gods before the thoroughly creepy John Scared can use it for his own gain or the mechanical disease known as the "clacks" turns them all into machines themselves. This book was an easy read as the plot line moved quickly. A few hiccups here and there did little to detract from the nightmarish imagining of Whitechapel. This novel is merely an extrapolation of what could have been (given the belief-suspending reality of mechanical gods) or what still could be. Rather like the Raccoon City of Resident Evil or the Scotland of Doomsday, the powers that be merely cut their losses, not so great considering the massive poverty and heavy industrialization already rampant in 19th century Whitechapel. All in all, Whitechapel Gods is a worthwhile read - particularly if you have an interest in the ever-expanding Steampunk genre. However, you may rethink a love for clocks and wood stoves after sitting under their watchful eye for a while.