This Strange Engine by Philip Ligon [Silver Empire affiliate link] feels very much like a well-fleshed out D&D setting with an approximately Victorian technology level. Which I very much mean as a compliment. I could see a very interesting campaign set in Campden, the town where technology and magic meet. There are warring thieves guilds, factional and class politics, and many many mysteries. You might even call it a steampunk fantasy.
For me, the setting is the star of the show. Since Victorian England is such well-trodden ground in English fiction, Ligon can spend most of his time describing how it is different, and relying on background information to provide a framework. In Campden, magic is both the source of their wealth, and their problems. Magic addiction is a far bigger problem than gin, and the local duke spends a fair bit of time policing the refugees that come through the magical gateway, ensuring things don’t get out of hand. While the setting is clearly based on the England we all know and love, the existence of magic is starting to shift society in new and strange directions.
My primary complaint about the book is that its protagonist, Alexander Asherton, is a miserable waste of flesh. I spent a large part of the book wishing that someone would finally follow through on their threats to kill him, so he would shut up about his ex-wife. By which I do not mean that he isn’t interesting or well-characterized. I’ve known men just like him, even at some periods been like him myself, so utterly whipped by his ex-wife that he spiraled into depression and [magical] substance abuse when she left him.
The way in which his shallow self-righteousness curdles into maudlin and utterly blind self-pity is done just so. I simply do not like him, which is the same reaction the vast majority of the other characters in the book have too. That Ash has any friends at all is a testament to the irrationality of friendship. Their loyalty, however, is touching. The man has better friends than he deserves.
I definitely wanted to see what happened next, despite my antipathy to Ash. I am certainly intrigued by the world Ligon has created. Your experience with the book, like mine, may be somewhat conditional on how insufferable you find the protagonist.
I received this book from the publisher for free. Silver Empire books are available directly through the publisher, so I have linked to their online store.
Silver Empire also features a book club [Silver Empire affiliate link], with monthly and annual plans, that allows one book each month. You can sign up for different tiers, ebook, paperback, or hardcover, but since it is all in credits, you can convert from one to another format easily. The ebook plan comes out to $4 USD for a book every month, which is a great price.
This Strange Engine [Amazon affiliate link]
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