Romulus Buckle’s life would be any adrenaline junky’s dream except his adventures aren’t about getting his kicks (that’s a by-product). He is moved by loyalty, family and yes, a serious sense of adventure. Richard Ellis Preston Jr.’s second book in the Pneumatic Zeppelin Chronicles, Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War, continues the saga of Romulus through the challenges of facing off against the Founders, this time, with a little help from some new friends.
Before I really dive in, I will warn you that you really want to read this series in order. While you could follow the plot starting with book 2, you would have a tougher time following the relationships. You have clans broken along lines of primary work such as the Steamweavers or Brineboilers or culture such as Spartak (Russian) or Imperials (Prussian/German) or some of both such as Gallowglass (Irish). Relationships are mainly within clans. Romulus’s dad, Balthazar, had adopted wayward children during his many adventures, so he has children from many backgrounds including those from Founders & Spartak to half-Martians in his family. You would think this would be a recipe for in-fighting and jockeying for position within the family. Instead, because of Balthazar, it leads to closeness and loyalty.
If you’re looking for subtly, don’t go hanging out with Romulus Buckle. He’s a bit larger than life, his adventures are action-packed and his loyalties are (fairly) straight-forward. Mr. Preston continues his fine, swashbuckling tradition from the first in the series, Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders, about which more here. However, the relationships become more complicated and new revelations and hints of revelations put a new twist on things. In fact, in some ways, Mr. Preston is the Fred Astaire (for us old-timers) or Apple of simplicity. His characters seem simple; good guys are good and bad guys are bad. The humor and difficulties are rather large brush affairs and yet he weaves together this rich world with complex ties between clans, a complex family in the leader of the Crankshafts and a number of lurking mysteries behind the Founders and their aggression. Sabrina Sarafim’s history along with Romulus’s added to the mix only spice things up more. He brings this all together so smoothly that it hides the complexity. Each act, each scene and each dialog are simple enough but with it all, he weaves a more complex cloth.
Why did I love reading this book?
- Big damn heroes: I like conflicted heroes from time to time, but I also like straight-forward, genuine heroes and you’ll find some in these pages. This comes out best in a moment when Romulus risks his life to help save an enemy, but it is played out again and again.
- Great characters: Ivan isn’t “deep”, but man, he’s a fun character. Even the robots have character; witness our dear Penny Dreadful.
- Cool world: Some folks have fussed that this isn’t “steam-punk enough”. Um, how much of that genre have they read? It’s a pretty diverse pool. I suspect that they would have to say K. W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices wasn’t very steampunky either (he coined the term steampunk). I don’t care how you categorize it, it’s a fascinating world with Zeppelins, lots of steam technology, sabertooths and Martians. The battle scenes rock; it’s part Master and Commander and part Red Baron.
- Rock-a-lockin’ Names: Speaking of Penny Dreadful, you’ve got to love these names. Balthazar Crankshaft, Andromeda Pollux, Katzenjammer Smelt and, of course, Penny.
What am I less than fond of?
It took me too long to get to the second book and the third book isn’t out yet.
Luke Daniels did an admirable job narrating the audio-book (I went back and forth between my Kindle and the Audible versions). Mr. Daniel’s characterizations are terrific; he’s, in turns, big and booming, snooty or a weazened old-timer when he called upon. I hope he continues narrating the series.
So, if you want some over-the-top fun coupled with an intriguing plot, well-developed world and, yes, Zeppelins, this is the book for you (presuming you read the first – if not, that’s the book for you).
Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War @ Amazon