Saturday, March 20, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Whitechapel Gods by S. M. Peters

Whitechapel Gods by S. M. Peters
ISBN: 978-0-451-46193-3


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.


My Thoughts:

More steampunk, more wonderful Victorian fun, but no zombies in this one. The mechanical creations were, I have to admit, almost better than zombies, because they were at least sort of sentient. Or maybe sentient is the wrong word – most of them didn’t feel pain and didn’t have much of what we would call willpower, but they weren’t falling to little pieces and rotting away the way zombies do.

I really enjoyed the plot; the two gods were well-portrayed and appropriately powerful. I really liked the yin-yang balance struck between the two and the way that people were caught in-between. And yet, the two gods didn’t really have a proper relationship either. They were each other’s opposite but did not really communicate with each other. It was a very interesting mythology, if you ask me.

And what about the characters? They were okay – the only female character didn’t really do a whole lot for me, since she was a little unhinged and nothing more than a pawn in some instances. She was almost likeable, but then fell just short of actually being likeable (I mean as an example of a strong woman, you must remember that I’m a feminist above all things). The other characters were all intriguing individuals with quirks and flaws. None of them were one-dimensional although I might not go so far as to say that they were all three-dimensional. At any rate, aside from the singular female character I didn't feel like the characters needed to be more nuanced. Ultimately, I think I may have liked the villains best – and I’m not sure I know why. I guess the vehemence of their convictions and the depravity of their spirits was more interesting to me than the more righteous motivations of the heroes. I was never much for heroes anyway, at least with a villain you know you’re likely to be sacrificed along the way; heroes insist that everything is going to work out fine regardless of the odds and they’re all too often wrong. Anyway, that’s nearly off-topic, though it does speak an underlying theme of this novel, since there are some clear villains and heroes with all of the traits associated with the two archetypes.

Something that sort of bothered me (and you knew that I had to come up with something to complain about) was that there is no perspective from outside Whitechapel. I think that having a character that was not inside the hell created by the two warring machine gods would have added a certain amount of depth to the book. The story works without this added point of view, but personally, I would have preferred to have a different setting in order to appreciate the isolation and devastation of Whitechapel a little more. It’s easier to see something as horrible if you have something less horrible to compare it to, although you might argue that our imaginations are meant to supply the comparison. However, I think that when you're creating a world so different from our own there is a certain need to supply as much assistance as possible to help the reader along. Immersion in the alternate universe would have been more complete for me if I had seen Whitechapel from the outside as well as from the inside.

The last thing I want to say has less to do with this novel specifically and is more a touch of concern about the steampunk genre. Having read all of two steampunk novels I begin to wonder how much mileage these plots about steam-powered machines and strange alternate histories have in the greater scheme of things. How many different ways can you sell me the same ideas? It’s likely that my worry is groundless – I mean, Whitechapel Gods is very different from Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker – and yet there is a nagging little voice in the back of my head warning me that I may just end up reading the same thing over and over if I stick with steampunk. I know what you're thinking "But don't you read plenty of other genre books that are just repeats of similar ideas and tropes?" And you would be right to question me on this basis. Perhaps I'm just wary of fully committing myself to jumping onto the steampunk bandwagon. I guess the only way to find out is to read more. I’ll keep you posted on the status of my ponderings on steampunk as time goes by.

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