Format: oversized paperback, first edition, 2013
Reading Time: about 7 hours
I had mixed feelings about reading and reviewing this book. On one hand, I really enjoyed the first two books in the Age of Steam series. On the other hand, it’s looking like the series is done, since it is now 2018 and it’s going on 5 years since a fourth book could have been written but hasn’t. That’s unfortunate, because Monk had planned the series to run for about 7 books, so the end of this book right now is literally The End, and does not resolve the rest of the story that would have continued in the last 4 books. So with a heavy heart, I’ll proceed with this review. Minor spoilers lie ahead.
Monk’s prose continues to be wonderful, and the dialog is snappy and often witty. I chuckled a few times, although there were no laugh-out-loud moments. The characters remain fairly consistent in their mannerisms and actions. The whole cast is back from the previous book: Cedar, Wil, Mae, Rose, Hink, and the Madder brothers, and some new characters are introduced: the mysterious Mr. Wicks, how has a tendency to keep popping up; Father Kyne, a native American preacher who has a hold over the Madders; and Mayor Vosbrough, who seems to be up to no good. The story is told from Cedar’s and Rose’s perspectives as each chapter alternates between the two. Cedar is with Mae and the Madders as they search for the holder; Rose is still in the coven as repairs are being made to the airship from the last book, Tin Swift. Towards the end there are a few chapters from Hink’s perspective. Wil gets more time in human form, and although I like his character in wolf form, it is still a welcome change.
Unfortunately, there are several problems with the story. Nothing really happens until about 150 pages in. The story is not necessarily bad…it just moves at a glacial pace as characters move around and try to solve mysteries. Part of the problem, which is true for any story that uses alternating viewpoints, is that if you find one viewpoint more interesting than the other, you must struggle through one you like like to get to the one you like more. For me, I wanted to follow Cedar’s viewpoint, which I found far more interesting. Trying to track down the holder, Father Kyne’s hold over the Madders, the Madders’ history in Des Moines and with Vosbrough, Cedar’s curse…these are all very compelling plot points. Rose’s story, on the other hand, deals with jealousy and her relationship with Hink, a train ride, and the introduction of Wicks. It is thoroughly, totally uninteresting. Wicks himself is the most ho-hum character Monk has created. At first he is in the story as jealous tension, then he pops up at various places without any explanation as to how or why he is there. He’s mostly useless and annoying, and totally unnecessary to the plot.
Spoiler alert – skip to the next paragraph if necessary. Another problem is that with the glacial pace through most of the book, the last 40 pages seemed rushed and a bit scattered, almost as if Monk wasn’t sure about which way to take the story. The finale with Vosbrough is very anti-climactic and underwhelming. Cedar should be dead but inexplicably soldiers on, impossible to kill, robbing the story of tension (the same complaint I had with Tin Swift). Some plot points are never explained fully: how were the children taken? Why did their tracks end at the river, but they weren’t found at the river? Why did the Strange bite Cedar on the shoulder in his dream, and why did it keep bothering him when he wasn’t dreaming? Why did the Strange guide him to Vosbrough’s generator instead of to the place where its brethren were being held? If the Strange can enter dead bodies anytime, why don’t they do this to free their trapped brethren? What was the power plant used for? Why did Cedar have memories of Vosbrough that were vague and incoherent? Why was Cedar slow to heal even before his transference with Father Kyne? What is the significance of a cold copper triangle Cedar found and put in his pocket? Why did the Strange attack him after it lead him to the children? There are far too many unanswered questions and plot points that don’t make sense that left me feeling confused and unsatisfied.
I’m disappointed to say I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I did the previous two books. It had too many non-compelling pages, an ending that feels rushed, too much time devoted to the useless Mr. Wicks, and some glaring plot holes that remain unanswered. I do appreciate the amount of time Monk has to put into research, and I would have liked to see the automaton featured in the story more, but maybe that was a setup for the next book. Perhaps in the future the author will write a fourth Age of Steam book, and if so I’ll give it a read in the hope that it redeems the series. And if another book is not forthcoming, it’s a shame that this is the way it all ends, fading away instead of going out with a bang, because Age of Steam was becoming one of my favorite series.