Friday, 27 July 2012

Moonlight, Murder and Machinery by John Paul Catton (Winston Saint Press)

In a little break from the norm, ReadItDaddy was fortunate enough to be sent a Young Adult fiction novel recently. I'm usually pretty polite about such things, making it clear that ReadItDaddy is predominantly a children's picture book blog but the novel in question had the sort of premise that drew me straight in. So for today's review, ReadItDaddy dips a toe into YA reviewing with John Paul Catton's excellent novel "Moonlight, Murder and Machinery".

It was the premise that had me hooked straight away. I'm extremely inspired by anything vaguely steampunky, mostly because of the works of Pat Mills and Bryan Talbot on the "Nemesis the Warlock" stories from 2000AD but since then, the genre has exploded and now Steampunk is more popular than ever.

But with "Moonlight, Murder and Machinery" we have "A gothic re-imagining of the Frankenstein story, set in a steampunk regency England where Steam has been outlawed" and it's very easy to see why I had to take a look at this book, after a description like that.

The story begins when young Mary Godwin, a woman troubled by recurring prophetic nightmares, meets the man who haunts her dreams, Master Shelley (Mary / Shelley? Got it?)

Shelley is a young recruit to His Majesty's Geomancers, a mysterious army of talented individuals that sound like a cross between the British Warlocks of Ian Tregillis' "Bitter Seeds" and Victorian "X-Men". Investigating mysterious deaths and reports of horrific creatures stalking the night, Shelley's counter-intelligence unit uncover plots and treasonous acts that threaten to undermine the very fabric of Nova Albion. As the events of Mary's nightmares unfold, she begins to fear for Shelley's life.

While I won't give away too much of the plot, there are so many elements to this book that tick all the right boxes for me. I loved the descriptions of the Luddites - now flipped on their heads from being machine-hating labourers to poor jobless folk clamouring for a lift of the ban on steam power. I also loved that the book touched on Ancient Briton and the mythos surrounding sites like Avebury, and the deep dark secrets buried under Cornish soil (I'm sure my brother in law would be intrigued by the descriptions of subversive Cornwall, renamed Kernow and boldly flashing its independence from Nova Albion).

Above all, this is a book for fans of alternate histories, gothic romance, of mysterious phenomena and for those who secretly believe that magic still bubbles away under the surface of our verdant British soil.

I've read several YA books (despite apparently being 'old enough to know better'), and I'm intrigued by the notion that somehow "Young Adults" need a separate sub-set of fiction that stretches between children's novels and 'stuff for grown ups'. I firmly believe that "Moonlight, Murder and Machinery" offers a level of sophistication and substance that lifts it above most adult fiction, let alone the sort of fare you'd expect to comfortably fit into the YA pigeonhole. It delves into history, twisting it like a pretzel but still offering enough hooks for readers to go off and investigate the Regency period in more detail. It offers fantasy escapism tinged with darkness and menace, and above all it speaks of the lure of power and the lengths that mere mortals will go to in order to hang onto it.

Tearing through it just once doesn't really do it justice, but second time around I'm delighted by Catton's knowing nods and references to other gothic works. I hope this isn't the last we see of Catton's Nova Albion, it's such an intriguing intoxicating world and there's a ton of scope for more stories woven from the same threads found in this book.

You can find out more about the book on the Smashwords EBook Forum here  (and obtain the book in a variety of E-Formats) or you can grab a "luddite" paper copy here.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars