Take some traditional pulp elements (a heroic protagonist, a grand adventure, a hidden treasure awaiting discovery); mix them with some features of a decidedly steampunk variety (airships, fantastical technologies and, of course, Queen Victoria); throw in some horror (mummies and vampires – okay, these could be found in the pulps as well); add a heaping helping of historical figures and alternate history; and for good measure put in some contemporary sensibilities and a strong sense of fun. Mix well and, if you’re lucky, you’ll end up with David Barnett’s new novel Gideon Smith and the mechanical girl.
Gideon Smith is the son of a fisherman in the small Yorkshire village of Sandsend. While he is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a fisherman too, Gideon’s true love are the stories in the penny dreadfuls he splurges on each month, reveling in the adventures of Captain Lucien Trigger, Hero of the Empire. Gideon reads and rereads these tales wondering what it must be like to be on an adventure in some exotic locale under the orders of Queen Victoria. He works on the fishing boat with his father and dreams of escapades outside his village. And then the unthinkable happens, Gideon’s father, and his entire crew, go missing. Their fishing boat is found derelict one morning in the bay. While the rest of the village says that it is simply a tragedy of the sea that happens occasionally, Gideon isn’t so sure. He is further convinced something is amiss when he hears strange noises coming from the caves near the bay. And then the son of one of the other fishermen claims to have seen a monster in the village. Gideon is convinced that all of these occurrences are connected to his father’s death, and there is only one person that can solve this mystery: Captain Lucien Trigger. Gideon knows the offices of World Marvels & Wonders are in London, and decides he must visit them to plead his case and secure Captain Trigger's assistance in solving the happenings in Sandsend. What Gideon doesn’t know is that these events are connected, and they are part of a much bigger plot that will send him on an adventure beyond anything he has read in the pages of World Marvels & Wonders!
In Gideon Smith and the mechanical girl, author David Barnett has created a genre-blending novel that will appeal to fans of science fiction (steampunk specifically), horror, alternative histories, pulp and adventure stories. The settings range from the serene British coastline to urban environs of London and Alexandria, to the blazing sands of Egypt (with enough exposition about France, Spain and the New World to nicely fill in the details of the wonderful alternate world that has been created). The characters are both familiar “types” and yet filled with new life and promise. Plus add to the unexpected, many of these “typical” characters are imbued with more contemporary sensibilities, resulting in a much more diverse cast of characters than found in a traditional pulp story. The adventure is top notch (with almost every chapter ending with various cliffhangers). The ending of the book indicates this is merely the first of what will hopefully be the many and varied adventures of Mr. Gideon Smith!