Murder on the Titania and Other Steam Powered Adventures by Alex Acks
Publisher - Queen of Swords
Price - £3.62 Kindle £10.85 paperback
Published - Out Now
I thank the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Captain Marta Ramos, the most notorious pirate in the Duchy of Denver, has her hands full between fascinating murder mysteries, the delectable and devious Delilah Nimowitz, Colonel Geoffrey Douglas (the Duke of Denver’s new head of security), a spot of airship engineering and her usual activities: piracy, banditry and burglary. Not to mention the horror of high society tea parties. In contrast Simms, her second in command, longs only for a quiet life, filled with tasty sausages and fewer explosions. Or does he?
Reader, I must make a confession last year I was telling people my least favourite sub-genre was steampunk – too obsessed with style over substance with a nasty bit of imperial colonialism thrown in for luck. But over the course of this year I keep reading books like this one that shows me there is a better way to do steampunk that tackles my concerns head on. This is an inventive, progressive, enticing and most of all fun volume of murder mysteries set in an alternate USA that I think may also help you see why I am now converting to the joy of airships.
In this book we have a series of five loosely linked short stories telling us the adventures of Captain Marta Ramos one of the most feared pirates in the loosely knitted Duchies of the North Americas. Feared in the skies, on rail or on land Captain Ramos is a shadowy figure that all security agents want to track down. Few realise the Captain is a woman (the very idea!!) so she can move around her targets and plan her next heist. But the Captain has a rather constant need for mental stimulation and if that is not a heist the next and possibly better thing is a puzzle or a murder. If you can imagine the talents of Irene Adler and the morality of Catwoman merged together you may start to get a feel for this unusual anti-hero. Fascinating, full of her own mysteries and you’re not too sure what she herself is up to she is a compelling character to read the adventures of. In contrast we have in her second in command the more grounded Simms (when you see his real name you’ll understand why that’s all he goes by). Its not a will they won’t they relationship its two people with both processional respect and friendship in the mix that makes for a powerful double act as they try to work out the situations they’ve landed in.
In this volume there are five tales
Murder on the Titania – You may be disappointed to then find out that in this Captain Ramos is pretty much a background character but it’s quite important to set the world of the Duchies up for the rest of the tales. We see a number of aristocrats on the airship Titania and meet the Duke of Denver’s new Head of Security. He’s on the lookout for a cunning thief but soon finds himself in a murder mystery with a rising body count. It’s a refreshing look at a locked room..ahem..airship mystery with a number of suspects and clues thrown into the mix. I really liked the way the Captain made her eventual entrance but it also from the outset shows this set of stories doesn’t go for the obvious with modern sensibilities too.
The Curious Case of Miss Clementine Nimowitz (And Her Exceedingly Tiny Dog) – Captain Ramos is about to liberate a rich eccentric lady of her jewels but finds a killer appears to have got there first. This story follows the Captain investigating the deceased Miss Nimowitz’s two remaining relatives. It fleshes out why the Captain is unable to resist a puzzle and fleshes out her skills of science, physical combat and disguise. A nice Holmesian mystery but with the added humour of a little dog that may have swallowed the riches which needs to be ermmmm released. This is where Conan Doyle went wrong. Lots of fun and with the introduction of Delilah Nimowitz we get a character that intrigues and seems able to best our Captain. How will it end well?
The Jade Tiger – This story is the shortest in the collection showing the Captain on a train heist up against a particularly greedy member of the elite. While short it gives the reader some insight into the Captain’s history (while explaining very little). A great bit of character exploration delivered very economically.
The Ugly Tin Orrery – In this tale our Captain shows us more of her crew that live in a mine. A heist produces a puzzle in the form of an orrery and an owner who shortly dies after losing it to the Captain. Here the story moves into the political exploring the tensions between the duchies but also it allows the reader to see several connecting characters from the earlier tales come together. It feels very organically how the tale has moved into higher stakes and there are consequences and risks that Ramos has to deal with. It gives tantalising glimpses of the larger world outside the tales from the risk of the dead coming back to life to the various grabs for power that are standard for the aristocrats at the cost of the everyday folk left behind.
The Flying Turk – Simms and Ramos return to the Titania for a look at the modern wonder of a difference engine that can fly airships alone., But the inventor has made new enemies. Is the ship safe from their actions? A satisfactory conclusion paying tribute to the history of automaton and giving a intriguing puzzle for the reader to try to fit the facts together. A fitting send-off for the final adventure in the volume.
In conclusion this is a very satisfying set of short stories showing that you can create nuanced looks at the land of steampunk and address social attitudes as well as giving us great characters, adventures and mysteries. One for fans of The Invisible Library series particularly. I’ve been meaning to read Alex Acks for a while and will certainly be reading more of their work. So, if you want to meet Captain Ramos and start exploring her intriguing world this a series I think well worth your time to track down.