Wireless and More Steam Powered Adventures by Alex Acks

I would like to thank the publisher for an advance copy of this collection in return for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Queen of Swords

Published – Out Now

Piece - £3.83 Kindle eBook £11.26 paperback

Captain Marta Ramos, the most dangerous pirate in the Duchy of Denver, is back and she and Simms are up to their goggles in trouble. Has General Del Toro found a way to use the Infected as an army and can Captain Ramos work with her arch enemy, Colonel Geoffrey Douglas, to stop him? Can Simms join forces with devious Deliah Nimowitz on a jailbreak, some server misadventures AND a high society soiree involving tea, a heist and sausages? And what about the Rail King and his nefarious plans? Can Captain Ramos stop him before he completes huis latest dastardly deed, one that may result in Deliah’s demise?

You may remember last year I LOVED Alex Acks ‘ initial collection Murder on the Titania and Other Steam Powered Adventures so I was delighted to have an opportunity to return to the world of Captain Marta Ramos who I saw as a mix of Irene Adler and Cat woman delivering a series of fast paced adventures in a steampunk US made up of duchies and zombies.  It was an absolute delight and I’m pleased to report that the next collection delivers even more in these three interlinked tales.

‘Blood in Elk Creek’ is a very strong opening. In this tale we have Captain Ramos awaking injured and alone in the plains outside of the cities she tends to steal in. She tries to remember however she realises she is in the middle of an Infected group. (In this universe a zombie plague has made most of the US inhabitable hence its love of rail and airships). The Captain also starts to feel weirdly ill…a few miles away her nemesis the security chief Colonel Geoffrey Douglas has decided to go on his own to investigate an ambitious general’s schemes and finds something quite terrifying with the Infected being planned.

This is a very clever tale and by placing these two antagonists alone in one environment we have to see if they can learn to trust each other for a truce (one of my favourite story tropes) On top of the two learning to balance their skills together it does two really interesting things. It finally tells us more about the Infected who were mentioned in the previous collection but never really explored and intriguingly ties this in with a tale of the Native Americans. A story that both highlights the injustices the white colonists have inflicted on these people but also shows the various tribes as clever and powerful in their own right. There is finally a key decision for Captain Ramos where previously her helping people felt more an afterthought while here she has to decide to take a stand and which could change changes her as well as her relationship with Douglas in quite unexpected ways – some of which this collection explores and others I hope are set up for the future.

‘Do Shut Up, Mister Simms’ is a tale taking place alongside the vents of first tale and focuses on Ramos’ second in command Mr Simms – a giant with ginger muttonchops; always less keen on adventure and seeking more a quiet life. Unfortunately, one of the pirate gang is captured by armed forces and placed in a fiercely armed gaol and in the Captain’s absence only one other person is cunning enough to work out an escape plan - her would be lover Deliah Nimowitz. Her help though is conditional though on Simms helping her out at a party. But who is scheming behind the scenes? It interesting not to have the livewire that is the Captain around, so we get a bit more time to understand her crew dynamics and Simms himself. Its clear he likes being second in command rather than in charge but that his crew do look up to him but his relationship with Deliah is a lot tenser. Is she really in love?

This feels a more standard Ramos adventure with the classic mix of schemes, disguises and hidden secrets but also allows for characters to flesh themselves out more.  The reader will find out much more about how Simms really thinks and finally decide where Deliah stands regards her would be lover. Really helps set up the final tale but also stands on its own two feet as a lot of fun and I always like good character development.

The finale is ‘Wireless’, and we see a Ramos clearly perturbed by the events of Elk Creek and gets a summons from Deliah that ultimately brings her into the orbit of the mysterious Rail King. A powerful mysterious magnate that created most of the connecting rail roads that traverse the Infected territory but who is very much focused on power for himself using any that fall into his oath. In some ways its back to a standard heist but having Ramos plus Simms and Deliah all working together using intelligence; a skilled crew and spycraft to give the story the energy you want in a finale and it means this pirate gang may have ultimately found its final configuration and confirmed its sense of morality inn respect of those in power. There is an interesting side plot about how clever women were often ignored and often imprisoned by this society for breaking its rather arbitrary sense of what is right and proper.

An extremely satisfying collection of tales and I liked how the stories are interlinked and I think work well to compliment each other.  It would have been easy to just do the same thing again and again but there are clear signs of both character development and that this world we are in changing.  I hope the next instalments are soon answer the outstanding questions.