Title & Author: Golden Heart (The Lazarus Longman Chronicles Book 1), P. J. Thorndyke
Genre & Publication Date: Fantasy/Steam Punk, April 11, 2015
Book Description: “Steampunk and the lost world genre collide as a thrilling adventure is set in motion that will decide the fate of America.
The North American continent has been torn apart by civil war. Steam-powered behemoths stalk the landscape, dirigibles prowl the skies and society stands on the back of a new class of slaves known as ‘mechanicals’. The conflict between the Union and the Confederacy has dragged on for twenty-five years with neither side coming close to victory. Something is needed to tip the balance…
Lazarus Longman – antiquarian, explorer and treasure hunter for the British Empire – had heard of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, but he never believed they really existed. So when he was ordered to track down the only two men rumored to have seen the fabled land he was skeptical to say the least. His skepticism turned to desperation when he found out that his quarry was Gerard Vasquez; a degenerate gambler, drinker and pistoleer and his companion, Hok’ee; a towering Navajo with a ferocious temper and a mechanical gun-arm.
The British want these men delivered into the hands of the Confederacy so that the war can be brought to a swift resolution. But not everybody wants the Confederacy to win. Especially not Tsar Alexander III who has dispatched his own deadly assassin to ensure the Confederates never get their hands on America’s golden heart.”
First Line: Perhaps the most disreputable den of thieves, murderers, hustlers and gamblers in either the Confederate or United States of America is not some seedy boom-town or frontier outpost, but on water.
My Take: This book was provided to me by the author for review.
There is great world building here that I enjoyed immensely with antagonists to the left and right, unlikely allies and tight situations for the protagonists to puzzle themselves out of. Lazarus was a likable character, strong enough to carry his role as the main protagonist in the series. He had a haunted past but was yet hopeful and empathetic to the plights of others. I liked his story and I might really have loved his adventures but there was a major sticking point that kept rearing its ugly head throughout the book:
I was taken aback by the way in which the writing exuded such a sense of Western superiority towards the native peoples (the Cibolans) of the story. From their medicine, to their language, to their capabilities in battle, the natives and the protagonists were filed under two categories “primitive” and “modern”. Or to put it another way, “savage” and “intelligent”.
On the brink of conflict with the heavily armed bad guys, the native peoples are portrayed as not just inept at tactics but generally stupid. While the two main protagonists desperately try to convince them that they’ll be slaughtered if they commit to a frontal assault, not even the chief listens. Call me crazy, but wouldn’t a people who know the jungle like the back of their hand use that to their advantage? History seems to back up that assumption. Their only weapons were clubs and knives? Where were the bows and arrows? The blow-darts? Couldn’t they be given that at least?
Also, was it necessary to refer to the Cibolans as “gabbling” when they spoke to each other in their own language? I mean, that word conjures up chickens clucking, not intelligent discussion. Or was that the point? Even their medicinal capabilities were looked down on and the injured were tended to by the outsiders because they didn’t put much confidence in Cibolan medicine. Sorry, but as far as I know Western medicine at that time was pretty much about amputation, leeches and unsanitary medical tools that often killed the patient with infection. Not exactly the Mayo clinic there. Furthermore, when a civilization has existed for so long in secret, I find it hard to believe they didn’t possess a deep knowledge of cures and healing techniques using the resources around them.
Ho’kee was an interesting character that I wish had been a little more developed. We get his background but I never felt like he had much depth. His ferocious temper was depicted as innate, rather than fueled by the cruelty and abuse he’d both witnessed and experienced at the hands of others. This made him very two dimensional and much like the stereotypical “angry Indian” who can’t be reasoned with. The gun arm was pretty awesome though. He seemed to be Vasquez’s sidekick, a kind of Tonto to his Lone Ranger…only on steroids.
The Magical: Plenty of action, which I enjoy in a steam punk novel. There were a few sticky spots where a lot of exposition was unloaded all at once, but otherwise it maintains forward momentum of the plot. I also liked exploring this alternate reality of the American Civil War and the political consequences as other countries take sides in the ongoing conflict.
The Mundane: There tended to be a lot of “word pile-ups” and the book could use tightening in that area to make every word count. Sentences were long even during action sequences which had the effect of lessening the tension.
An illustration with explanation:
Visually, long sentences draw scenes out in a book for readers which is especially good during moments of intimacy or reflection.
Short, quick sentences convey immediacy. The eyes jump across the page. Action verbs are deployed. The passive voice is abandoned.
You see what I’m getting at here.
Summary of Thoughts: Currently this book is $2.99 on the Kindle and has a lot of the steam punk goodness that readers love, from the guns to the dirigibles. It has plenty of action but the battle scenes with the Cibolans chafed quite a bit.
As you can probably tell, I’m a little rough around the edges when it comes to depicting indigenous peoples as inherently primitive. The fact that they don’t have the same weapons technology is a matter of geographical and political history, not intelligence. We are not gazing “back in time” when among people that haven’t got the same stuff as we do. It shouldn’t be assumed that they are behind us on some linear timeline of development that we’ve imagined. Please consider this idea when integrating other cultures into storylines, and for God’s sake, give them a little credit.
Many thanks to P. J. Thorndyke for providing a copy of the book to review!
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To learn more about the author, including the sequels to this novel, explore his website here