Take a couple of pinches of Westerns, a pinch of Romans, a pinch of steampunk and a smattering of touches of other genres and you sort-of get the wonderfully imaginative new world that John Hornor Jacobs has created for the first in a planned trilogy, The Incorruptibles.
Wonderfully imaginative, save in one respect: with the strong echo of Westerns, it’s not hard to see which group of characters has the role of Indians – and in that displays some of the most clichéd derogatory stereotypes from the Western genre. Without the Western influence, having bad guys who mutilate the heads of opponents, abduct babies and the like would probably pass without notice, but with the Western influence it’s hard to see these as other than caricatures of Native Americans which are best left in the past. (To his credit, John Hornor Jacobs has responded to another reviewer making a similar point; it’s well worth reading the exchange.)
The novel also feels at parts rather like a scene setting first book in a trilogy – which of course it is, but in setting the scene for large parts of the book there is not that much of an overall plot driving events along at a pace. There certainly is by the closing parts of the book, and there are lots of incidents earlier on, but overall the pacing didn’t feel quite right.
What did though was the depth of the imaginary – and very imaginative – world, so there is plenty more for the rest of the trilogy to explore and expand on. This isn’t a case of a one-trick setting which quickly wears thin.
Rather the story of the ‘steam boat’ headed into dangerous territory with a mix of politicians and ‘cowboys’ on board is richly imagined and refreshingly original.
Fans of audio books have a particular treat in store as narrator Steven Pacey (yes, the Steven Pacey who played Tarrant in Blake’s 7) is quite brilliant, making the individual characters easy to distinguish with his different accents and injecting a huge sense of drama at key points with a lovely sense of timing and change of tones at just the right moments.
If you like this, you might also be interested in Jack Vance’s Emphyrio.
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