Book Review

Book Review: Iron Sky: Dread Eagle by Alex Woolf.

IronSkyThe year is 1845. Since Napoleon’s famous victory at Waterloo, France and Britain have been locked in a long and bloody war for global supremacy. This breathtaking steampunk adventure introduces an alternative 19th century of giant airships soaring through the skies above the English Channel, fantastical, steam-powered automata, aerial steam carriages, floating cities, giant mechanical birds and a new kind of secret agent. Enter the world of Iron Sky…

In this version of reality, an ageing Napoleon is threatening a full-scale invasion of Britain. Opposing him is Sir George Jarrett, head of the Imperial British Secret Service, helped by an all-female team of aerial spies known as the Sky Sisters. The youngest of them is Lady Arabella West. As war clouds loom, airships start to disappear, and rumours spread of a mysterious terror in the skies. Arabella, with the help of her automaton sidekick, Miles, sets out to investigate.

I haven’t read many steampunk books, but those that I have read have been brilliant. When I heard about this new book coming from Alex Woolf I had high hopes, I’d enjoyed everything else of his I’d read and had a feeling that this book was going to be pretty great.

The story takes place over only a short period of time with the bulk of the book occuring in just 3 days. This works really well, keeping the action going and adding a sense of immediacy to the book. After a brief prologue that roots the book firmly into its historical context the plot gets going very quickly. We meet Arabella, our leading lady, as she undertakes a mission in her role as one of the aerial spies Britain is using in its efforts to defeat Napoleon’s efforts to invade once and for all. From the very first pages Arabella’s story is filled with action, this continues throughout much of the book. Whether she is trying to break in to somewhere to acquire information, or lead a reconnaissance mission she has a knack both for getting into and back out of trouble.

Like many reviewers I’m always on the lookout for really great female lead characters. Arabella is most certainly this, and the fact she is one of the Sky Sisters – 5 female aerial spies each with their very own highly specialised skill set was a most welcome discovery. It made me think of two other books I’ve loved in recent years, Code Name Verity and The Beauty Chorus. Whilst all three books feature teams of young women flying planes as part of military efforts they’re all then incredibly different, but I was pleased with the realisation.

In addition to loving Arabella I completely fell for automaton Miles (a Mobile Independent Logical Englishman Simulacrum). I think I’d like my only Miles, his ability to analyse situations instantly and tell you just how bad your plan is would certainly be useful! The other character that really stands out in the book is Commodus Bane. He’s just so completely and utterly awful, I found him really disturbing and found myself trying to hold the book a little further away when he appeared on the pages!

This is a very attractive book. It’s a hardback book with beautiful end pages, a map (I do love a book with a map) and four double-sided glossy gatefold pages covered in design illustrations (for more about how Alex came up with the various airships and other devices make sure you read his brilliant guest post here). It’s clear that a lot of care and attention has been put into this book’s creation and it’s certainly paid off.

My only sadness about this book is that ends just as another really exciting mission is being launched. I’m assuming that this means this isn’t the last we’re seeing of the Sky Sisters, I can’t wait to be able to read more about their adventures!

Iron Sky: Dread Eagle is published by Scribo Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Blog Tour

Blog Tour: Guest Post by Alex Woolf on the steampunk technology in Iron Sky: Dread Eagle.

IronSky

I’m so excited to be welcoming Alex Woolf to my blog today as part of the tour for his new book Iron Sky: Dread Eagle. The rich steampunk world he has created is wonderful, I was really pleased when he agreed to write about how he went about this process. Over to you Alex!

As a child I was fascinated by technology – not exactly by how it worked, or else I might have become an engineer rather than a writer, but more by the way it looked, sounded and smelled. To this day, I still find few sights or sounds more entrancing than the interior of a traditional watch, with all its tiny cogs, gears and springs working together in perfect coordination. And for excitement, nothing can beat a working steam engine with its spinning shafts and terrifying pistons pumping away amid all that heat and steam.

I especially loved the extravagantly inefficient machines of Heath Robinson cartoons, with their many complex moving parts producing something very simple. One of my favourite scenes in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the one featuring Professor Caractacus Potts’ absurdly over-complicated breakfast-making machine.

I must have been a steampunk fan before I even realised it, because these machines are the essence of the genre. What a steampunk machine looks like is ultimately much more important than what it does. It should be extravagant, ingenious and gloriously impractical.

This was my starting point when developing the technology for my steampunk fantasy, Iron Sky: Dread Eagle. Take the eponymous ‘dread eagle’ itself. It’s a steam-powered, steel-feathered flying machine that looks like a giant bird of prey. There is nothing remotely practical or airworthy about it, but in the steampunk world it inhabits, it glides, it soars, it captures airships in its talons, shoots fire from its beak and terrifies all who behold it.

One of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)
One of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)

A machine like the dread eagle is pure fantasy. Because I know that nothing like that could ever exist on Earth, I could play fast and loose with the physics. Other pieces of tech featured in the book are more rooted in reality, while retaining the baroque steampunk look. For example, I had to develop a line of military airships and planes used to fight the war that forms the backdrop to the Iron Sky series. For these ‘aerial steam carriages’ and dirigibles, I’ve stuck pretty close to the actual technology of the 1910s and 1920s, except that the machines are steam- or wind-powered. And of course they look beautiful, with an ornate and slightly gothic Victorian appearance rather than the more streamlined, art deco style of the early 20th century.

The series is set in an alternative 1845. Thirty years earlier, Napoleon unexpectedly won the Battle of Waterloo, and since then Britain and France have been slugging it out for global supremacy. As a result of all this war, technology has boomed and they’ve reached about 1920 or so in terms of technological development – with a few differences. For example, instead of radio waves they’ve discovered this mysterious, invisible fluid called the aether, which allows them long-distance communication.

The aether was a popular theory in Victorian times, and has become a bit of a staple among steampunk writers. The Victorians believed that all the energies and forces we observe, including light, gravity and magnetism, operate within this subtle and universal medium, which they called the luminiferous aether. In my world the aether is much more than a theory: it’s a practical workaday reality. They’ve developed aethercells, which are like radio transmitter-receivers, and ANODE (AetherNet Object Detection Echo) systems instead of radar.

But the aether is useful for much more than communication and detection, as they’re beginning to discover. The French have developed the Aetheric Shield, a device that operates like an invisible forcefield, rendering any airship wearing it invincible, and this is threatening to tip the balance in the long-running war.

Another of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)
Another of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)

No steampunk fantasy would be complete without an automaton, and in Iron Sky we have Miles, the Mobile Independent Logical Englishman Simulacrum. Miles is a three-foot-high metal gentleman, steam-powered of course, and dressed immaculately in frock coat and top hat. A tiny chimney in his hat releases steam (and is useful for me as a writer as a means of expressing his emotions – ‘puffing anxiously’ for example). Miles is the sidekick of our aviator-heroine Lady Arabella West, and he tends to be pessimistic (he would
say ‘logical’) about their chances of survival at any given moment. Apart from his superb analytical engine brain, he has a few hidden accessories, which are gradually revealed as the story progresses. I won’t say what they are, but they do prove useful in getting Arabella out of a number of scrapes.

Whether any of the machines I’ve created for Iron Sky could ever work in practical terms is beside the point. In fact it’s probably better if they couldn’t, because steampunk is not about efficiency or practicality – it’s the very opposite of all that. Steampunk is about the enjoyment of technology for its own sake – the crazier and more spectacular the better. The sense of wonder I experienced as a child at the sight and sound of intricate clocks and infernal engines. That’s steampunk – and that’s what I’ve tried to recreate in this book.

Thank you Alex for such a wonderfully interesting post! I’ll be posting my review of Iron Sky: Dread Eagle later today so do make sure you pop back and read it.

Book Review

Mini Reviews : Chronosphere Book 1 – Time Out of Time and Book 2 – Malfunction by Alex Woolf.

I really enjoyed Alex Woolf’s Fiction Express book Soul Shadows and I was keen to read more by him. Today is the publication date for the second book in his Chronosphere series – Malfunction so I thought I’d do another mini review post for both that and the first book Time Out of Time

Book 1 – Time Out of Time.
I was hooked within the first page of this book, mainly because it was set during a hoverbike race. The mere mention of a hoverbike left me excited to get stuck into the book and discover the world within it. The plot is interesting straight away, Raffi is on the cusp of adulthood so buys a year in the Chronosphere – time works differently here so that a year lasts only a minute in the real world. It seems like a perfect situation, he can put off growing up for another year but no one will ever know he was gone. Very quickly however he starts to realise that this perfect world isn’t quite so perfect, there are darker things going on and very quickly Raffi gets caught up in them.

Raffi’s a great leading character, I think teens and adults alike will be able to identify with his wish to put off growing up a little longer. I certainly found myself rooting for him from the start, and worrying about what was going to happen to him at various points throughout the book. The group of friends he makes within the Chronosphere are an interesting group, I liked the way we got to know them a little bit and then the rug was pulled from us as a few secrets were revealed. I finished the book looking forward to finding out more about them all.

The world created in this book is fascinating, the technological developments are all really exciting though there are points where the technology becomes quite scary. I liked the way that the science behind the time bending aspects of the book is included, there was a risk this could have been confusing but for me it was balanced just right.

Book 2 – Malfunction.
This second book in the series begins with a brief but comprehensive recap of Time Out of Time before jumping straight into a fast and gripping plot. Since we left the characters behind at the end of the last book their lives have been quiet and idyllic but this peaceful state is about to come to an end. The Malfunction happens and everything starts to go wrong. The temp-al chambers have stopped working so no one can leave or enter the Chronosphere. The temp-al ducts are also not working meaning that the supply chain is broken. Very quickly services start to fail, and then the technology starts to act very strangely. Within a few chapters this magical place to get away from it all is starting to look like a living nightmare.

All of the characters we got to know in Time Out of Time return in this book, we again tag along primarily with Raffi. This book allows us to get to know the characters even better, and by the end of the book many of the questions I brought with me were answered. I particularly liked the way we got to understand some of the “baddies” better, I always like it when characters’ motivations are understandable rather than a character being bad just because s/he is.

I loved this book, and really liked the way we got to understand more about the Chronosphere, both how it works and why it exists. I also liked the examination of the society within the Chronosphere, I always find accounts of societies disintegrating interesting – particularly the way people try to survive.

At the end of the book there is a sneak peak for Book 3 – Ex Tempora. Whilst it is merely 3 pages long it has already got my interest, I shall certainly be looking forward to reading it! Both of these books are interesting and exciting reads, I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

Time Out of Time and Malfunction are published in paperback by Scribo Books in the UK priced £6.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the books all of the opinions expressed are my own.