When Nicholas’ mother reveals that the family fortune is gone, he, his mother, and his sister are forced to throw themselves upon the mercy of Nicholas’ miserly uncle, Secundus. The man barely tolerates helping Nicholas and makes it clear he expects both Nicholas and his sister to work—the latter as a milliner’s apprentice and the former as a tinker aboard a steam-powered space vessel. As hard as Nicholas tries to see the bright side of all this, having a roof over his head and steady employment, when he sees the space vessel, his positive attitude starts to dwindle. When he steps foot aboard, however, all sense of hope positively vanishes.
Until he meets sweet, innocent Nathan—the ship’s resident gardener. Nathan is the most stunningly beautiful man aboard the ship and entirely incongruous with the dark, grungy filth surrounding him. Happily, Nathan is similarly taken with Nicholas and the two are able to find a measure of peace and comfort aboard the nearly unbearable vessel as it travels from earth to a space station with a cargo of children for adoption.
As Nicholas and Nathan explore their tender feelings and trepidation regarding a malevolent “shadow” that seems to stalk them through the claustrophobic corridors of the spaceship, they realize they may have been caught up in a case of trafficking. But it is closing in on all sides. Nathan’s uncle is displeased with the burden of supporting Nicholas’ family and the nefarious owners of the spaceship seem to know more about Nathan’s past than Nathan himself can recall—and want to ensure no one finds out the truth.
On the whole, this was a mediocre read. There is plenty of action and two distinct arcs in the overall story, so there is plenty to keep the reader turning pages. The romance between Nathan and Nicholas unfolds at a good pace and once they make their relationship physical, there are several scenes were we are indulged with on-page intimacy.
I think the sense of adventure was well done, if not expertly planned. While there are several twists and turns, I didn’t feel there was much effort to foreshadow events. Nicholas has this innate talent for being able to sense if someone is trustworthy or not, so that diminishes the element of surprise from a lot of the supporting cast. We know, based on Nicholas’ reactions, if Uncle Secundus is a good guy or a bad guy and it’s not because he acts like a huge twatwaffle.
The choice to include two major story arcs did make the story sort of drag for me. At the halfway mark, the mystery about the spaceship’s true role was completely resolved…and had no bearing on the next plot line: Nathan’s history. In fact, I didn’t really understand how significantly Nathan’s amnesia would figure into the story until I realized the whole second half of the book turned its focus to exactly that question. In that regard, this sort of felt like two books that got mushed into one…not bad, if you like the world and characters, but also sort of odd considering how neatly separate they are.
As far as the world building goes, I personally wouldn’t classify this as a real steampunk book. The time period is vaguely victorian (one character in one scene is wearing a cravat) and there are coal-powered machines (the space-going vessel and the factory where Nicholas ends up working). Nicholas himself has an actual paranormal-esque skill with animating automaton-type creations, but these creations hardly have the presence or depth of detail to justify a “steampunk” label. The most steampunk think about the book for me was the bit where we discover Nathan has a talent for decorating hats and there are glorious descriptions of the hats.
Our main characters were likeable enough, but they seem to be a bit pigeonholed in their characteristics. Nathan is the delicate flower and Nicholas is the manly man. It didn’t bother me much at first, but over the course of the book, I started to notice how…sweetly naive Nathan’s speech seems to be. He is characterized as being small and beautiful, and during intimate scenes, he is always the receptive lover. Conversely, Nicholas is the take-charge kind of guy. During the opening scenes, when he learns the family fortune is gone, he acts like a right twat to his uncle—not that his uncle is any better, but Nicholas just assumes his uncle can and will happily assume the maintenance of three extra people. I’m glad to see Nicholas vocal about unfair treatment at these early stages and it certainly establishes a precedent when Nicholas advocates for what he wants with other characters later, but he does come off as rather entitled. Of course, in the bedroom, he’s the one who takes charge of everything, too.
As a side note, I only noticed one actual grammar mistake but, like the last Pelaam title I read, there was a rash of formatting errors in the pdf version that removed the space between two words. For example, “He spoke to Nathan” might appear “He spoketo Nathan.” This appears several times on each page. There were also hard returns in the middle of lines—this didn’t happen with as much regularity as the missing spaces, but it jarred me when I was reading and expecting the dialogue to end only to discover after a couple of hard returns, the same speaker was still speaking. It didn’t ruin the reading experience enough for me to give up, but it was annoying.
On the whole, if you like space operas and romantic leads that seem to fill definite “assertive” and “deferring” roles, you’ll probably enjoy this. There’s just enough description to give some notion of “steampunk,” but if you’re a hardcore fan, you’ll probably equate with the sentiment “just glue some gears on it and call it steampunk.” I think any reader will enjoy watching the conflicts unfold and despite who the good and bad guys are being obvious; the resolution of both the sending orphans to space and Nathan’s mysterious past will keep you on your toes.