The Clarity of Cold Steel: A Steampunk Detective Novel – Kevin Wright
275 pages| Publisher: Quantum Muse Books| Steampunk fantasy/ science fiction/ detective/ post-apocalyptic
I received a free electronic copy of this book to review at my request, as part of the TBRindr programme.
The digest: The Clarity of Cold Steel has one of the most unique takes on a post-apocalyptic world that I can remember – it is clearly the result of much hard work, and the efforts seem to have paid off. The plot is absolutely stunning, and the development of our protagonist through his speech and other nuances is very well handled.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first. What are the issues with The Clarity of Cold Steel? The language usage can be a bit jarring (there are so many times you can read the words ‘doff’ or ‘due diligence’ without it starting to grate) and the action scenes can sometimes be a bit hard to follow, but they aren’t awful at all. These issues could easily be rectified by having an editor do a quick sweep through the text. There are also a fair few questions left unanswered at the end of the novel which no doubt were left there for a potential sequel (I do hope there is one), and some of the characters weren’t as well developed as I would have liked.
What did I like? The plot is a well-crafted and unique experience which entertains throughout. It is exhilarating in some sections (especially the last 25% or so) whilst also giving enough space for the some of the characters to grow/provide a fair amount of background detailing. There is a bit of flicking back and forth between different locations which doesn’t make for the most fluid narrative, but it is easy enough to follow. There are several strands to follow which kept me engaged throughout my reading experience, and although there doesn’t seem to be too much complexity, the narrative is far from predictable.
The characters are a diverse enough bunch – each of the main cast having their own defining characteristics which don’t necessarily overpower their other features. A legendary knife-fighter is also honourable, a sell-out seeks mercy and atonement, the protagonist suffers due to circumstances beyond his control but still helps others for a pittance. I enjoyed reading about the main crew and seeing how their relationships developed or were revealed throughout the narrative. I was, however, a bit disappointed by how some of them popped in and out of the story without much explanation. No spoilers, but: one of my favourite parts of the book is when we see two groups come into contact – something which we would probably never see in real life. Ideally, this scene would have had a greater bearing in the subsequent story than it did. This part of the novel really brings home the setting…
The setting of the novel is a conflagration of multiple cultures. The world was hit by a disaster which left only Mortise Locke as ‘the last bastion of humanity’ – but in this post-apocalyptic scenario, tensions between races and cultures have only been exacerbated. The novel’s main focus is on Hindu areas and social structures; the caste is very much alive and kicking in this story, to the chagrin of our main character Detective Shakteel. There are underground communities (both figuratively and literally), as well as the people at the bottom of the pecking order being subject to abuse by those higher up. Corruption is rife, as is a deadly disease which is slowly wiping out a lot of the population. I’d love to see how Wright could further show the disparity between the different areas and social structures – not all of Mortise Locke can rely so heavily on the caste system, and the wealthy must live in luxury which is barely touched upon here.
There is also a fair amount of steampunk about – from ships and weaponry to skin grafts and other technologies. These are definitely welcome in the story, I just wish they were a bit more prevalent throughout the entirety of the novel.
At 4/5, the novel comes with a hearty recommendation. For a higher mark I would have needed a more fluid reading experience, and whilst I did enjoy reading the story, at no point was I completely immersed in its events.
Don’t expect anything too sci-fi or fantasy related, but a good enough dose of steampunk and other speculative fiction elements are present to ground it in this genre. Be aware that it’s a first person narrative told in the present tense – but this is handled a lot better than other novels I have seen in the past.