Verdict: Moody, yet fun, IRONHEART opens the door to an entertaining new steampunk series.
A young man in a steampunk world discovers he has extraordinary fighting abilities, which elevate him from small-time gangster to revolutionary hero.
Eighteen-year-old Jack Booker, better known as Dull Jack, is one of the many orphaned commoners struggling to survive in the dark and crime-riddled city of Victorian, capital of the Grounded Realm. In addition to humans, this world contains handsome and powerful winged beings called Primals, who many worship as gods, and a few of those Primals rule as despotic Emperors. Others known as the “rogue Primals” are called evil by the state-sponsored Illuminati church.
Jack’s past is told in chapters back and forth with chapters of his present. Though he has had more than his fair share of tragedy, he stands out for his physical and mental tenacity and a sophistication beyond that of the rest of his thieving street gang, making him a likeable protagonist with sympathetic emotional depth. But in addition to poverty and the risks of his criminal lifestyle, he struggles with trust issues and a reluctance to open up to people. His life’s trajectory changes when he earns the attention of the rogue Primals and their allies in the Independent Army of Liberty, who variously view him as either an untrustworthy hoodlum with an oversized reputation or a unique, pivotal tool in their quest to liberate the humans of the realm.
An easy read, Kemp’s writing could use development, though, in areas such as “Show don’t tell,” complexity of description and diction, and pacing of the plot—there’s a little too much downtime with a lot of expository conversation. The Primal gods also feel a little too human at times, their awe reduced by underwhelming dialogue such as “You’re so melodramatic.”
Yet the novel introduces readers to a satisfyingly steampunk world, which includes Victorian attire and issues of classism, mechanical horses, airships, and a bit of magic. Kemp’s story has action and combat, even some in midair with steam-powered jetpacks.
Moody, yet fun, THE PRIMAL DECEPTION opens the door to an entertaining new steampunk series.