“Dawn of Steam: First Light” is the first of a series of books set in an alternate past. The Napoleonic Wars have been won by England (with help from the USA and others). Dirigibles already exist; some were used in the war. The USA is still largely unexplored by Europeans, as are most parts of the world. But a book exists, written by an explorer, wherein he tells of his journeys across the North American continent (there is a Northwest Passage, he claims), to Australia, China, Japan, South America, and Antarctica- basically, the whole world. Two men make a bet in a club; one believes the book is the truth, one doesn’t. Therefore, two teams will set out to duplicate the author’s travels, to see if they are even possible. We follow the course of one of the teams; the good guys. Told through letters and a diary, it is almost all in first person by an ex-soldier who knows how to work a camera. He writes to his fiancé and to the gentleman who has made the bet and is financing the journey.
The first almost half of the novel is spent gathering the team. They assemble a group that has the skills needed to make the expedition a success. While this part of the book may be necessary to introducing the cast to us, it’s overly long. With so little action, I nearly gave up. When they get to North America (via one member’s family airship), they have a couple of events that, while full of action, do not move the story forward. They do finally start across the continent, but the plot never really works out; there is no build up and climax- it’s just sort of “and then we did this and then we did that”.
I didn’t care much about the characters. The basics were there and could have been great (and maybe they are in the later books in the series), but there was nothing built around “sharp shooter”, “lady engineer”, or “daughter of the explorer who passes as a man most of the time and can do damn near anything”.
I was sadly disappointed, especially because I’d enjoyed the first book in the other series these authors have written. Only three out of five stars.
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