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The Steam Magnate, by Dana Copithorne Book Review | SFReader.com
The Steam Magnate, by Dana Copithorne Genre: Fantasy Publisher: AIO Published: 2006 Review Posted: 1/25/2008 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10
The Steam Magnate, by Dana Copithorne
Book Review by Dave Panchyk
Have you read this book?
Choosing a review book blind sent my support of self-publishing crashing up against my fierce protectiveness of my reading time. I cast a wary eye over the self-published, the e-book-only, and the various offerings from Impressive Name Publishing's first imprint, Books Wot I Wrote Myself.
I finally settled on The Steam Magnate, by Dana Copithorne, as being my best bet. It sounded like soft, social science fiction, a bit of steampunk with subtle magic woven in. Subtle was good; I had just escaped from the Hell of Paranormal Protagonists, and it was time for a change.
Had I thought to go to the publisher's website beforehand, I could have confirmed this was a book I might like. In fact, I could've just cribbed their blurbs to write this review. Aio Publishing's website says, "Our mission is to produce densely written sociological speculative fiction with deeply developed characters and to present it to the reader as a work of art," and really, that about says it all.
Aio's website explains, "By 'densely written' work, we mean complete, nuanced world-building and time for characters to react to the changes and stresses around them. The prose itself is fine (literary), and characters tend to be written in Cherryh's 'intense third person' format--meaning that readers are completely immersed in that character's thoughts and emotions." That serves well enough to describe what Copithorne manages in The Steam Magnate. Her lyrical writing creates an often dreamlike narrative focussed on the protagonist's interior state.
The novel is primarily the story of a young woman named Kyra who has been railroaded into travelling to the Glass City to procure--read "steal"--a document for her patron. There she finds herself charmed by the Glass City, and her desires and intuition play as big a part in her actions as the agreement by which she is bound. Not a lot of "stuff" happens; the main focus is on how Kyra reacts and changes in response to her situation and surroundings.
The Steam Magnate occupies one of those odd foot-in-two-worlds kind of spaces in the speculative fiction realm; decrepit old technology and the weakened power of old gods share the same amount of relevance. Some things appear only, it would seem, for authorial convenience, like a telephone. Most aspects of the setting, though, are there because they impart some significance, usually as much or more for the characters' psyches as for the plot.
The best examples of these are physical locations. Dana Copithorne seems genuinely interested in the "spirit" of places; she describes the lands in the story through the eyes of a true observer, one who is architect, anthropologist, and archaeologist all at once. The author comes from Vancouver Island, lives in the mild coastal region of the mainland, and has been to Siberia and to Japan--and also, I'm sure, to the harsher cities and climates elsewhere in western Canada. Kyra's transition from the Glass City to the "northern provinces" is described in terms that will resonate with any traveller.
The magic Kyra encounters is subtle. Some readers may think the metaphysical influences some of the characters exert on others is not magic at all. On one level, it isn't; it gets you thinking about the relationships among people, how some charismatic people have an odd influence over others, and how business arrangements and other "contracts" constrain and bind us. At the level of the story, though, ancestral powers and magical paper and ink make these things more than metaphorical. Mysterious and subtle, but powerful: a good recipe for compelling literary magic.
The Steam Magnate offers mystery and subtlety, though not so much in the way of power. The narrative maintains a steady and literary tone, but combined with the low level of action begins to lose momentum in the last quarter of the novel. Dana Copithorne is working on a second novel set in the Broken Glass City; by the time it's out, I may have had a long enough break to jump on a similar artful confection. If you like sociological "soft" speculative fiction, you'll want to read The Steam Magnate then join me in the line for the second book.
Click here to buy The Steam Magnate, by Dana Copithorne on Amazon
Important note: despite how I make it sound above, The Steam Magnate is NOT a self-published title. Aio Publishing has done great work bringing to print the work of authors whose work might get ignored by publishers whose risk-aversion compels them to print "more of the same".