The Steam Magnate
Well, I've been researching a variety of publishers, partly because I haven't heard back from the one that has Darkness (not even responding to my follow-up queries) and partly for future things. So one I've been intrigued by ever since I learned that they're publishing Zoran Zivkovic, is Aio. A few weeks ago, one of their authors, Dana Copithorne, recently guest blogged for a week on Jeff VanderMeer's blog, so I decided to check out her book The Steam Magnate.
I finished it last night, and I thought I'd jot down a couple reactions. Does the fact that I'm interested in submitting to the publisher make me more charitable to it than I otherwise would be? It's possible, but I think I can be fair.
First, the book itself as a physical object. It's wonderful. On their webiste, Aio talks of producing books that will be treasured for more than just the story they tell, and they succeed. Before I picked this up, I wasn't sure exactly how much that would affect me--a book is a book, right? But the quality of the paper and just the feel of the book...it's like it has weight that your typical paperbacks don't. I liked to just carry it around even when I wasn't going to have the chance to read it. The book also contains illustrations painted by the author, which adds a nice touch.
So what about the story? Two things jump out at me. First, it's beautifully told. The author clearly cares about language, isn't just throwing the words at the reader to get a meaning across. And the words themselves are working to evoke an entire, strange world that's unlike any other fantasy I've read. There's a poetic quality to the way we see Broken Glass City especially. The northern territories and the coast also rise from the page, but it's the city itself that stands out.
Which really gets into the second thing that drew me in--the setting and society. It's completely unlike typical speculative fiction--neither pseudo-medieval nor futuristic high-tech. Not steam punk, though steam power is important to the world. Certainly not ancient. In many ways it feels like a modern world, with telephones and trains (though no guns or planes), a high awareness of museums and works of art and nightclubs. But in other ways there's an archaic, mythic quality to it. This will unsettle some readers wanting to understand the world better, but it ends up being fun*. That's probably the strongest part of it--its uniqueness. The setting itself and also the story told--of a strange magic or contracts and electrical power, of a member of an insulated community within the Broken Glass City and his desire to step beyond expectations but not beyond his people--it's all unlike anything I've read. There's no hint of cliched storylines or characters or anything.
It's not perfect. I was a bit disappointed in the ending--some of it felt rushed with how it all came to a head (though since I just finished it last night, I may decide eventually that I liked how it worked). And I would have liked to see more of Jado and his ethnically insular community. There's also a hint of the characters re-enacting an ancient myth of another ethnic group, but this doesn't seem fully played out...though I believe a sequel is coming, which could develop that more.
In all, it's a very good book for those looking for something different.
And now I've read it, what are my thoughts about whether Aio will be interested in my novel? I am definitely still interested in submitting it. It's not a big press, but I'd be very proud to have my book produced so beautifully. Mine is--superficially at least--much closer to standard fantasy. It's still a ways off from that, but closer. When I started it (5 years ago now!), I consciously told myself I'd accept many of the trappings of fantasy, but anytime something felt like it was nearing a cliche, I'd veer away, sometimes actively subverting them. Still, the story does involve swords and battles, even if that's not the primary focus. So we shall see what happens. I'm currently tweaking the manuscript a bit, but I hope to send it out to them (or someone else, if I become convinced it'd do better elsewhere) fairly soon.
So wish me luck! And while you're at it, go check out The Steam Magnate.
*(and I'd love to see a map--but I just love maps in general, whether of the real world or any other)