by Matthew Pearl
The plot is wildly, madly, terrifically unbelievable! Several stories interweave – the battles between town and gown – and gown and gown, the terror of ordinary people and traditional academia of the new science that is steamrollering over their world, memories of the very recent Civil War, the burgeoning fight for female independence and a touch of romance too – and Pearl keeps these diverse threads consistently interesting and remarkably tight.
It’s not a fast paced book; the style reflects the syntax and literary style of the time in which it’s set, and the first half suffered from an excess of rather laboured cleverness, an over-abundance of unnecessary technical detail (which is, admittedly, probably, precisely, what a certain type of steam punk aficionado loves most), but had me skipping chunks; it slowed the story down at crucial moments. The second half is less technical, the plot picks up speed as a result, the characters emerge more strongly and distinctly – it all made for a much better read for me.
The characters – many of whom turn out (according to the end notes) to be based on real people or amalgamations of real people – are excellent, very nicely drawn and utterly believable. My favourite character by far was Hammie, he deserved more of the action. I’d love to see a novel with him as the main character.
In short, It’s a bit too long, especially at the start; a little too in love with the technology – which has its place, of course (the novel is called The Technologists, after all), but rather less of it would have made for a faster-paced and more thrilling read. Still a cracking good tale, though, that I enjoyed very much indeed.