Since I was selected to be in the 2016 NaNoWriMo Story Bundle, I have been curious about the other authors who were included. I had read one of them already, but the rest were new to me. Then, when I mentioned Annie Bellet was included and got two strong recommendations, I started going about familiarizing myself with the rest of the bundle authors. With this intention in mind, I chose Free-Wrench by the curator, Joseph R. Lallo.
There are two types of Steampunk–though like many things the genre is a spectrum–the ones focused on Victorian society and the ones all about the machines. I love both for very different reasons, but my favorite has to be the stories where gears are turned and steam is controlled.
Free-Wrench, which should come as no surprise considering the name, is very much the second type. Aminita Graus, who goes by Nita, is something of an anomaly in her talented, artistic family. While they create great works of art and music, she helps keep the steamworks running, a dirty, dangerous job that produces none of the beauty their culture is founded on.
The story begins in the middle of a disaster, clearly demonstrating the type of person Nita is. I’ll admit to finding the fast-paced start a bit slow simply because I could not see the shape of the story, leaving me no way to anticipate what would come next or tell what the book was really about. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the glimpse into the world or the interesting characters. The last is what kept me reading beyond the initial crisis, a fact I am thrilled with.
Everything I learned about Nita in that bridging conflict comes into play as she discovers an opportunity to help her dying mother and takes it with little thought to the consequences. It’s the same as when she charges toward the problem during the beginning crisis when any reasonable person would have been looking for cover. She’s impulsive, focused, and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her aims. Nita recognizes the existence of consequences. She doesn’t act so in blissful ignorance. No, she’s just willing to accept what will happen next as long as she gets the results she’s seeking, at least when she doesn’t believe she can get away with it.
There are a ton of wonderful characters from Lil and Coop who are eager, willing, and none-too-smart, to Captain Mack, Gunner, even Drew, her coworker at the steamworks, as well as many more. The description is rich (though on occasion a bit heavy for me), the mechanics are viable and clever, and the world is well thought out. It surprises me not at all to learn readers of this book demanded more.
While Free-Wrench is clearly an introduction of the world and the crew of the Wind Breaker, it serves much more than that in providing a strong, moving story with moments of danger, very real threats, well-seeded espionage (I figured it out early, but it didn’t spoil how the characters remained ignorant because it still made sense), and both comradery and betrayal. This is my sweet spot between earnest if not exactly legit characters and a grand adventure that requires them to pull out all the stops to achieve what they set out to do. The world is harsh and hard, but the people don’t have to let that define them.
I recommend this book hands down.
P.S. As stated above, this is one of the books included in the eBook Story Bundle with Shafter, and that drove my choice to jump it in my reading queue (the bundle is only available until the 21st of March), but I’m ever so grateful I did. The bundle includes both this book and Skykeep, also set in this world.