The world building that McIntyre creates in this title is really cool. The setting is somewhat steampunk with magic (in the form of elementals) thrown in. Basically, electricity and power as we know it don’t exist, but the world runs on technology powered by elemental beings. Adhering to most summoning/binding tropes in the genre, most of these elementals are angry and want to escape to enact their revenge for imprisoning them.
At heart, this novel is a murder mystery. A “deathsniffer” in McIntyre’s world is basically a detective. Of course, this rather simple explanation is complicated by a sort of caste system that all people are categorized by once they’re done with the world’s equivalent of high school. What’s more, this categorization system brings out legitimate magical talents that some people may have, including the MC’s rather underwhelming ability to write without using his hands.
I have mixed feelings about this novel.
On one hand, it’s expertly written. The pacing is pretty steady. Some of the scenes are very well written indeed.
On the other hand, the plot twist is obvious from the first 15% of the book (it’s a whodunnit and you already know whodunnit) and none of the characters are really sympathetic. The main character comes across like a whiny doormat with a sister complex, the sister herself is a brat who should really know better than to do the things she does, and our main character’s employer is a manic pixie dream girl who makes mysterious expressions and comments for no reason. She gets some back story towards the end, but it’s not enough to really make her very interesting.
I also had a problem with the main character alternating between being brilliantly observant and dense as a rock. If these extremes had alternated with different situations (like deduction versus romance), it would have been an interesting character trait. Instead, his competency seems to be utterly random.
I’m currently giving the author the benefit of the doubt with the characters because despite my personal lack of connection with any of them, I figured this may be intentional. The story is set in a different time and place where the mores and social interactions are not those of the modern world. I appreciated that all the characters played straight to this aspect of the world building the entire way through.
All that said, it was fun to read and despite the predictable plot it was worth picking up. I also really enjoyed the steampunk vibe. It reminded me of the old PC Game, “Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura”, except in McIntyre’s world the battle between magic and technology is complicated by the fact that magic in most cases powers technology.
The infighting between rival factions in the city, while a bit boring at first, actually ended up being the most interesting part of the story. I plan to pick up the next book in this series and one of the main reasons I will do so is to see how the politics play out.
I rated this novel 3.5 out of 5 stars because I think it shows promise for the rest of the series. I’m hoping that since many of the laws are established and the exposition is out of the way, McIntyre can really take off with the story in the next book.