Madame Magdala has settled comfortably into her new life in London, as the proprietress of the Book View Café, a coffee shop and extensive library. Her silent partner is Ada Lovelace, who will one day become the world’s first computer programmer—but who now is simply the young woman for whom Madame Magdala was a nursery maid.
Ten years ago, Ada’s father, Lord Bryon, was known as a great writer. But few knew of his powers as a necromancer. Upon his death, his devoted followers tried to repair the Transference Engine—a device that would allow Byron’s soul to claim the body of its choice. Magadala, along with Mary Godwin—a.k.a. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley—had to stop them.
While the original Transference Engine was destroyed, they were unsure whether they truly stopped Bryon and his followers. Together, they fled to safety in London, and built new futures for themselves.
Now, Magdala and Mary care for the Book View Café’s community, leading fashion, following gossip, and reading the latest periodicals. But when members of the café’s community mysteriously disappear, and rumors of a threat of royal assassinaton grow, Magdala finds herself with new mysteries to solve. The more she learns, the clearer it becomes that this is the same mystery returned—the Transference Engine is back with a vengeance.
Worldbuilding: The steampunk London word, full of fun clockwork, steam mechanisms, paranormal elements like visions, necromancers, and souls inhabiting bodies was a very interesting mix. Queen Victoria’s coronation provided a fun setting. What I really loved was the Book View Café and its library!
Characters: Madame Magdala was a quirky, strong woman. I loved her independence and her loyalty to those she loved. There was a bit of a Sherlock-ian air about her, with the network of street urchins working as her spies, and her interest in solving the Byron’s soul mystery. Her sort-of-romantic connection to Drew made her look more vulnerable, and I liked that about her. Her love of the street urchins and those in need was a lovely touch, too. Madame Magdala was a feminist and a strong woman, a woman of action – and I really enjoyed her. Given the right circumstances, I would love her, in fact.
Other characters were also interesting, like Ada Lovelace (I have a personal fondness for her, truth be told), Drew, Jimmy, and Ruthven wasn’t half-bad either. But I can’t say I found one of them particularly fascinating. An interesting aspect is that a good portion of the characters are actual historical figures and not fictitious.
Plot: The story is fun though somewhat slow. While I found it fun to follow, I found myself often wishing for a more rapid pace of events. There’s some action, some romantic-like thing between Madame Magdala and Drew. I can’t say I was riveted, but it is entertaining if you’re a bit of a melancholic over old-school classics.
Writing: First person, past tense, Magdala’s POV. The style is period-appropriate though not too ornate and therefore it is clear and charming. I liked Magdala’s voice.
Curb Appeal: Brilliant cover, hooking blurb, and smart title/author name references make this a steampunk temptation – the reference to The Difference Engine by Gibson & Sterling (alternative history steampunk) – where a few characters from this cast make an appearance, in fact, including Ada Lovelace! -, the author name that made me think of Jules Verne (one of the founding fathers of steampunk). So, good candidate for impulsive buy when in steampunk-craving-mode.
All in all, I recommend The Transference Engine to lovers of old-school steampunk and alternate history fans. While the pacing was slow, it had a lot of charm and it was a fun ride.
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