The Steam Mole by Dave Freer
Series: Cuttlefish #2
Genre: YA, alternate history, steampunk
Published on December 4, 2012
Published by Prometheus Books
Read From: 2.17.13 - 2.21.13
Tim Barnabas is a submariner from the Cuttlefish, a coal-fired submarine. Clara Calland is the daughter of a scientist who carries a secret formula that threatens British Imperial power. After a daring chase across the globe, they have brought the secret to Westralia. Here, much of Australia is simply too hot to be habitable by day. People are nocturnal, living underground and working outside at night. To cross the deserts they use burrowing machines known as "steam moles." With the Cuttlefish out of action, her crew take jobs on these submarine-like craft.
Duke Malcolm, of the Imperial Security Service, transports Clara's rebel father to a prison in Eastern Australia, hoping to bait Clara into attempting a rescue. Clara looks to Tim for help, only to find he has fled from a racist incident into the desert. She takes a steam mole in search of him. The two head to Eastern Australia, where they discover a military force with plans to invade Westralia. Forced to survive in the desert, they encounter the intolerance meted out to the aboriginal people. Can they save Westralia from falling under British rule? And should they?
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? No. Yet more character impersonators (and that kid looks nothing like how I imagine Tim), and it's just kind of boring.
Characters: The two protagonists have actually improved since Cuttlefish. Tim doesn't harp on the race issue nearly as much as he did in the previous book, and Clara has abandoned her feminist attitude, while still maintaining her adventurous and resourceful streak. Linda would have been a good addition to the cast, except she was, in so many ways, so much like Clara that the two blended together, and neither of them ended up seeming special. I don't normally like it when a kid protagonist's parents are thrown into an adventure, because the parents will always try to keep their kids from doing fun stuff, but Clara's father and mother seemed to accept pretty readily that Clara was going to do what needed to be done, and so found ways for her to help in the "big picture" that wouldn't see her flat-out killed, rather than trying to wholly protect her. Linda's father was much the same way. In terms of villains, however, The Steam Mole is lacking. Duke Malcolm just isn't that threatening, and his brothers are so incompetent that the scenes where the villains are plotting and planning their dastardly schemes begin to feel like a comedy routine.
The Romance: Clara and Tim spend the majority of the book separated, and when they do finally meet up, they're too busy surviving to spend too much time romancing. I was extremely happy. Tim didn't get really annoying in Cuttlefish until he started "noticing" Clara.
Plot: It isn't as good as Cuttlefish. The "superobjective" is a bit more tenuous - okay, a lot more tenuous. The villains have some plans to do away with Clara's mother, but there's this plan to use Clara as leverage, and then their plans are somehow thwarted by no purposeful intent on the heroes' parts; it just happens. Characters spend a lot of time wandering through the Australian outback, literally just missing each other by a couple of miles, and then finally find each other. Meanwhile, Clara's father is learning about how mistreated the Aboriginals are (because this is somehow necessary to the plot), and the British Empire has some plans to take over Westralia, but the villains are so ridiculous and the heroes so lucky that . . . Well, let's just say that I was embarrassed for the villains.
Believability: This is what continually saves this Author's books. I still find his steampunk world being based in a world affected by Global Warming because coal is still in wide use absolutely ridiculous, and I still have to wonder how it is that clothing fashions remain in the Victorian era when it's the 1970s (the alternate history of this world wouldn't affect that). But the Author's steam contraptions are just so bloody fascinating - and so bloody believable. I just positively enjoy them, so much so that it actually makes up for the disappointing plot (that could have been super, but wasn't). The submarine was awesome enough, but here we have tunneling machines and air ships - how cool is that?!
Writing Style: The Author still persists in using ". . ." in downright weird places (in the middle of sentences, at the beginning of sentences, at the end, in the middle of the middle), and at times his style lacks beauty, and sounds almost shamefully cliche and childish (mostly during the "dastardly scheming" scenes; I just had the hardest time taking his villains seriously). But at other times, it was actually very nice, and he has a way with conveying technical details in a very coherent fashion. I could envision his steam contraptions perfectly.
Conclusion: In a word: anticlimactic. Very anticlimactic. I don't know if he's going to write another sequel - I certainly think he should, though I don't think it would save The Steam Mole's ending. With the British Empire invading Westralia, one would expect a really exciting ending. Think again. The heroes are reunited, they cobble together a plan that just happens to work perfectly in their favor, racism is on the road to being vanquished, and the villains are humiliated. I actually ended up missing the actual moment of triumph because I blinked, and then, when I got to finis, I had to go back and find where exactly the heroes won. And then I was like, "That's it?!" So, in some ways The Steam Mole was better than Cuttlefish: Tim and Clara were more likable, there were some more awesome contraptions, and the politics of the world were coherent. But in other ways - namely, the plot - it was worse.
Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, fourteen-and-up (younger than that just might find it a little boring). Steampunk and alternate history fans will probably enjoy this pretty well, though it definitely isn't the world's best steampunk novel.
Others in This Series:
2)The Steam Mole