I suppose I should give a spoiler warning, except even the publisher's description spoils the whole story.
When Admiral Johnson announces his plan to start his own slave trade in the Caribbean, Captain Hartwell and the more loyal members of Hartwell's crew try to stand against him. Unfortunately, they are outnumbered, and so their best option becomes escape. After a fireball misses the ship and hits the ocean, Hartwell and his crew see an opportunity to escape. When they notice what appears to be a person floating in the ocean, Hartwell rushes to rescue them. The person turns out to be a silver skeleton, which Hartwell somehow instantly recognizes as belonging to a beautiful woman. Her flesh and organs reform before everyone's eyes, leaving Hartwell with a naked silver woman in his arms.
Hartwell's sister, Susanna, helps the woman, who calls herself Mechatronic, find clothes. It is quickly apparent that Mechatronic has amazing abilities, but Hartwell has other things to worry about. His new crew is too small, and his new ship is ancient and falling apart. He hopes to at least pick up more crew members at an abandoned pirate town. Unfortunately, several of Admiral Johnson's men catch up to them there. It's at that point that Hartwell and several of his crew learn that, in the process of rescuing Mechatronic, they were changed on a fundamental level and now have strange new abilities.
This story and I did not start off on the best footing, although I tried not to let that affect my opinion of it. When I first purchased it, All Romance Ebooks listed its word count as 184,420. Although I had never read anything by Wyatt before and had no experience with Devine Destinies, the book's description made it sound like a fun, fast-paced adventure, and $3.99 seemed like a nice price to pay for something of that length. You can imagine my shock when I opened up the file on my Nook and saw that it was only 44 pages. I contacted ARe, which tried and failed to get in touch with Devine Destinies and finally just corrected the word count on their product page using the info from the Devine Destinies site.
Although the description had seemed fine for a 184,420 word book, it seemed too busy for something that was only 18,442 words long. Sadly, my concern turned out to be justified. This could have been a much better work had every last bit of it been fleshed out more. Most of the characters were little more than a name, a job title, and a “good” or “bad” designation. You could tell the “bad” characters by their willingness to profit from slavery and their tendency to threaten to rape anything female. The “good” characters were, of course, anti-slavery and loyal to Hartwell, whose one vice was his absinthe addiction.
The shallow characterization was part of what allowed the story to move at such a brisk pace. Unfortunately, that brisk pace did not translate into “fun” and “exciting.” Even the action scenes were weak and unexciting. It didn't help that I realized pretty quickly that the publisher's description had basically told me the whole story. There were no surprises, other than the specific abilities Hartwell and his crew members gained. The story's structure left me feeling like I'd just read either an in-depth outline or the introduction to a longer work.
There were so many problems with this story.
- The insta-love between Hartwell and Mechatronic was eye roll-worthy, particularly when you consider that, for Hartwell, it began when he was holding Mechatronic's skeleton. That's not horrifying at all, no siree.
- When Hartwell's sister was first mentioned, I wondered what kind of idiot would bring his sister with him to hunt pirates. Then I realized that Susanna was basically only there so that she could prove the Bad Guys' badness by giving them someone to threaten with rape.
- All the villains are cartoon bad guys. All of them.
- There's a bit of head-hopping, particularly in the beginning of the story.
- The attempts at humor left me cold. Readers were expected to laugh as Hartwell's new crew members introduced themselves. Those crew members were: a stone-deaf sailor; a little person who listed his experience as gunnery crew and who therefore had difficulties with every aspect of his job; a huge, scary-looking cook who had a squeaky voice and no fighting ability; a girl pretending to be a boy, badly; and Lucky Pete, who was considered lucky because the cannibals didn't get a chance to cut off his penis, although they got just about everything else. Wyatt seemed to be going for an over-the-top, Janet Evanovich-style humor, and it fell completely flat for me. Part of the problem was that I felt uncomfortable about being expected to laugh at incredibly unfortunate individuals. Another part of the problem was that the attempt at wacky humor didn't seem to fit with what the story had been like up to that point.
- At one point, Ruby, a drunken serving woman who throws herself at Hartwell so that readers can laugh at her and Mechatronic has an opportunity to feel jealous, is held hostage. Except it's almost like she's not in the scene. She's barely mentioned as the two sides talk, no one seems concerned about her safety, and it's easy to forget she's even there.
Lady Mechatronic and the Steampunked Pirates appears to be the first story in a series of at least four works. I have absolutely no plans to read the rest of the series and will do my best to avoid any other works published by Devine Destinies.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- The Iron Duke (book) by Meljean Brook - For those looking for a fast-paced steampunk adventure that is actually good, give this book a try. I have written about it.
- Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series) - The changes that occurred in Hartwell and his crew made me think of things that happen to some of the alchemists in this series. Although I've rarely heard it referred to as steampunk, that's basically what this series is, so give it a try if you'd like an action-packed steampunk story. The manga and original TV series are drastically different after a certain point, but both are good. I've written about volume 16 of the manga and part of the original anime series.
- Sea Change (book) by Darlene Marshall - This isn't steampunk, but rather straight historical romance. Those who'd just like a good pirate story might want to give this one a try. I haven't written about it, but I've read and enjoyed it. The hero is a privateer, while the heroine is pretending to be a man so that she can practice medicine. She's much, much better at her charade than the character in Wyatt's story.