As soon as I read the premise of The Falling Machine by Andrew Mayer I was hooked. It was practically made to catch my eye. With steampunk superheroes based in Victorian New York and a protagonist who is tired of what society thinks of her, this book may just be your cup of tea. No pun intended.
In 1880 women aren’t allowed to vote, much less dress up in a costume and fight crime…
But twenty-year-old socialite Sarah Stanton still dreams of becoming a hero. Her opportunity arrives in tragedy when the leader of the Society of Paragons, New York’s greatest team of gentlemen adventurers, is murdered right before her eyes. To uncover the truth behind the assassination, Sarah joins forces with the amazing mechanical man known as The Automaton. Together they unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the Paragons that reveals the world of heroes and high-society is built on a crumbling foundation of greed and lies. When Sarah comes face to face with the megalomaniacal villain behind the murder, she must discover if she has the courage to sacrifice her life of privilege and save her clockwork friend.
The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam, Book One) takes place in a Victorian New York powered by the discovery of Fortified Steam, a substance that allows ordinary men to wield extraordinary abilities, and grant powers that can corrupt gentlemen of great moral strength. The secret behind this amazing substance is something that wicked brutes will gladly kill for and one that Sarah must try and protect, no matter what the cost.
The Falling Machine sends the reader on an adventure like no other. I had high expectations for this book since it was the culmination of so many of my favorite topics. Mayer made me wonder several times whether I loved or hated it. It was an interesting experience to say the least.
The setting of Victorian New York was partly what intrigued me. However, I know that as a Native New Yorker I can be a harsh judge and The Falling Machine was not exempt. Mayer did not catch any of the grittiness that was so prevalent in the time period (and popular in fiction). Luckily, capturing these themes does not seem to be his goal. He features more affluent neighborhoods with a general air but he truly hits his stride when he speaks about one of the then-modern marvels – the Brooklyn Bridge.
Like many modern books, The Falling Machine is told from the viewpoint of not one, but many characters. This style is not my favorite because so many authors cannot connect their characters to one another. Mayer does this well. Throughout the book I found the switched viewpoint to be refreshing instead of abhorrent. Though several of the characters are underwhelming, they paint a picture of who The Society of Steam is.
One aspect of The Falling Machine which I found to be a bit confusing was that although it is the first in the series, The Society of Steam and the author’s first novel, it felt as if it were a spin off series. The aforementioned steampunk superheroes are, for the most, part middle aged has beens. These superheroes are not the strapping young men of my imagination but their soon to be retired fathers. Once I got over this, I realized that this was not their story, but the perfect example of a society on the brink of change.
Sarah, our true hero is convinced that in her prime she should follow her father’s example and fight for justice as a member of The Society of Steam and this is where the adventure unfolds. Though the plot feels a bit predictable and tells a mystery that is simply solved, Mayer shows us the undercurrents of his plot in Sarah’s relationships. I love how The Falling Machine has one young woman surrounded by men but she is neither submissive nor unnecessarily obstinate towards them. Sarah is a woman with a goal and like many New Yorkers, does what she can to achieve it no matter the consequences.
Overall, the book was boring at times and intriguing at others. It presents itself as an adventure book but it goes further than that. The Falling Machine has us wonder what society expects of women today and how we, like Sarah, can be women who make our own choices; women who have intricate relationships with those around them, but are not defined by them. If all this sounds a bit too preachy for you, feel free to ignore the women’s rights aspects of the book and read it for explosions, corsets, and tin men. Trust me, the tin man won’t disappoint.