The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman is a book unlike many others. The world created is a steampunk mecca of cleverness and cunning. More importantly, The Rise of Ransom City is a frontier story on the ambition of one man. Judge as you may but this ambition is the driving force of an adventure of accidental circumstance which I couldn’t help but admire.
Or you may have read about how he lost the battle of Jasper City, or won it, depending on where you stand in matters of politics.
Friends called him Hal or Harry, or by one of a half-dozen aliases, of which he had more than any honest man should. He often went by Professor Harry Ransom, and though he never had anything you might call a formal education, he definitely earned it.
If you’re reading this in the future, Ransom City must be a great and glittering metropolis by now, with a big bronze statue of Harry Ransom in a park somewhere. You might be standing on its sidewalk and not wonder in the least of how it grew to its current glory. Well, here is its story, full of adventure and intrigue. And it all starts with the day that old Harry Ransom crossed paths with Liv Alverhyusen and John Creedmoor, two fugitives running from the Line, amidst a war with no end.
Throughout The Rise of Ransom City, we meet the narrator, Harry Ransom. I found him to be a bit self-centered and reminded me of an uncle at Thanksgiving who wanted to tell you his life story. The uncle would fall into lulls which made you want to skip ahead to the next part. That being said, there was always that high note of a story where you sit on the edge of the seat despite yourself, the story becoming more and more outrageous until finally you question what percentage of the story is mere embellishment. This what made me eventually grow to love Harry Ransom! I found his world outlook to be interesting and unique. Like the niece, I found myself at the edge of my seat despite his occasional long prose.
The world of Ransom City is fully realized through the eyes of Harry Ransom. When I say this, I mean that if Harry doesn’t care about it, you shouldn’t either. Though at times I felt myself curious about the geography and history of the world, I found the narrative to be so convincing that like Harry, I felt myself curious about the struggle between good and evil and where the grey area was.
Throughout the adventure, Harry Ransom shows himself to be a true autodidact inventor. Without knowing what he’s doing he stumbles throughout life being both curious and ambitious in his tinkering. This made it possible for me to be fascinated by the engineering of The Rise of Ransom City without needing several chapters devoted to the intricacies of technology. This allowed Gilman to create a world of mystery where engineering and magic go hand in hand and the characters are at the precipice of learning this.
If you are looking for a romance novel, The Rise of Ransom City is not your book. The briefest of romances is towards the end of the book and unimportant. Afterall, the main character is lacking in personal relationships. The only relationship Harry has is with his childhood idol turned nemesis turned…let’s just say it’s complicated. Though the majority of this relationship is one sided, perhaps like many with idols are, the evolution of it is interesting to say the least.
The Rise of Ransom City is, at its most successful, an “autobiography” of Harry Ransom. Felix Gilman brings the narrator to life beautifully, letting me know how he would feel and react to countless adventures. Though the journey has its ups and downs, the book is worth the read for the sheer fact that despite his eccentricities and narcissism, Harry Ransom’s story truly should be told.