Andrew P. Mayer’s Society of Steam continues in the riveting Hearts of Smoke and Steam. After reading the first in the series, I was curious to see what adventures would befall Mayer’s inventive characters. I was amazed to see that every minor complaint I had of the first book was masterfully executed in Hearts of Smoke and Steam. Not to be considered a standalone novel, Hearts of Smoke and Steam is what makes the Society of Steam series stand apart from the many new steampunk series out there.
Sir Dennis Darby has been murdered and the Automaton has been destroyed. Lord Eschaton plans to bring his apocalyptic vision of the future to the world are moving forward, but to complete his scheme he needs the clockwork heart that Sarah still holds.
Hearts of Smoke and Steam takes the foundation of The Falling Machine and improves upon the story ten fold. I was pleasantly surprised that once Mayer did not have to develop a new world and could rely upon the groundwork of the first novel, his writing truly bloomed. One of the best things about the Society of Steam series is that it has chapters with points of view from various characters. I thought this writing style was well done in The Falling Machine, but in Hearts of Smoke and Steam , Mayer hits his stride. I found myself captivated by Mayer’s choice of characters to highlight. My favorite chapters were from the viewpoint of the “archvillian”, whom we’d only caught a glimpse of until now. This POV provides insight into the good vs evil battle being waged and lends the entire book a superhero feel, one thing that I found to be lacking in The Falling Machine.
I found my favorite character of the series so far in Hearts of Smoke and Steam. I initially liked the main protagonist Sarah, I oftentimes found her limited by her privileged upbringing. She would have goals that were visionary for the time, such as her admittance to the all male superhero group, but her goals had no realism to them. I found this realism in the brand new character of Viola. Mayer beautifully captures a woman who is the complete opposite of his main protagonist, but ventures in tandem with the protagonist nonetheless. Sarah is reserved and mild mannered, Viola is outspoken and fierce. When Sarah has to gain the courage to act, Viola has plenty of action and little forethought. The differences continue to abound; with Viola, the worldly immigrant, who uses her femininity to achieve her goals and Sarah, the sheltered and inexperienced American, who feels she needs to be more like a man to make in it a man’s world. From her outspoken nature to her unabashed selfishness, I can’t get enough of Viola. One of the most telling sentences about a character I have ever read was about Viola. Mayer writes “Viola was the most in love with what loved her the most, and the fires of that passion burned very hot.” Very telling indeed! The two women can’t help but deplore the other’s methods and oftentimes collide in cacophonous action than glide in synchronization. Their relationship and interaction is only touched upon but it is dynamic nonetheless.
While The Falling Machine felt part mystery/part superhero book, Mayer clearly decided to embrace the good vs evil storyline in Hearts of Smoke and Steam. In my opinion, this choice was one of the best he could have made. Mayer’s writing goes from slow paced and sometimes vague in The Falling Machine to a pace that, while not fast, is certainly more my speed. Each action scene was greatly improved and played out from various viewpoints, letting the readers see different angles of the same shape.
Hearts of Smoke and Steam is an engaging second book and only catapults the entire series from visionary to delightfully realistic. Society of Steam has quickly become one of my must-read steampunk series and it is solely because of how Mayer ‘s writing shines in Hearts of Smoke and Steam. Without overworking plot-lines, Mayer captures various aspects of the lives of Sarah Stanton and the world at large. Each chapter reveals more about the supporting characters’ adventures through their relationships, through their pasts but most importantly their futures. Mayer shows us each characters’ dreams for the future and it this propelling force which sets the characters apart. Both Mayer’s writing and the character adventures are ever upward and onward. It makes me eager to see the future of the Society of Steam be it good or evil.