The thrill of Steampunk investigation captures the reader in Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life. With a setting that is reminiscent of a post apocalyptic Victorian island, Patel weaves a tale of intrigue. A charming ensemble makes the plot immersive and creates an altogether good read.
The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility. When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs –
It is hard to set oneself apart in the crowded steampunk mystery subgenre but Patel manages this quite well. Along with some decent writing is some great world development. I found myself wanting to be in Patel’s Recoletta and consistently found myself thinking it to be a great backdrop for a game. While gamers will find similarity to Dishonored, Recoletta marks itself by being a setting which is partially underground and partially on the surface. I often found myself forgiving the lack of visual cues because it was interesting.
Apart from the setting, Patel gives us something that is somewhat revolutionary in plots, even if it shouldn’t be so odd. Patel gives us a female superior officer! Crazy right? Not really, but you have no idea how many books I have read where the rookie is always a female. This point isn’t highlighted. Instead, Patel makes it as normal as it is to the conventions of the 21st century, a fact which I was appreciative of.
The characters aren’t entirely inventive but I found myself liking them nonetheless. As a book which employs changing points of view, there were several main characters. My two favorites were Liesl Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar. While both of these are a bit stereotypical – the ultra professional superior and the charming and unconventional sidekick – it’s still fun to see how they solve the mystery.
Ultimately, the central mystery is nothing to write home about. At no point was I surprised nor puzzled. The only twist was that we see it from the place of characters with a varied level of involvement. The counter plot is that of Jane, a laundress who gets herself into the thick of things. I found her to be a bland character and this unfortunately impacted the enjoyment of her sections. Since she was so integral to the mystery, this put things out of sorts a bit.
I wasn’t looking for anything specific when I read The Buried Life and I think that’s the best way to approach it. While somewhat entertaining, this is a fast easy read. It makes for the perfect beach fare for fans of light steampunk such as steampunk romance. Hard core steampunk or mystery fans may be disappointed in the lack of technology and in depth mystery. If however you’re just looking for a simple read that gives you a taste for steampunk, this is the book for you.