First Light by Jeffrey Cook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It is the early 1800’s, the Napoloenic Wars are over, and two wealthy British gentelmen make a bet based on a series of books in which the author claims to have traveled to some of the most unknown (at the time) places in the world. Most consider the books to be mostly fiction, but some claim they could be real. Two crews set out in separate airships in a race to be first to prove or disprove the books.
The story is told mainly in journal entries and letters from Gregory Conan Watts, a war journalist who is part of one of the crews undertaking the journey. He has been hired on to write the story of the journey as it unfolds. We read his journal entries, as well as letters to both his employer and his fiancee. Occasionally, there is a letter from one of the other members of the crew. The entire collection is being published by Gregory’s wife after his death.
It wasn’t a bad book. In fact, there were a lot of good elements to it. The characters were varied and made quite the interesting dynamic for the voyage. There were secrets, personal agendas, and both good and bad relationships. The settings were true to the period, including the Year Without a Summer (1815). Customs, standards, and speech were all true to upper British society in the period. The steampunk elements added to the mix were believable. The book starts a bit slow, with the early journal entries and letters a bit tedious in spots, but after the crew is set and the actual voyage begins, things pick up a bit. The ending leaves the way open nicely for the sequels.
The problem I have with this one is the format. I couldn’t really get into the epistolary format. It felt distant, as if I was being removed from the action and just a passive observer. That made it difficult for me to truly get invested in any of the characters or the story. It also tended to slow the plot in spots. It’s an interesting idea, and seems to be done well here, but it wasn’t my favorite form for storytelling.
Still, the idea of the story is good, the details are genuine to the time period, and the additional elements make this a good example of a steampunk novel. If you don’t mind the format, this book should not disappoint.
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