First of all let me say this: I am not usually one for giving book reviews. For one thing, I made the decision early on that I would not review a new book on my website unless I felt that I could unreservedly give it five stars. Of all the popular fiction that I've read - or attempted to read - lately, this is the first book of which I could pay such a compliment.
Hence: This is my first book review.
Once I joined Twitter in September, I quickly saw that it was a gold mine of links to new fiction, debut novels, new authors, and the rest. I clicked through all of them, and made a list of books whose premise appealed to me, and then cross-referenced them on Amazon and Goodreads. I read summaries, reviews, etc and narrowed down the list even more.
I finally took a chance on The Sauder Diaries: By Any Other Name by Michel R Vaillancourt. I was skeptical, even so. I had tried steampunk before, and hadn't found anything that really grabbed me.
All that changed when I downloaded The Sauder Diaries to my Kindle and devoured it over Christmas - as in, stayed-up-till-4am-and-lost-precious-sleep-because-the-book-wouldn't-let-me-go, kind of devouring.
Michel's pirate-infused steampunk world is rooted in the historical fabric of Victorian Europe, in which the Crimean War ended with a stalemate and not a victory. Airships and clockwork mechanisms are the technology of the future, mad scientists and engine-driven dragons run rampant, and Russia stands tall as the supermenace overshadowing the world.
Living amidst this vivid, turbulent clockwork world is Hans Sauder, a gentleman's son and German expat. While en route to University to study engineering, his airship is waylaid by the nefarious pirate ship The Bloody Rose. Confronted with a choice to either join the crew or be tossed overboard into the most volatile wilds of Europe, Hans reluctantly steps into the role of a pirate. As he is given the kind of education no university could have prepared him for, Hans finds himself at the center of a paradoxical world, where the Captain conducts piracy with a gentleman's keen business sense, the most lethal crew members are the women, and the dark underbelly of a "peaceful" Europe is exposed at every turn.
No shallow, cardboard characters populate this story; every pirate - from Italian Ethiope beauty Arietta to the deadly Captain-Gunner Annika, to the seemingly indestructible Blauchuk - is a multilayered soul with peculiar backhistories that feed the plot throughout, and drop ample hints for the series to come. Meticulous attention is given to the ethnicities and cultural backgrounds of the time, resulting in dynamic, believable characters who walk straight into your imagination and take it over, as easily as they ambushed Hans.
Being a history teacher myself, I am notoriously picky when it comes to the books I read. The Sauder Diaries defied my skepticsm at every turn - and won the duel, hands down. Romance, warfare, intrigue, humor, and espionage were all interwoven with careful attention. Historical and mechanical detail nails down every scene with credible realism.
There are a few passages where meticulous detail is given to the workings of the ship's machinery, but the action never stops cold while the exposition takes place. The movement of the characters among the innards of the Bloody Rose give ready movement and clarity to the mechanisms. While the detail is extraordinary, it is never off-putting for those who might not be history buffs, or possess a mechanical mind.
If I had known at the outset what a remarkable book this would be, I would have gladly paid more than the current asking price. I look forward to the promised sequel with school-girlish impatience.
How do I find the book? Who is Michel Vaillancourt?
I'm so glad you asked. Here are all the pertinent details:
Michel R Vaillancourt:
Find him on Twitter
Find him on Goodreads
Find his book on Amazon
Find his book at Barnes & Noble
Find him on Facebook
Find him on his official website
Have you read The Sauder Diaries yet? Do you plan to? Let me know!
Or better yet - pick a link above and let Michel know!