Wednesday 12 July 2017

Golden Dragon by V.E. Ulett

Amazon UK £3.84 £9.99
Amazon US $4.89 $9.99
Amazon CA  $13.48

Alternate history / steampunk

Early 19th century

Golden Dragon, by V.E. Ulett, is an alternate history story, set in what in our world would be the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Familiar characters like Sir Edward Pellew jostle alongside a steampunk setting where a handful of ships can leave the ocean's surface and set out in flight. It's a curiously compelling vision - the technical advances are handled with a light touch rather than overwhelming the story, and the end result is close enough to this world that one can easily imagine that the events are in fact real. The author has previously written naval stories set in broadly the same era, but without the steampunk additions.

The book is focused predominantly on the characters. The plot moves along at a fair pace, and there are never serious doubts about the outcome. What draws the reader in is the interplay between the small group of protagonists, in particular the central couple. A wide variety of culture and background is stirred into the mix, from both posh and not-so-posh England via the Islamic world, across to the Far East. These are appropriately loaded with opportunities for both synergy and misunderstanding: for me this was a continual source of pleasure.

Technically the book has been well produced. I would have preferred a bit more depth to the story, and felt that there was easily enough imaginative core here to warrant more exploration of the material. For example, the central crisis was over surprisingly quickly, and the story seemed to flit too rapidly from build-up to end-game. In this particular case, perhaps the section could only have been extended by including a level of cruelty and brutality which the author wished to avoid. In the book generally, however, I would have appreciated a bit more development and complexity, and I am sure that this could have been done without losing any pace.

But Golden Dragon is an enjoyable book, with an absorbing vision of an alternate technology that seems credible, and characters with whom one can readily identify. The novel ends with a half-promise of more stories to come, even though this particular investigation is neatly closed off. I for one would be very happy to read more about this world.

© Richard Abbott

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