Fantasy author Devon Monk's Age of Steam series is a really fun genre mash up that invites readers to discover a steampunk version of the Old West where magic works, robots help build railroads and cowboys have night vision goggles.
People in the Greater Spokane area who appreciate westerns and the fantasy genre will find much to enjoy in the pages of "Tin Swift", the second book in the series.
Several characters from the previous book "Dead Iron" are on a quest to find the parts of a powerful doomsday device called the Holder. The books' primary protagonist Cedar Hunt, a bounty hunter who is also a werewolf, is joined in his adventures by his brother Wil. the witch Mae Lindon, the mechanical genius Rose Small and the Madder brothers--three eccentric inventors on a secret mission to protect the world from evil magic.
Hunt and his friends soon find themselves joining forces with the crew of a steam powered airship called the Tin Swift and getting caught up in a feud with a former Union general with the ironic name Alabaster Saint.
Saint, who is anything but one, was kicked out of the army in disgrace after the Tin Swift's captain Hink Gage testified against him for committing a variety of heinous crimes and disobeying orders during the Civil War. Now, Saint is out for revenge with a little help from an old enemy that Hunt and his friends thought they defeated in the previous book.
"Tin Swift" is lighter in tone than "Dead Iron" and features romantic subplots some readers may consider a welcome change from all the grim and gritty violence of the first book. However, that doesn't mean Monk is going easy on her characters.
Most of the good guys have important goals that can't be achieved until the villains are defeated and a piece of the Holder is located. That seems relatively easy at first, until they run into a steady stream of setbacks and delays, fight several battles on the ground and in the air that they barely survive and generally see Murphy's Law in action.
Rose Small, who was an important character in the first book, is injured early in the story and spends most of the book unable to do much to help her friends. This is an interesting writing choice, because the way she blossomed into an action heroine in "Dead Iron" was a significant part of the narrative. In the sequel, she spends most of her waking hours slowly falling in love with the Tin Swift's dashing captain and generally acting like a character in a romantic comedy.
The witch Mae is also taken out of the action sometimes, because a spell that was placed on her by her old coven is slowly driving her insane. Sometimes, she makes valuable contributions to their mission. Part of the time, she is barely able to function.
This becomes part of another romantic subplot as Cedar realizes he is falling in love with her. His concern for her well-being leads pretty organically to other feelings that complicate their will-they-or-won't-they relationship.
Monk may have limited their participation in the more exciting scenes as a way to spend more time with several new characters, all of whom readers will fall in love with pretty quickly. The airship crew, in particular, are so well developed that the book almost feels like a crossover with another series focusing on the airship subculture.
Monk does a great job of implying that characters who could have just been cannon fodder in the fight scenes had been up to all sorts of amazing things while the events of "Dead Iron" were happening. She also makes it seem effortless to shift from a more straightforward fantasy/western hybrid to something closer to Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series while still being fairly consistent with the tone of the first book.
Book lovers in the Spokane area who would find this blend of genres entertaining can find "Tin Swift" at the Spokane County Library District and at local retailers such as Auntie's Bookstore. The book is also available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.