Whooda thunk it? Steampunk fantasy with depth. I kid you not. What starts out to be just another hi-jinx adventure with turn-of-the-century (19thto 20th, that is) steam-powered sci-fi and stereotypical characters, turns quickly into something more interesting. Oh, don’t worry. The tales are still full of the whole shooting match of far-fetched action sequences, mutated animals, Ninja warriors, ancient artifacts and coincidental last-minute rescues typical of the genre. Not to mention socialist communities hiding in plain sight on Atlantic islands and ghosts on shipwrecks. I can’t count the number of times a chapter ends with a literal blackout for the hero, Dirk Dynamo. They hadn’t heard about concussions in that era, I guess.
But sometimes the story dips briefly into more interesting topics, like political and social commentary. Slavery, colonialism, and sexism get their share of ink. Dirk’s political thoughts combined with an American lack of social restraint get him into as much trouble as the enemies who surround our intrepid trio.
And driving this all is a love story marvellous in its complexity and its perceptive discussion of gender inequality as it affects relationships. Dirk is trying to fit in with Isabelle’s independent spirit, but he just can’t strike the right note. When the chips are down, his protective instinct takes over. Sometimes he protects her from danger. Sometimes she protects him. He can handle that; it’s part of why he loves her. But sometimes he protects her when she doesn’t need it, and then the sewer excrement (We get a full tour of both London and Paris sanitary systems) hits the steam-powered fan.
Topping the conflict off is his relationship with his companion, Blaze-Simms, the British noble and extremely absentminded inventor. What seems a Laurel and Hardy comedy routine takes on more realistic dimensions at key moments in the plot.
Add to this just the right touch of poetic description of fantastical settings as ornate as the cover art, and the fact that our hero actually learns and changes as the story progresses, and you have the makings of a real gem.
Captain Nemo meets Indiana Jones on the island of Doctor Moreau. Highly recommended for all fantasy and action fans.(5 / 5)