There’s fantasy stories that span continents while others confine themselves to much smaller pastures. Steamborn fits in that second category as most of this steampunk story takes place within the city limits of Ancora… and there’s good reason for that. Outside the walls are hordes of monsters that can perhaps best be described as giant mutated bugs. When they attack, no one is safe.
We follow our hero Jacob as the city stronghold gets compromised and the fight for survival begins. Why are the creatures attacking so heavily all of a sudden? And where can they run? Combine it with some good old fashioned (fantasy) steam-tech tinkering and you could have a wonderful recipe for some quality entertainment. But does the experience hold up?
The writing/editing is well done (always a plus) and main character Jacob has a good ensemble around him to build on. Charles, the tinkerer, can be considered the teacher and pool of knowledge, while Alice acts as the trust anchor/support and Samuel plays the role of brave knight (quite literally). It provides enough dynamics and opportunities to zoom in and out of the main conflict at different times and keeps things interesting.
The action scenes and general mystery of why the attacks are happening provide enough steam (haha) to carry readers forward. Like one would expect, tinkering is also a fun part of the world building. Coming up with new things, building tools as solutions for (previously unknown) problems works really well in the grand scale of things. Throughout the book, readers can already start guessing where things are going as more of the hidden history of the world is revealed by old man Charles and that builds plenty of anticipation and curiosity.
Not everything goes absolutely perfect, nor is their world. There’s tension between the different layers of their society, which in turn is one of the motivators for Jacob to try and make a better future for himself. It all makes the world feel more real/alive.
Despite the different action scenes and general momentum, the pace in the book did not strike me as super-fast. Eric R. Asher clearly takes his time to build his world, planting seeds here and there to likely build upon in the later books in the series. It’s nothing too bad, but the book did not often keep me on the edge of my seat.
There’s plenty of layers still to peel back with the main group of characters and, by that, I mean that I felt that Jacob remained a bit simple throughout the story. I can’t put my finger on it precisely and perhaps it’s just because it’s the start of his road, but there was little internal conflict in him that I remember as he does his thing. That makes the stake he has in the adventure somehow feel a bit flat, while the threats and danger are pretty gigantic. That said, I suspect that the other books provide plenty of opportunity to deep dives into such things, after all a book only can hold so many pages and as an author you have to save a few things for later.
Read or not?
Book #1 of the Steamborn series rounds up the opening arc nicely while keeping plenty of topics to explore. The world is thrown open toward the end of the book, providing full opportunity for all kinds of surprises and intrigue to follow.
Eric R. Asher created an interesting world of stronghold cities fighting for survival in a destroyed world and desolate landscape. To me the (albeit slowish type) book left a pleasant aftertaste and there’s enough to look forward to. Even without any dragons in the story (so far, I mean who knows what can happen), I fully intend to check out the other Steamborn books. After that, we’ll see if the continuation of the series is worth it with the Skyborn trilogy and the recently released Stormborn book (surely the first of another set of three and together with the Skyborn trilogy all part of the same series).
It’s clear that Eric R Asher is on a roll and he provides heaps of adventure to dig into for anyone willing to give his books a chance. Steampunk fans will surely find it a pleasant read, but in my opinion other fantasy fans can just as well venture safely into this steampunk world with this one. Go check it out Steamborn here.