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Free-Wrench by Joseph R. Lallo
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Free-Wrench (2014)

by Joseph R. Lallo

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An interesting universe. The author calls it steampunk - doesn't quite fit that category, for me, though I don't know why. There's certainly plenty of steam and similar levels of tech. It's also post-apocalyptic, but at the stage where most people have forgotten the world before entirely. Nita is impulsive, competent, and naive, which makes her a great catalyst for change both to her society (not shown much yet) and the broader society(ies) beyond her island nation. I'm surprised the fuggers explained as much as they did to her - not sure what benefit they thought they would get from it. Or maybe they weren't really thinking about her, but about the captain. The spy is fascinating - both the individual and how the info was passed. The ship's crew is a widely varied bunch - I'm surprised Butch is so incomprehensible when Nita can understand all the others perfectly. Gunner is a pain, both for his obsession (which is, admittedly, useful) and for his belief that he's inherently better than the others. For all his comments about Lil and Coop's one-track minds, he doesn't do much better; and Nita seems to have been educated to think, while he was educated to know things. Very different standards. Each person is an individual, vividly drawn, even ones we don't see a lot of (Nita's family and co-workers, for instance). The dialog is occasionally a bit stiff, but never enough to distract me from the story. Fun, and I'm looking forward to the next book (which I have). ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Apr 10, 2016 |
Originally posted on Tales to Tide You Over

There are two types of Steampunk–though like many things the genre is a spectrum–the ones focused on Victorian society and the ones all about the machines. I love both for very different reasons, but my favorite has to be the stories where gears are turned and steam is controlled.

Free-Wrench, which should come as no surprise considering the name, is very much the second type. Aminita Graus, who goes by Nita, is something of an anomaly in her talented, artistic family. While they create great works of art and music, she helps keep the steamworks running, a dirty, dangerous job that produces none of the beauty their culture is founded on.

The story begins in the middle of a disaster, clearly demonstrating the type of person Nita is. I’ll admit to finding the fast-paced start a bit slow simply because I could not see the shape of the story, leaving me no way to anticipate what would come next or tell what the book was really about. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the glimpse into the world or the interesting characters. The last is what kept me reading beyond the initial crisis, a fact I am thrilled with.

Everything I learned about Nita in that bridging conflict comes into play as she discovers an opportunity to help her dying mother and takes it with little thought to the consequences. It’s the same as when she charges toward the problem during the beginning crisis when any reasonable person would have been looking for cover. She’s impulsive, focused, and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her aims. Nita recognizes the existence of consequences. She doesn’t act so in blissful ignorance. No, she’s just willing to accept what will happen next as long as she gets the results she’s seeking, at least when she doesn’t believe she can get away with it.

There are a ton of wonderful characters from Lil and Coop who are eager, willing, and none-too-smart, to Captain Mack, Gunner, even Drew, her coworker at the steamworks, as well as many more. The description is rich (though on occasion a bit heavy for me), the mechanics are viable and clever, and the world is well thought out. It surprises me not at all to learn readers of this book demanded more.

While Free-Wrench is clearly an introduction of the world and the crew of the Wind Breaker, it serves much more than that in providing a strong, moving story with moments of danger, very real threats, well-seeded espionage (I figured it out early, but it didn’t spoil how the characters remained ignorant because it still made sense), and both comradery and betrayal. This is my sweet spot between earnest if not exactly legit characters and a grand adventure that requires them to pull out all the stops to achieve what they set out to do. The world is harsh and hard, but the people don’t have to let that define them.

I recommend this book hands down. ( )
  MarFisk | Mar 30, 2016 |
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