The Deathsniffer's Assistant

The Deathsniffer's Assistant - Kate McIntyre
I have had wildly variable luck with steampunk. So perhaps it's just as well that The Deathsniffer's Assistant wasn't deep-dyed steampunk. There was a lot to like about the setting and writing, magic and the way it was used. But I couldn't warm to any of the characters. The young hero, Christopher, was timid and insecure, and being inside his head could be almost stressful with that level of quaveryness. It was also uncomfortable watching him react sexually to … just about everyone (mainly because it made him so uncomfortable. He was a very confused young man). His extremely gifted sister, Rosemary, was intriguing, part of which being the fact that she did not react as I expected her to very often, but she was a) too young and b) not 'on stage' enough to become attached to. The victim's family were kind of hideous. And as for Olivia Faraday … I don't get it. She wore a different unsuitable outfit every day; she was abrasive and inappropriate and outright aggressively rude in ways that I found hard to fathom. "Too far!" she challenged as she spun Olivia around to face her. "Too damned far, Faraday!..." There was nothing to make any sense of it.

The book description includes the line, "It is about the relationships between broken people who clash more often than not, but manage to shape and learn from one another in spite of this." I didn't get that out of it. Olivia didn't strike me as broken so much as determinedly eccentric; by the time any evidence appeared of past trauma causing her behavior, it was too late: I was already settled into a distaste for her. And unfortunately Christopher's brokenness was not calculated to elicit any sympathy either.

What really distanced me from this book, though, was a sort of nauseous horror at the way magic was harnessed. Actually, there were two magical systems going on in this world: one was fascinating, in which each individual was sorted as a child into a sort of a guild based on his innate gifts (if any). Christopher was a wordweaver. "Some wordweavers performed well enough as fiction writers, but it was at the bottom of the authorized profession list – and tended to pay abysmally when it paid at all." Heh. It was all very strictly controlled, and strictly enforced. Olivia was Rosemary showed early signs of a very strong gift in the whole aspect of magic in this world which made me uncomfortable: binding.

While I enjoyed the exposition of what I've just described, this part was less successfully explained, in my mind. The picture that finally emerged was one of humans binding elementals and such creatures to perform largely mundane tasks. Lighting, a sort of Skype using mirrors, freezing water and washing dishes, making trains and flying cabs go … running ferris wheels … and (here's the one that made me queasy) electrocuting criminals. Problem was, the reason the creatures had to be bound was because (er, duh) they were unwilling. And, being unwilling, they constantly tried to break loose. And when they broke loose … Very Bad Things happened.

And I can't say I blamed them at all. Kind of cheered them on, actually. If I were bound by some idiot to keep a freaking ferris wheel turning, I'd do my level best to break loose and roll that thing into the nearest river or roadway, with as many shrieking humans aboard as possible.

As mentioned, while the aspect of individuals' abilities was well enough explained to get me through, I got a bit lost when cloudlings and 'binders and such were spoken of with no explanation, and when creatures I'm familiar with – like salamanders and water sprites – were handled in a completely unfamiliar way. More exposition would have helped. Background. Something.

The murder mystery itself was … fine. It was another one that reminded me of a prime time cop show, where a suspect is dragged in, interrogated, turns out to have a solid alibi, and is kicked to the curb without apology ... and then another … and another … Wait, now we're back to one of the earlier suspects …

There were small problems with the writing which I can but hope will be taken care of (like "innervated exhileration" … insert Princess Bride quote here), but overall it was well phrased. If the decent writing could have extended to better character development and exposition, it could have been a lot of fun.

I received this from Netgalley for an honest review - thanks!