A Steampunk Novel

Abney Park is one of my favorite bands. They’re generally referred to as a steampunk band, but I think that while that’s too narrow a classification for their music, “steampunk” fits as well as anything else. They’ve self-published 19 albums since 1998. They’re also a local, Puget Sound area, band. Phillip and I saw them perform live, in south Seattle, on my birthday, in 2012.

The members of Abney Park have changed over the years, but “Captain” Robert Brown (the founder, lead singer, and song writer), and his wife, Kristina Erikson (the band’s keyboardist), have remained throughout all nineteen albums.

“Captain” Robert Brown is also an author. Phillip and I went to the reading of his first novel Wrath of Fate, Book I of The Airship Pirate Chronicles, in 2012. You can read my brief review here.

Abney Park’s latest album, Under The Floor, Over The Wall, was released a few months ago. When I got around to buying it, I splurged for the “Bundle” package: digital download, autographed CD, and “Captain” Robert Brown’s book The Toyshop At The End Of The World.

toyshop-at-the-end-of-the-worldThe book and the CD arrived in the mail after I’d started the 2017 Reading Challenge, so I’m including the book in the Challenge. When I opened the package, I realized that The Toyshop At The End Of The World is Book III of The Airship Pirate Chronicles, and I hadn’t read Book II, Retrograde, and I didn’t remember much about Wrath of Fate. I wondered if I should have chosen Retrograde for the Challenge instead.

Then I read on abneypark.com that The Toyshop At The End Of The World is a “stand alone” novel. So, I went ahead with it.

The Toyshop At The End Of The World, by Robert H. Brown, was originally published in 2015. The copy mailed to me was printed in January, 2017. It’s a slim book – a mere 173 pages, including illustrations by Juan Pablo Valdecantos Anfuso.

Isabella, aged six, and Chloe, aged nine, haven’t been outside of their gloomy basement apartment in months. Their Uncle James tells them it’s best that they not be seen, but he’s never explained why.

Isabella and Chloe sit on the stairs leading up to a trap door and entertain themselves by listening to the voices in the toyshop above them. They imagine what the people look like.

Their father died long ago. Isabella doesn’t remember him, and Chloe has only vague impressions of him.

Mother has become sick and bedridden. It’s late in the evening, and Uncle James hasn’t arrived with supper. Chloe and Isabella push open the trapdoor and venture into the toyshop, now closed for the night.

The toyshop is named Herr Drosselmeyer’s Toys. It is owned by the great Doctor Calvin Calgori, the inventor of time travel. Two hundred years earlier, Doctor Calgori stood up his lady friend when an experiment of his time-traveling cabinet went awry and sent him into the future. Herr Drosselmeyer’s Toys is filled with Doctor Calgori’s thinking automatons.

Night after night, Chloe and Isabella sneak into the toyshop to play with their new friends.

The girls befriend a giant automaton named Gyrod. Gyrod shows Chloe and Isabella why their Uncle James has kept them hidden. It’s a dark and cruel city out there.

Eventually, the girls befriend Doctor Calgori. He builds them a ballet teacher, an automaton ballerina named Timony.

The two girls, the giant, and the ballerina soon find themselves on an unexpected adventure. Their story is told to us by a mysterious, unseen narrator.

The Toyshop At The End Of The World is an odd book. It is about children in a magical toyshop, and it’s also a dark and adult story. For instance, Timony soon learns that men are willing to pay her for doing certain things. Being a newly created automaton, she doesn’t fully understand this, but goes along with it. She uses the money to buy food for the girls. The girls don’t understand why Timony’s clothes are disheveled and covered in strange stains. “I didn’t know you could sweat”, says Isabella. “It’s not my sweat”, replies Timony. The girls still don’t understand, and try to make the best of what an automaton considers food.

There are elements of classic steampunk in this story: airships, and geared automatons, and, yes, steam. It’s also set in some undetermined post-apocalyptic time (a lot like much of Abney Park’s current music). There are also references to Abney Park songs scattered throughout, recognizable to those who are familiar with the music. (By the way, “Captain” Robert has two daughters, named Chloe and Isabella.)

Being an Abney Park fan, I wish I had enjoyed The Toyshop At The End Of The World more than I did. It felt unfinished, with too many loose ends. (Whatever happened to Doctor Calgori?) The issue of the time setting bothered me – why start off with the element of time travel without explaining what it has to do with anything?  There seemed to be too much of a mixture of mismatched themes for such a short book. And, there is the book itself – its many typesetting errors annoyed me.

I’m sorry I can’t give this book a better review.

  • A steampunk novel

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