It’s that time again, the time when Shay ventures beyond the edges of the known galaxy and the borders of the maps of Arda, and takes adventures into new lands unknown!
Today I’m here to participate in the release tour of the brand-new sci-fi/steampunk adventure, The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder. I was given an ARC (“Advanced Reader Copy”) of the book in order to review for The Elven Padawan, and I honestly cannot wait to get into my thoughts on this great new adventure. I’ve also invited Ms. Reeder to present a guest blog post and was beyond thrilled to discover that this turned out to be a bit of flash fiction on the backstory of one of my surprise favorite characters in the book. But we’ll get to that in just a moment; first, a bit about the book, the author, my review.
About The Electrical Menagerie
The Electrical Menagerie, one-of-a-kind robotic roadshow, is bankrupt.
Sylvester Carthage, illusionist and engineer, has the eccentric imagination the Menagerie needs to succeed creatively — but none of the people skills. Fast-talking Arbrook Huxley, meanwhile, has all the savvy the Menagerie needs to succeed commercially — but none of the scruples.
To save their show, Carthage & Huxley risk everything in a royal talent competition, vying for the chance to perform for the Future Celestial Queen. In this stardust-and-spark-powered empire of floating islands and flying trains, a shot at fame and fortune means weathering the glamorous and cutthroat world of critics, high society, and rival magicians —but with real conspiracy lurking beneath tabloid controversy, there’s more at stake in this contest than the prize.
Behind the glittery haze of flash paper and mirrors, every competitor has something to hide… and it’s the lies Carthage & Huxley tell each other that may cost them everything.
“Dazzles from start to finish. In Carthage & Huxley, Sherlock & Watson fans will find another dynamic duo whose ready wit and sizzling banter (and inevitable personality clashes) never fail to delight. You’ll be calling for an encore performance.” Gillian Bronte Adams, author of The Songkeeper Chronicles
“The stuff that fandoms are built on.” Kyle Robert Shultz, author of Beaumont & Beasley
About the Author
Mollie’s first job was with a major theme park, where she operated a roller coaster, fixed parade floats, and helped Scooby-Doo put on his head. Now, Mollie is a movie producer and the author of character-driven science fiction/fantasy novels for adults who never outgrew imagination. Her favorite things include Jesus, dinosaurs, and telling cinematic stories that blend glitter and grit.
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Alrighty, time to get down and dirty about my thoughts on this book!!
First off, let’s talk about characters. Characters are always my favorite part of a story, they’re what convinces me to stay engaged or not. If the characters in a book, movie, audio drama or any other sort of media are dry and boring, then I’m sorry, but I’m going to have an 85% higher chance of zoning out somewhere around 3/4 of the way through. It’s happened before. And it’s why I will much prefer a low-budget, flat movie with well-written and engaging characters than one with tons of cutting-edge special effects and a plot twist every five minutes.
The characters of The Electrical Menagerie are nowhere near flat or boring. They’re full of life, full of very real flaws and quirks, and they have feelings and emotions that aren’t always so helpful to the endgame of what they’re trying to achieve.
Before I read this book, I had it all figured out: I had already read the prequel novella to this story (which featured Arbrook Huxley most prominently,) as well as Ms. Reeder’s short character intro for Huxley and the one for Mr. Carthage. I thought I knew the stereotypical classifications the characters would fall into, and the conclusions I would come to about each one. Boy, was I wrong! I don’t want to give any spoilers here, but I must say that I ended up loving each of the main characters in their own ways, and especially Mr. Sylvester Carthage. But each one seemed so alive, so relatable and realistic. I could sympathize with the choices of each of them, understanding why they often made the decisions they made, even if I didn’t always agree with those decisions.
In short, the characters were astounding. They seemed to jump right off the page so vividly, and everything they did made perfect sense to me. They didn’t seem to be the creations of a writer, being led to go through the motions of life based on the whims of an author; they seemed to have a life that was fully their own, and they took up that life and ran with it.
One more note on the characters that I believe is important for me to go over before I move on to the setting and the story itself: The cast of The Electrical Menagerie is rather lacking in characters of the female variety. There is really only one woman who could be considered a prominent character, though she plays her part extremely well and keeps the reader guessing throughout the entire plot. This place goes to the talented young illusionist, Miss Andromeda Skyhawke. I thoroughly enjoyed her character and felt that her representation in the book was fantastic. There are a few other women of significant roles who appear in the book, one being Mr. Carthage’s rather distant sister and the other a critic with a paper covering the royal talent competition. Both of these play significant parts for the main characters, helping to set up their individual battles and the conflict between them.
Honestly, though, I can’t complain at all about the women in The Electrical Menagerie. I felt that the ones who were in the story were very well-written and enjoyable characters, taking on lives of their own just as Carthage and Huxley did. Besides that, I felt that Carthage and Huxley were so relatable and easy to connect with, it doesn’t matter whether the reader is male or female, they’re going to appeal to pretty much anyone.
Now for setting and plot.
I found the plot to be just as fantastic as the characters, and the reason for this probably has a lot to do with the fact that it was so character-driven. I was kept guessing and swaying back and forth on my ideas of how it would all go down in the end, never quite able to make a determination on who was behind all the bad things happening to the various auditioners. I would say that I was on the edge of my seat, but that wouldn’t be true, as I was actually not sitting at all, but trying to hide the light of my kindle under my blankets far into the night and finally putting it down to sleep somewhere around 3 a.m.
The only thing I struggled with in this book was the setting. Now I never would have considered myself a huge fan of steampunk in general, but I’ve been trying to broaden my reading material of late, expanding out into genres and settings that wouldn’t be my norm. That said, I’ve begun exploring the *insert power source*-punk subgenre lately, and have found that I can really enjoy these stories. But as I’m not a huge steampunk junkie, it can take me a bit longer to catch on to the universes these stories are set in. Start throwing around hyperspace, star maps, and portals into fantasy worlds around, and I’m right with ya. But when you get going with all these other devices used in other subsections of the “speculative fiction” umbrella, it can take me a while to catch on.
I had a hard time getting a good grasp on the way the world of The Electrical Menagerie worked. It was something between sci-fi and classic steampunk, and I struggled a bit with understanding how exactly their world was set up. I’m not going to try to explain it to you, as I’m still not sure I grasp it completely. But by the end of the book, I had wrapped my brain around it well enough to really enjoy the unique setting. And this problem wasn’t even that huge of an issue, and certainly not something I would consider worth dropping or avoiding the book altogether over.
I should probably say now that this book is very reminiscent of The Greatest Showman. Even the characters in the story and the struggles they each face bear striking resemblances to many of the characters from that movie. But I don’t see this as being a problem with The Electrical Menagerie, however. Instead, it’s a great connection for people who may not be familiar with books of this sort. If you enjoyed The Greatest Showman, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the adventures (and misadventures) of Arbrook Huxley and Sylvester Carthage and their Electrical Menagerie.
So if you’re wondering what my verdict on this book is, I’ll tell you plainly that I give it a resounding round of applause! I totally recommend it to anyone looking for a fun read filled with great characters and a mystery that twists and turns and keeps you riveted the entire time. And I haven’t even talked about the great dynamics between individual characters themselves, including a scene that was a particular favorite of mine with Huxley and Carthage and a ball and lessons for the awkward on how to interact with high society. Or Ms. Reeder’s great writing style and awesome uses of parallelism throughout the narration. Or the absolutely fantastic little metal character who is known as Dominic!!
Speaking of which, I think it’s time to get on to Mollie E. Reeder’s guest post for me, where she fills in some backstory on this little guy. I feel like I should let you know just how awesome he is, and how much I loved him in this story. Instead of spoiling anything for you, I’ll just leave it at that, and I’ll let you read the book for yourself and find out how great he is. And I’ll finally stop rambling and get on with giving you this guest post I keep talking about. 😉
Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages! I’m Mollie E. Reeder, author of The Electrical Menagerie, a steampunk adventure featuring robots, magicians, and flying trains (also possibly murder… but you didn’t hear that from me).
In The Electrical Menagerie, the heroes are showmen Carthage & Huxley, who run their “Electrical Menagerie” starring all of the robotic creations Carthage builds. But the surprise fan-favorite character has been Dominic, Carthage & Huxley’s electrical butler!
For my guest post today, I want to invite you into the world of the Celestial Isles with a glimpse at Dominic’s origin story. Long before Carthage met Huxley, he was a budding street magician on Astoria Isle. But the streets of Astoria aren’t always kind to young dreamers…
Sylvester F. Carthage: Once shut-in by a mysterious childhood illness, Sylvester Carthage grew up with an affinity for stories and a powerfully childlike imagination – but an oftentimes dissonant relationship with the real world. An inventor and former street magician, Carthage is now the headlining star and master engineer of the Electrical Menagerie. A virtuoso of illusion, behind his effects lie a secretive spirit with desperate aspirations and hidden faults.
Dominic the Electrical Butler: Trusty, copper-bodied Dominic was the first electrical Carthage ever built, and he has been a loyal companion ever since. A former part of Carthage’s act, aging Dominic is now retired from the limelight to serve aboard the train as butler. Programmed with encyclopedic knowledge and an unflappable disposition, Dominic is an indispensable fixture to the Electrical Menagerie. Although he doesn’t always understand the mysterious ways of his flesh-and-blood companions, he’s continually observing to learn from them what it means to be human.
It was raining again.
Sylvester Carthage loved a good spring rain, the kind that rumbled over green hills and pattered the windows and left the gardens glistening and the birds to feast in the grass.
This was not a good spring rain.
This was city rain; a cold gray curtain falling from a sky so flat it might have been a blank canvas. Rain painted the cobblestone streets and brick buildings in grim, wet shades, and ran in slick, foamy rivers through the alleys and the gutters, carrying the filth of the city in its currents.
Yesterday, he’d been trying to busk at Grace Gardens, riffling playing cards between his hands and attempting to draw a crowd. But the gray, slumping sky had everyone in a hurry. A storm was coming, they said. Can’t stop.
Today, the storm broke, driving him from his foolhardy post on the corner and all the way across town to seek refuge at home. On the days it rained, he couldn’t work at all.
Tomorrow, the ground would be soft, and the air stagnating, and the carts and carriage wheels would splatter through the grimy puddles pooled in the seams between stones. Jackdaws would shriek on the parapets of buildings, and there would be tracks in the doorways, and the awnings would drip overhead. Nobody would linger.
This rain would starve him.
Holding a newspaper over his head, he ducked through a cold sheet of water that drizzled off the ledge above his front door. The foyer was musty on even a clear day, and now the sharp odor of mildew punched him as he stamped the water off himself on the mat by the door. He had held his newspaper over his head the whole way home, and only succeeded in ruining the newspaper.
He missed those good spring rains — those green and glistening storms he remembered watching from the window when he was a boy. He missed the way the air tasted when the storm was retreating. He missed the sight of lightning bolting away like wild horses in the far-off distance.
Something crumbled in him as he realized what that really meant. He was homesick.
He wasn’t supposed to be.
Hhis was home, now. He’d come to Astoria Isle to make a new life. To have an adventure. To pursue opportunity only the city could afford. But the worst part about the city was not the rain, or the traffic, or the cost of living. The worst part about the city was how easy it was for a man to disappear completely.
He’d come here to find himself, and only felt increasingly lost.
“Mr. Carthage,” said somebody. She had to say it twice more before he remembered that was him, and by then he was halfway up the stairs.
“Eh, aye?” Leaning over the banister, he found his landlady there in the doorway of her flat.
“You were muttering to yourself again.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Landingham.”
She held up a small parcel. “Something came for you, love.”
He sprang back downstairs to claim it, pulled the knotted twine loose and unwrapped the box.
“What is that?” she asked.
“It’s called a vacuum tube.” He showed her the fragile glass bulb, its copper filaments glinting inside. “The last part I need for my electrical.” Ordered special from a fabricator on Halcyon, it had taken over two weeks to arrive, but Mrs. Landingham did not seem impressed.
“When I was your age,” she said. “We got by without silly contraptions.”
An unexpected pang shot through his belly. He had always felt too-large in the little parish where he was born. People there didn’t like innovation; they were just fine with the way things were. His ideas tested the seams of that little world, uncomfortably, like a too-small jacket. It was a world that didn’t fit him.
He’d come here, to the city, because the city promised to be different: bright, and new, and filled with opportunity.
But this world didn’t fit, either. This world was too big, threatening to swallow him — and his dreams.
“There’s more to life than just getting by,” he answered, startled by the fervency of his own words. More than surviving. More than grit and gray stones. More than this twisting maze of a half-drowned city. “Isn’t there?”
She clucked. “You’re a precious thing, pet.”
He felt himself flush, and his fervor resolved. “I’ll show you, Mrs. Landingham.”
“Show me what?”
He headed upstairs. “That aspiring to do the impossible doesn’t make me crazy.”
“What does it make you, then?”
She tutted after him. “Unless your ambition is to catch the grippe, you best take off that wet coat!”
The contraption, as Mrs. Landingham called it, was lying deactivated on Carthage’s floor. It was a charming thing, something between a copper kettle and a little man, and Carthage somehow perceived a cheerful expression on its simple face.
He had discovered it on sale in the picture window of some shop on the row, but that had been months ago. This particular model had an unfortunate notoriety for malfunction — surely the reason it was on sale — and rebuilding it nearly from scratch had become something of a thrilling obsession.
“We were rained out today,” he said as he peeled off his damp coat, although of course there was no reply.
His landlady’s admonishments were part of what compelled him to begin building the electrical. She was right. He was talking to himself more than was strictly acceptable in proper society. But with the electrical here with him, it didn’t seem quite so strange. As he installed the new vacuum tube, the rain turned to thunder, and he talked aloud about the way the roof was leaking in steady drips into a pot.
The innards of the electrical were a beautiful thing. The motor in its chest gleamed like a brass heart, and wiring harnesses branched through the body like a copper circulatory system. It was more complicated than anything Carthage had ever attempted to build before, and the process had been riddled with disasters and setbacks. Seating the battery in the electrical’s head, he hissed as he accidentally crimped his fingers against a sharp edge.
“Now,” he said, sucking on the red mark left across his finger, “you will turn on for me, won’t you?”
He got to his feet and hefted the thing off the floor and upright onto its wheel. Standing up, it came to somewhere about his middle. Its arms and head stayed slack, slumped as if it were sleeping, lights dark.
After all that work, Carthage felt afraid to try turning it on.
“You’ve got a friendly look,” he said. “Not like those new models I saw down in the shops this week. What should I call you? Sommat like Jack, maybe?”
He reached around the back of its head and found the switch.
The electrical man flinched, as if somebody had awoken him while he was in the middle of a dream. There was a hum from within the belly, and the eyes momentarily flashed. A gear clacked against something else, and the posture lifted, as if some imaginary lungs were filling with air.
It raised its head, eyes gleaming, and stared at him.
“Hello?” Carthage cocked his head, waiting. But nothing happened. “Are you operating?”
He rapped on the copper skull. Waved a hand before the gleaming face. The electrical continued staring — not at him, he realized, but past him. Off at nothing in particular.
“Listen,” said Carthage, bent at the waist. “You’re supposed to say something, Jack.”
The electrical did not say anything.
Thunder shuddered the floor, and gusts of wind rattled the windowpanes. Carthage stepped back, a tide rising out of his chest that nearly choked him. The disappointments were like raindrops — insignificant, until they threatened to wash you away.
It was too much. The mud, and the hunger, and this rotted old building with its wet ceilings. That he was homesick, but couldn’t go back home. Mrs. Landingham, who thought he was crazy, this dream-swallowing city and the way it looked at him.
And this electrical. This stupid, broken electrical that he had spent so much time, and all of his money, building. This thing that now gazed past him, blank and uncaring, a monument to how foolish he was. He was holding a spanner in his hand, and he threw it, with every ounce of despair he had. It hit the electrical with painful clang — right in the face — then clattered to the floor.
The electrical didn’t even blink, but now sported a dent between its glowing eyes. Carthage’s heart sank even lower. He felt suddenly cruel, even if the little copper man didn’t seem to feel it.
“I’m sorry,” said Carthage, for the benefit of his own stinging conscience. “It’s not your fault.” He came over and used the cuff of his sleeve to buff the mark. “You don’t look like a Jack, anyway. You’re more like a… Jesse, perhaps?”
But that wasn’t right, either.
“Lennox, or a Jasper…” Something tickled at the back of his brain. A warm sense of deja vu. There was a book he’d read when he was a boy. He couldn’t quite remember the story. Just the pictures — a boy and his lion, going down the lane. The lion had round eyes and a somehow innocent face. What was its name?
“Dante… Dmitri…” The tickle intensified. He reached for it, back to some obscure memory, the way the ink laid on the page: “Dominic,” he said with satisfaction as he recalled it.
“Yes,” answered an unfamiliar voice.
Carthage jolted. “What… what did you say?”
The electrical still hadn’t moved. It still stared straight ahead. It didn’t respond.
“Yes,” repeated the electrical. “Y-Y-Yes.” There was a short squeal that sounded like a phonograph playing in reverse. The eyes blinked. The head turned. The gaze fixed on Carthage.
“Yes,” Dominic said. “I am operating.”
Carthage nearly shouted.
Despite the rain, he remembered suddenly why he came to the city. The books and dreams that compelled him. The future that called him by name. Like the sunlight that sliced through the thunderheads after a storm, evaporating the shadows, his perspective changed in a glance.
The city didn’t seem so large anymore. If anything, it seemed suddenly too small for him, and all of the things he knew he was going to create.
At that, Carthage did shout, laughingly, and threw open his door. “Mrs. Landingham!” He didn’t care if the neighbors heard. “Come and see my silly contraption!”
To close out this extremely long blog post, here’s a giveaway Ms. Reeder is hosting in celebration of the release of The Electrical Menagerie!! There are some seriously cool things in this package, all Celestial Isles-themed.
“Explore the world of The Electrical Menagerie by entering to win this Celestial Isles prize pack, which includes: “High Victorian” playing cards by luxury playing card company Theory11, handmade galaxy mug by DeVita Designs, Science & Engineering Themed Pocket Notebook Set by CognitiveSurplus, and a tin of Electrical Menagerie themed tea (over a $50 value)! (US only.)”
And that’s it for The Elven Padawan’s part in the blog tour for The Electrical Menagerie!! I really hope you check out this book and enjoy it as much as I do!
And don’t forget to take a look at some of the other stops on this tour!
Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, June 4th
- Book Spotlight – Sarah Ashwood’s Newsletter
- Author Interview – New Authors Fellowship
- Review – Finding Kat Heckenbach
Tuesday, June 5th
Wednesday, June 6th
Thursday, June 7th
- Review – Inspired Chaos
- Guest Post – L. Mbewe
- Review – Scriblerians
- Review – The Bibliophile of Beaverton
Friday, June 8th
- Author Interview – Bethany A. Jennings
- Guest Post & Review – The Elven Padawan (You’re here now! 😛 )
- Author Interview – Shannon A. Hiner
Saturday, June 9th
- Author Interview, Character Interview & Review – Katelyn Buxton Books
- Review – M. Carroll, Author – fun, fantastical escapes
- Character Interview – The Book Sprite
Monday, June 11th
- Blog Tour Wrap-Up – Unicorn Quester
A huge thanks goes to Mollie E. Reeder for allowing me to participate in this blog tour for The Electrical Menagerie!! I’m so glad I got to read and review this book, as well as help out with its release. Let me know in the comments below what you thought of this blog post, as well as your thoughts on Huxley, Carthage, and the rest of the crew whenever you get a chance to read their adventures for yourself!