The True Adventures of Hector Kingsley by Kindal Debenham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Right from the beginning, I was hooked. Of course, it's hard not to be when a story opens with the hero being held up at gunpoint by two hired killers, one of whom is a werewolf. This is some of the best steampunk I've read because it captures not just the whirling gears and Victorian aesthetic, but also the Victorian language and setting of London. In Debenham's world, humanity has found a material called the Distillation which alters the fundamental nature of matter. It will make a gear spin of its own accord or make a mechanical wing flap. When a person is exposed, their fundamental nature is augmented. Hunters take on some of the aspects of their hounds. Fiery tempered people become fiery in the literal sense of the word. These Changelings live as outcasts in polite society.
Hector Kingsley works as an investigator in this milieu, solving cases with both his natural intellect and the help of some Distillation technology. A nobleman with a blast crater in his front yard wants to know who made an attempt on his life. A school for Changelings in the industrial sector is victim to some hateful graffiti that the owners fear may be a warning of worse to come. With the help of a hilarious woman bounty hunter (from the rough and tumble USA) and two of his Distillation Changed friends, Hector has to put all the pieces together before lives are lost.
So why the four stars? Well, it'll have five when I post a copy of this review on Amazon. Here I'll just point out, for what it's worth, that there are some logistical issues. The most obvious, to me, was that a character who is taken hostage has the ability to walk through walls, which would make her very hard to catch or contain, so I didn't quite understand why she was in any danger. Some special Distillation handcuffs might be in order there. There was quite a bit of repetitive language - i.e. the main character would narrate twice things like his happiness that he wasn't dropped off too far from his home and thus was able to get there straightaway. And there were some English/American translation errors. The "first" floor of a building here in the UK is what we Americans would call the second. What we'd call the first, Brits call the ground floor. One wouldn't put a foundry on the first floor over here. All minor stuff, though, and not enough to detract from a good fun ride. I'm glad to see this is one of a series.