GIDEON SMITH & THE MASK OF THE RIPPER Review by Ron ForierGIDEON SMITH & THE MASK OF THE RIPPER
By David Barnett
Tor Books
379 pages

I am by no means a fanatical fan of steampunk, though the little of it I’ve read in the past few years has entertained me a great deal. None more than David Barnett’s series starring Gideon Smith as the Hero of the British Empire. Books one, “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl,” and two, “Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon,” were thrilling, colorful adventures set in this fascinating alternate history and populated by some of the most imaginative characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction.

Thus you have to know how thrilled I was when this latest volume arrived in the mail. I couldn’t wait to open it to the first chapter and learn what new perils would befall the stalwart Gideon, his sweetheart automaton, Maria, the daring Belle of the Airways, Rowena Fanshawe and the humorous, tubby journalist, Mr. Aloysius Bent. And to my utter delight, writer Barnett waste not a single paragraph in launching this new tale in which our heroes must deal with a bizarre version of Jack the Ripper, Rowena framed for murder and put on trial while Gideon has his memory stolen by an evil hypnotist who is hunting Maria for nefarious ends.

Whereas I’d love to urge all of you to go out and buy this entertaining book, honesty compels me to dissuade those of you who have yet to read the first two volumes. Of course Barnett does provide background exposition on what has gone before as he pulls as along this new adventure. But the truth remains that he has invented way too many wonderful characters to believe these brief glimpses into their individual histories will suffice to clarify what is going on here. That is a fallacy as “Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper” is a continuation of what has gone before and the evolution of each principle character as each of them face life altering threats to their lives and to those they have come to love and protect.

The prime example in this deft evolution is Maria the Mechanical Girl. At this juncture of her story, we see her come to grips with being able to accept her solitary uniqueness and what it will mean to her relationship with Gideon. Can an automaton love and be loved, in all its aspects, both spiritually and physically? Whereas Rowena Fanshawe finds her own life tossed about on the vagaries of soulless political interests willing to sacrifice her rather then expose the government’s own sins. Heady stuff for a steampunk thriller, but just another complex element that weaves through a dazzling fun adventure I couldn’t put down. It is perhaps the best book in the series thus far and ends on dramatic finale that suggests possible future plot avenues.

Now comes the hard part; waiting for that next installment.

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