The Transference Engine by Julia Verne St. John
Published by DAW
Published on: July 5, 2016
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A fantastical steampunk novel of magic and machines set in an alternate 1830s London.
Madame Magdala has settled comfortably into her new life in London, as the proprietress of the Book View Café, a coffee shop and extensive library. Her silent partner is Ada Lovelace, who will one day become the world’s first computer programmer—but who now is simply the young woman for whom Madame Magdala was a nursery maid.
Ten years ago, Ada’s father, Lord Bryon, was known as a great writer. But few knew of his powers as a necromancer. Upon his death, his devoted followers tried to repair the Transference Engine—a device that would allow Byron’s soul to claim the body of its choice. Magadala, along with Mary Godwin—a.k.a. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley—had to stop them.
While the original Transference Engine was destroyed, they were unsure whether they truly stopped Bryon and his followers. Together, they fled to safety in London, and built new futures for themselves.
Now, Magdala and Mary care for the Book View Café’s community, leading fashion, following gossip, and reading the latest periodicals. But when members of the café’s community mysteriously disappear, and rumors of a threat of royal assassinaton grow, Magdala finds herself with new mysteries to solve. The more she learns, the clearer it becomes that this is the same mystery returned—the Transference Engine is back with a vengeance.
THE TRANSFERENCE ENGINE did a lot of things right with its Steampunk inspired machinery, and its eccentric heroine with a big heart. The necromancy aspect was a definite hook for me, and Julia Verne St. John’s writing style fit the alternate 1830s London time period. The area in which this book didn’t perform was unfortunately the story. The pacing was very slow, and the mysteries weren’t difficult to solve.
I enjoyed Madame Magdala’s character a great deal from her refusal to conform to traditional female roles, to her chameleon tendencies, and soft spot for street urchins. I also liked her connection to the Romany people, and the way that the author explored some of their nomadic ways. Ada Lovelace didn’t really add much to the plot other than to set the tone for Lord Bryon’s followers, so her parts were kinda tedious.
The Book View Café’s catalogue search engine was a pretty cool gadget, and St. John had plenty more where that came from with things like steam horse drawn carriages, and air balloons. The fact that some of the secondaries were Science or Math driven helped to elaborate on the thought processes behind some of these creations. The explanations with regards to the gizmo that this novel was named for were rather shoddy though.
The story was where the author lost me because it involved a whole lot of dialogue and speculation, but not much action. Magda’s street kids are disappearing, there’s an unknown airship hovering over the city up to who-knows-what, and Drew, her lover is somehow involved. The pieces do come together however, the question of whether Byron is really dead is never answered, and the ending was as anticlimactic as they come.
THE TRANSFERENCE ENGINE’s “fresh twist on historical literary figures” was anything but.
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