The Emperor of North America by John McNichol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If Gilbert Chesterton and Herb Wells were best friends in a steampunk universe when they were 17 and had a crazy adventure involving airships, robots, flying cities, Pinkerton men, a mysterious female nemesis, Gil's true love, a couple of courageous young lads who double as inventors, and much more ... then you would have this book.
It grabbed me in a most unexpected way as you may be able to tell from the fact that I picked it up yesterday morning to read something different and early that evening found myself on page 300. I polished it off this morning. It's an adventure a minute but with time here and there to consider a few deeper things in life ... before being whisked off to another phase of the adventure.
Who is it that is after Gil and never quits trying, using all the forces that money can buy, to get their hands on him? And why would anyone be interested in a young journalist?
What a great time this book is ... all those disparate ingredients may make it sound chaotic but the author just keeps sending you further on the adventure and it all makes perfect sense at the time it is happening.
In the final analysis, I really enjoyed this and definitely recommend it. There are strains of Catholic worldview that are shown as part of various characters' moral fiber and others are shown espousing different views that are set in opposition. I didn't find these to be preachy or moralistic, and they were not the main focus of the action, though they definitely motivated actions. As with all things of this nature, your milage may vary.
I would say that although I enjoyed the mash-up of real and fictional characters, toward the end it did become a bit wearying to have every single major character be referential. It would have been nice to have a few main characters be solely of the author's creation. Perhaps in the next adventure he will venture into that new world. He has it in him and must merely be not afraid. I, personally, also did not like the back story for Gilbert's parents. It would have been nice to have something be what it appeared on the surface and see how that affected a character as well. To have those sorts of simpler characters encounter the over-arching conspiracy would have been refreshing.
However, as I say, I really enjoyed the book. It is those few problems above that kept it from being a five-star review for me. But they are small things indeed. It's a fun ride and one that left me interested in the first book of the series which I haven't encountered yet and whatever adventures McNichol sends Gil and Herb on in the future.