Steampunk seems to be all the rage, these days. The new series of Doctor Who, with Stephen Moffat at the helm, is characterised by a darker overall feel to the programme, and a decidedly steampunk visual style. The Doctor’s new TARDIS comes complete with hot and cold taps, old style knobs and switches, and has a very Victorian feel. You almost expect a vent of steam to come out of the side of the Time Rotor as it vrwhooorp-vrwhoooorps up and down. Then there’s been the recent plethora of steampunk inspired exhibitions touring the country. Steampunk is here to stay, it would seem.

I’m not a die-hard fan of the genre, but I do like a good book, especially when it’s free. I also have a great love of old war movies. So when Al Ewing’s debut novel El Sombra, part of the new Pax Britannica series, landed in my goodie bag at WHC2010, I could hardly say no, could I? Just the swastika on the steam-powered robot endearing the front cover got my interest.

The entire story is overall good. Modern-day Nazis land in a small Mexican town with their steam-driven winged flight backpacks, enslave the local population, and it falls to a Zorro-like masked crusader to fight them, scupper their plans, and free his beloved people. Fairly straightforward and heroic. Throw in some cliched villains, and you have a steady story to be enjoyed as a wind-downer. Nothing strenuous.

Well, not quite.

The book’s highest and lowest points worked to keep me from relaxing into this book.

The highest point for me comes in the second half, where the Nazi’s deranged, sadistic prison keeper, Master Minus, offers some wonderful commentary on the world’s current state of affairs, echoing the real world all too well. This got me thinking, and jarred me awake from my afternoon reading session and had me re-read the whole chapter again to make sure I soaked it all up. You’d have to read it to get the full feel of it, but it hits the spot.

The lowest point, however, was the real bug-bear for me. El Sombra himself does plenty of killing of Nazis throughout the story. Unfortunately, Ewing sees fit to slow down (nay, even stop) the action at it’s most exciting, critical points, to give us some wonderfully detailed, but ultimately superfluous, background on the particular Nazi being killed at the time. After the fifth, this becomes tedious. By the end of the novel, with its not-so-modest body count, I was really wanting Ewing to be one of his own protagonist’s next victims. Just, without the signature background info, thanks Al.

Personally, if I wanted to bring in this level of background detail for each redshirt Reich officer, I’d do it more subtly, introducing them first, way before they meet the harbinger of their demise. It’d just read better. That, or cut the details completely, and add in more story of El Sombra dealing with his beloved townsfolk a little more, adding a bit more trust/distrust to the proceedings, and increase dramatic tension that way.

Otherwise, a nice, sort novel, that can be read fairly easily, with a good amount of gratuitous violence and heroism to keep you interested on a rainy afternoon.

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In other news, Apple this evening announced the new iPhone 4. I’m sad to see it is physically the same design as the leaked prototype from a month or so ago. From the front and back, it looks fine, pretty nifty. From the side, it looks thin (good) but tacky (bad). I’d have preferred something more akin to the iPad, with an aluminium backing in the same slightly curved shape. Or even stick with the iPhone’s current curved back and rounded edges.

Meh.

Suffice it to say, I do intend to upgrade to this new gadget. My iPhone is a wonderful attachment to me, but this new iPhone 4 adds so much more, I can’t not. I’ll leave the iPad till next year. Or maybe just later this year.

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Moving on, you’ll have noticed we’ve upgraded the Blog in recent weeks, and this week sees us up the posting to once every two days (all being well, some contributors can’t manage that, but I’m hoping we’ll still have lots of post for you to read).

Please, keep on reading. Keep on plugging us on your own pages and Twitter feeds, etc. The LitDen Blog is going from strength to strength, now we need to keep up the momentum.

If you’re a reader, drop by, say hi. Comment on our recent posts. The more interest we get, the more interesting we get. Or something like that. Please, don’t be afraid. We don’t bite. Only Reggie the giant hamster in the basement powering the forum bites nibbles. He’s friendly, when you get to know him.

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And finally, I’m looking forward to the Paramore gig in Sheffield in November. Not just because of Hayley Williams (and no, it has nothing to do with *that* picture. Honest.) but fellow LitDen Blogger, little cherub Amy will be there, so I’m hoping we can cross paths to have a brief LitDen meet up before or after the gig.

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