Steam and Sensibility Review
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Steam and Sensibility is a popcorn book. Enjoy it, but, please, don’t think about it.

The lead character, Sensibility Grey, works. She is an ingénue who travels from Lima to San Francisco to live with her uncle after the death of her father, so she can escape her father’s creditors. This works.

She has his journal, which contains some remarkable designs for new technology. She also has his notebook, which is in code. There’s a group after the book, and they will stop at nothing to get it. So Sensibility is in danger, but she has something to protect, and the plot revolves around that.

The characterization isn’t deep for Miss Grey or her friends and enemies, but they service the parts they play. Miss Grey is very intelligent yet self-effacing. It’s a common trope, its exercise one of the appeals of the genre. And in this book, she doesn’t go from shy bookworm to action heroin in a single bound. She has a character arc.

The exploration of the technology is interesting. It’s not merely steam power and gears; there’s an occult element because there is the aethyr, an energy source that Sensibility’s father learned to use in commercial quantities to power things. Even today, the sole owner of such a technology would make billions and probably do likewise again tomorrow. So it’s no wonder that the other side wants it. But why can that group send only a few seemingly random people to get it? And this is where the book falls apart.

Sensibility arrives in San Francisco in 1848. The gold rush is just starting, and everyone but the females, the children, and a few men have left the city. Things are lawless—or are said to be lawless, though Miss Grey only meets the organized crime of the occult group after the journal. They’re called “The Mark.” It’s never explained why, but the implication is that the name itself is chilling. But, in slang, the mark is the victim of a con job.

Each time the plot needs a twist, a character that you thought was on one side will suddenly be on the other—with no real explanation why. It happens at least five times, and by the end it’s just annoying. There’s also a lot of the kind of lazy writing that makes the book seem unreal.

If you don't take it seriously and are just plugging up a gap in your day, it’s fine. But if you want something deeper, this book doesn’t have enough substance.

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