The Golden Heart, by PJ Thorndyke, is the first book in the Lazarus Longman Chronicles.
This is a gripping steampunk adventure set during the time of the American Civil War. Lazarus Longman is an archeologist working for the British Empire. By order of the government, he is searching for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. The British want to bring a swift end to the war so the cotton trade can resume. They also want to get their hands on a rare mineral found only in the U.S. The Union won’t cooperate, so the British want to use the gold in Cibola to support the Confederacy.
In order to find the lost cities, Lazarus has to track down and enlist the help of the only two men who have seen a map to the city, Vasquez, a drunken gambler, and his Navajo companion, Hok’ee. But Lazarus is not the only one hunting for the lost city, or the two men. Supporters of the Union have sent their own operatives after the men as well.
Thorndyke creates a very in-depth story world. He presents the steampunk elements right from the start. They are simply a part of the way of life in the West during the Civil War. For example, after Emancipation freed the slaves, people turned to humanoid mechanicals to fill the labor gap.
Mechanicals were a slave class and since the passing of the Emancipation Act they had replaced Negroes on the lowest rung of society’s ladder, barred from public accommodation and most private establishments.
This leads to an interesting complication right from the beginning of the novel. People who lost limbs could replace them with mechanical implants, but then they would be considered “less than human.” This is a problem for a lot of former soldiers, who were injured during the 20+ years that the Civil War has lasted. They could regain their mobility and use of their limbs, but could no longer be accepted in polite society, especially since some of the mechanicals have “biological parts” to make them appear more human.
The blast from the Mecha-guard’s rifle caught her in the middle, sending shards of razor-edged metal thudding into the paneled walls. The Mecha-whore turned around in surprise and caught a second round in the chest. Chunks of organic matter splattered everywhere.
McCluskey howled. “Don’t shoot the whores, goddamit! They cost a fortune to repair, not to mention replacing the organic!”
This sets up some interesting ideas. How much of your body can be replaced by mechanical implements before you are no longer human? Where does someone like McCluskey, the owner of a Riverboat, get “organic” material to cover not only the bodies of his mechanical guards, but also of his mechanical prostitutes?
This is not the central storyline, but a nice added layer to the story world construction that lends verisimilitude.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
I like Lazarus, who is an academic forced into the field to support Britain’s interests. I like the way that Thorndyke presents his character; Lazarus is not keen on supporting the Confederates. He does have a sense of duty and honor to his fellow countrymen, though. He is willing to fight, but does not see the honor in some of the newer military techniques, such as using airships to bomb the enemy:
A vision of the smoking ruins of a bombed pueblo flashed through Lazarus’s mind. He thought of Katarina down there and her rebel companions; Captain Townsend and Lieutenant Thompson. He wanted to call a halt to the maneuver, but for the life of him couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation. Instead, he was forced to smile and laugh at the jokes of General Reynolds and his officers for the half an hour it took for the Azrael to reach its target. The atmosphere was jovial, and it sickened Lazarus to his stomach. He was a military man himself and knew all too well the desensitizing effect of exposure to constant slaughter, but having stood face to face with the people down there, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
There is a marked difference between soldiers like Reynolds and an operative like Lazarus. Reynolds is not concerned with preserving life—only winning at all costs. Lazarus can see the cost and decide when winning comes at too high a price.
The Golden Heart, by PJ Thorndyke, is a wonderful steampunk adventure that I heartily recommend. It is a good introduction to the Lazarus Longman Chronicles and the steampunk story world Thorndyke has created. I look forward to Lazarus’s next steampunk adventure!