Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream revisioned as a steampunk tale? You must be kidding.
That was roughly my reaction when I saw this as part of a steampunk/fantasy bundle from Storybundle.com, a wonderful way of getting great ebooks in a genre you like for a small price – one that you choose! I’ve had a couple of bundles from them so far, and there’s not been a dud in them yet.
Scott E. Tarbet has woven a superb, pacy and atmospheric Midsummer Night’s Dream with the mechanicals as half-machines, thanks to the care and refitting, initially of injured soldiers, with limbs and tools appropriate to their trade. We are in Victorian London, celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The steam age is in full swing, airships and dirigibles fill the skies (and moor at the London Air Terminus at Victoria, of course); there are steam barges and mighty ships that cross the North Sea carrying royal family from the continent, especially the Queen’s grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm, who has abandoned the wise advice of his mother and turned to more Teutonic ideas of glory, aiming to dominate the world. His hidden mission is to make use of the mechanicals or ‘mechs’ that the evil Doctor Oberon has been experimenting on, making them killing machines rather than tradesmen. His estranged wife, equally talented, turns her skills to micromechs and megamechs for the ease of society and the aim of furthering democracy. And in the middle of it all are talented Artificers, who might help Robin Starveling, the weaver-mech, who keeps slipping stitches, and who hold the secret of an amazing automaton that could be the saviour of mankind – in the right hands. In Dr Oberon’s, it could cause disaster.
It’s a wonderful romp that brings in army lieutenant Winston Churchill, who can’t decide whether to do his duty and wed the young Artificer to whom he has been promised since birth, or to go with his first love, Clementine Hozier. A few other famous names turn up in this amazing romp, weaving Shakespearian plot through a steampunk world. And all’s well that ends well, with the Mechanicals performing Pyramus and Thisbe for the Queen after all the threads have been untangled and the world set at peace.
It’s been forty years since I read, saw or performed Midsummer Night’s Dream (I was a singing fairy in the Viking Youth Theatre Group’s production) and the twists in the plot were at once familiar and new, so I can’t tell where Mr Shakespeare stops and Mr Tarbet takes over. But I got to the end with the finale between Pyramus and Thisbe and found words I’ve known for so long I didn’t know I remembered them.
It’s a delightful book, highly recommended to steampunk and Shakespeare story fans (but not purists!) and absolutely perfect for these few days between the Longest Day and Midsummer itself!