Murder On The Titania And Other Steam-Powered Adventures by Alex Acks follows the adventures of Captain Marta Ramos and her outlaw crew through a steam-punk American West in a series of linked short stories. In addition to elements like luxury dirigibles and railway-accessible mountain hideouts, the reader is immediately signaled that history has taken a sharp turn when we’re introduced to that Regency staple, the Duke of Denver…except he’s duke of Denver Colorado. In genre, the stories blend Sherlockian mystery, madcap heist capers, and buddy-film dynamics between Captain Ramos and her second-in-command the stoic and long-suffering Simms. There is also a thread of enemies-to-flirtatious-rivals encounters with “the delectable and devious Deliah Nimowitz” though the reader should not go into this collection expecting romance in any traditional sense.
Captain Ramos is one of those unpredictable, ever-capable, fiercely intelligent protagonists who can pull you through a series of unexpected adventures through sheer strength of will. Although I compare her to Sherlock Holmes, she falls more on the “mad genius” side of the spectrum than Holmes’ more cerebral approach, whether it’s tinkering with the steering of an airship in mid flight or deciphering the clues to a mysterious death. Acks has created a set of memorable characters, with casual inclusion of diversity in the ethnicity, gender, and sexuality of the cast. This is the sort of representation I long to see more of: casual, ordinary queerness taken for granted in a wide variety of genres.
The Writing Style
Each story is a complete adventure on its own, building together to an episodic whole. The point of view is distanced enough to keep the characters’ secrets–an essential component of the mystery structure. Although Ramos is the central figure in every story, we see her through the viewpoints of a number of other continuing characters which adds to her mystique. The language paints the details of the setting with a lightly mannered tone appropriate to the historic era without being stiff or awkward.
This was a fun romp of a collection–the sort you could easily visualize on the big screen. In fact, I think “fun” is the most essential description for it. And if you want to see more casual queerness in the SFF genre, this is exactly the sort of book you may be looking for.
No cons at all. I find myself using this part of the review template to guide the expectations of readers who have a default expectation of genre romance stories with unambiguously lesbian characters. These are adventure stories with a bit of same-sex flirtation as the cherry on top. Captain Ramos is bisexual, though the only on-page romance we see is the flirtation with Delilah. The most prominent pairing that has a through-line in the stories is the decidedly non-sexual buddy relationship between Ramos and Simms.
Do you like steampunk? Do you like clever rogues outsmarting the authorities? Do you like exquisite little mysteries and derring-do? Then I think you’ll enjoy this book.
Excerpt from Murder On The Titania And Other Steam-Powered Adventures by Alex Acks
Deliah Nimowitz proved to be the woman from the anthotype in Clementine’s room. The light hints of coloration had not done justice to the rich tone of her skin or the long fall of slightly wavy black hair. A deep blue tea dress complimented her coloring perfectly. Her features were graceful, her lips curved slightly as if she’d thought of a joke but wasn’t about to share it with anyone else. She had tawny eyes; the color alone was enough to put Marta in mind of a mountain lion, but there was a secretive, amused quality to her gaze that was even more distinctly cat-like.
More interesting to Marta, however, was the spark of bright, calculating intelligence she thought she caught in the woman’s eyes, as calculating and considering as her own. The look disappeared a split second later, obscured by Deliah’s lace fan and perhaps carefully packed away.
Or more reasonably, a figment of Marta’s imagination. She’d never been one to believe in such fuzzy emotional ideas as reading someone’s spirit in their eyes.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9780998108278
- Publisher: Queen of Swords Press
Alex Acks Online
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Note: I received a free review copy of Murder On The Titania And Other Steam-Powered Adventures by Alex Acks. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.