Madame Magdala has settled comfortably into her new life in London, as the proprietress of the Book View Café, a coffee shop and extensive library. Her silent partner is Ada Lovelace, who will one day become the world’s first computer programmer - but who now is simply the young woman for whom Madame Magdala was a nursery maid.
Ten years ago, Ada’s father, Lord Bryon, was known as a great writer. But few knew of his powers as a necromancer. Upon his death, his devoted followers tried to repair the Transference Engine - a device that would allow Byron’s soul to claim the body of its choice. Magadala, along with Mary Godwin - a.k.a. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley - had to stop them.
While the original Transference Engine was destroyed, they were unsure whether they truly stopped Bryon and his followers. Together, they fled to safety in London, and built new futures for themselves.
Now, Magdala and Mary care for the Book View Café’s community, leading fashion, following gossip, and reading the latest periodicals. But when members of the café’s community mysteriously disappear, and rumors of a threat of royal assassination grow, Magdala finds herself with new mysteries to solve. The more she learns, the clearer it becomes that this is the same mystery returned - the Transference Engine is back with a vengeance.
As soon as I read the synopsis for The Transference Engine I knew I had to read it! Victorian Steampunk, Byron & Shelley, a mechanical library in a coffee shop - all things that I love, especially together in a book! Julia Verne St John is probably better known to most as Irene Radford and here's where the only problem I had with the book comes into play - more on that later though.
The book kicks off with our intrepid heroine being interviewed under another name by the widow of the late poet Lord Byron. Thanks to an invention known as the Transference Engine Byron is not actually dead, nor is his good friend Percy Shelley. He is after a body and what could be better than that of his young daughter Augusta Ada Byron, better known as Ada Lovelace. Thanks to previous adventures with Mary Godwin and others Miss Elise Vollans (better known as Madame Magdala for almost the entirety of the book) is quite possibly the best person to be entrusted as Ada's governess/protectoress and forms a close relationship with her.
Fast forward several years and Madame Magdala is now the proprietor of the Book View Cafe, Ada is newly married and Victoria is about to ascend to the British throne. Not only serving coffee and pastries the Book View Cafe is also home to quite possibly the first steam powered library, most of which is hidden away and patrons have to ask to borrow from a huge selection of esoteric texts. But there's trouble afoot, is it an assassination attempt on Victoria or something more sinister? Using her street urchin informants, a police inspector with dubious policing techniques, a priest and various assorted other characters it's up to Madame Magdala to get to the heart of the problem and stop whatever catastrophe is looming.
The Transference Engine is a great Victorian steampunk mystery with steam powered libraries, great balloons floating over London shooting mysterious beams of light, necromancy and two of Britain's finest poets recast as the bad guys. I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in one afternoon, easy to do when you're on a train and have nothing else to do! It's a fairly interesting take on the steampunk genre and having read quite a few of the author's books under her Irene Radford name I knew I enjoyed her writing.
Apart from a bit of a slow start The Transference Engine is a great read and I loved the characters but here is the one problem with the book. I was constantly flipping back through the pages thinking I'd missed something, especially when it came to references to the destroyed Transference Engine itself. Very confusing but the answer lies in Steampunk Voyages, written as Irene Radford, and where Madame Magdala's previous adventures actually start. I've just bought Steampunk Voyages (book buying ban? Pfft, don't know anything about that...) so I'm looking forward to reading her earlier adventures and I sincerely hope that the Book View Cafe becomes a series as I loved the world Julia Verne St John has created and would quite happily read more!
The Transference Engine - Julia Verne St. John
ISBN - 9780756409531
Publisher - DAW Books
Release date - July 5 2016
Huge thanks to DAW Books for providing me with a review copy!