“An alternate 1895… . A world where Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace perfected the Difference Engine. Where steam and Tesla-powered computers are everywhere. Where automatons powered by human souls venture out into the sprawling London streets. Where the Ministry, a secretive government agency, seeks to control everything in the name of the Queen.
It is in this claustrophobic, paranoid city that seventeen-year-old Sebastian Tweed and his conman father struggle to eke out a living. But all is not well. …
A murderous, masked gang has moved into London, spreading terror through the criminal ranks as it takes over the underworld. As the gang carves up more and more of the city, a single name comes to be uttered in fearful whispers. Professor Moriarty.
When Tweed’s father is kidnapped by Moriarty, Tweed is forced to team up with information broker Octavia Nightingale to track him down. But he soon realizes that his father’s disappearance is just a tiny piece of a political conspiracy that could destroy the British Empire and plunge the world into a horrific war.”
I could cast about for a proper introduction to this review, but why bother when what I really want to say is simple and straight to the point: I liked The Lazarus Machine a whole hell of a lot. That out of the way, I can move directly to the reasons why, and a good starting point is with the supremely likable detective team of Sebastian Tweed and Octavia Nightingale.
When you take two characters, strong and interesting in their own right, and put them together, well…I don’t know about you, but I want chemistry that sparks and burns (romantically or platonically); I want balance, an equality built on a foundation of mutual respect and earned trust; and that (and then some) is what I got from Tweed and Octavia’s fledgling partnership. Both Tweed and Octavia brought unique traits and qualifications to the table, including stubbornness, a fraying thread of arrogance and opposite life experiences, and their initial wariness of one another was…delightful. Sharp minded and sharp tongued, Tweed and Octavia challenged each other from the moment they met; preconceptions, opinions and plots were examined, weighed, and occasionally scorned, but it was never a question of one or the other not being up to the task. The bond between them built slowly, and was realistic because it was tested, proven under quiet and explosive conditions. Folks, I adored these two. And their banter easily ranks high among my favorite things about the novel.
Take this (long) example, when Tweed and Octavia are standing in front of a clock tower that’s been erected in front of Big Ben:
“Sorry, but I kind of like it,” he said. Then he frowned. “Why am I apologizing? I like the bloody thing. I think it’s going to be magnificent.”
“That’s because you have no taste,” said Octavia. “Or style. It’s not your fault. It’s what comes from being raised in an all-male household.”
“I resent that,” snapped Tweed. “I have lots of taste. And I’m incredibly stylish. This coat is a collector’s piece, you know.”
“Yes,” said Octavia, “you can tell. It belongs in a museum.”
Tweed straightened up and pulled his jacket tight across his chest. “You, madam, are a…a buffoon!”
That didn’t have quite the effect Tweed wanted. Octavia burst out laughing. “A buffoon, you say?”
Tweed turned haughtily away. “That’s right.”
Octavia grabbed him by the shoulder. “Wait, don’t walk off. What about a scallywag? Am I a scallywag as well?”
Tweed pursed his lips. “Right now? Yes. You are.”
“What about…What about a dollymop?”
Tweed frowned. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
She sniggered. “A strumpet?”
Tweed sighed. “No.”
“A flap dragon?”
“N–What does that even mean? You just made that up!”
As smart and mature as they are, they’re still teenagers; they have their moments, like the round of name-calling above, and I liked that aspect of the story and their character. I liked that they were prone to being irreverent and silly on occasion, and could find moments of amusement in the midst of a situation that was bigger than both of them individually, but together didn’t seem quite so harrying.
Populated with many secondary and minor characters, the most notable of them are Jenny and Carter, a married couple and friends of Tweed’s father, who are bright lights of personality and charm, and serve as a possible conclusion for what Tweed and Octavia could be and have if they choose to pursue a romantic connection. There’s also a young hacker, for lack of a better word, who has a biting, no nonsense attitude that, I gotta admit, is pretty awesome. I hope there’s more of her in the next Tweed & Nightingale Adventure.
Regarding the story (read: plot) itself, I found it to be clever and imaginative, and there were twists and turns a-plenty, including a huge one nearing the end that may challenge some readers’ ability to suspend disbelief, but worked for me because I was invested entirely. The writing was descriptive and visual; the pace determined if not quick. In short, no sooner had I finished The Lazarus Machine that I wanted their next case written and delivered into my hands.