The Lazarus Machine by Paul Crilley
The Lazarus Machine hooked me at first because I really like the title. I mean, come on, that’s just a cool title. The Lazarus Machine is a young adult steampunk set in the late 1800’s in an alternative Earth. Paul Crilley, for the most part, pulls this time period off well, despite the Sherlock Holmes feel (which is starting to feel a little been-there-done-that for my taste). The book starts out with interesting steampunk inventions. There are steam powered computers, automatons powered by captured souls, steam carriages and the like. Many readers will be absolutely captivated by all that Crilley has created in his steampunk alternative earth.
However, once the story gets going, small problems arise. For example, in this Victorian-esque setting, many of the characters’ dialogue is a bit too modern for the time. Secondly, Crilley doesn’t present much history behind the creation of all of his devices and the steampunk world they inhabit. These two points put together make the plot feel like it could have happened in any historical time period. That being said, The Lazarus Machine is enjoyable enough that those details could easily be overlooked.
The Lazarus Machine is fairly short, which makes it a quick read. Therefore, while it does contain some world building problems, you have to hand it to Crilley for creating such a fascinating, unique (even for steampunk) world in such a short span of time. Furthermore, the characters are captivating, and despite my issues with the believability of their dialogue, Crilley uses their light banter to lighten up a fast paced, serious plot.
Characters themselves vary in believability. While the main protagonists, Sebastian, Octavia and others are believable, witty and realistically flawed, the antagonists were so purely evil that they were unbelievable, two dimensional and almost laughable. When I really examined the plot, I realized that it is fairly drab and predictable. There’s the Super Evil Dude, and the unlikely band of protagonists who have to rise out of the ashes to fight said Bad Man. The plot follows all of the paint-by-number twists and turns that such plots commonly do.
This disappointed me quite a bit because Crilley did so many things right. The plot is fast moving, the world is thought out and well built, especially in the time frame the author gave himself to do all of that. The characters are funny, engaging and full of their own believable flaws. Then, in contrast to all of that, you have this unbelievable antagonist and the plot pays dearly for it.
Crilley nicely ties up most plot points in The Lazarus Machine while leaving enough hanging that fans will anxiously wait for the next book in the series. There’s a lot here to like. Crilley establishes himself as a good author with a flair for world building and character development. That being said, the world itself could have used a bit more historical background, and the unfortunate cookie-cutter bad guy dragged the plot down into a predictable pit that it could have easily avoided. All in all, The Lazarus Machine is a good effort that will delight many readers, while leaving others, like myself, feeling a little disappointed.