My first review of an indie book
There’s a lot of heart and a great deal to appreciate in The Trident of Merrow, a steampunk novel by Amber Marshall and Kristopher Lewis. The story takes place against the backdrop of Aquan, a richly-imagined world where sailing ships, steamships, and airships fill the seas and skies. The storytelling, like the novel’s large and colorful cast of characters, is uneven in quality, but a generous reader may choose to ignore the flaws and focus on the diamonds in the rough.
We begin with a familiar premise: a gallant young man must rescue a damsel in distress when she is seized by villains who wish to use her for their dastardly purpose. Our courageous but often misguided gallant is Germaine Billings, an unseasoned privateer captain commanding a salty crew aboard the Gallows Jig. Our spunky damsel, Tosh Flemmish, is a tomboyish young steamwrencher making the awkward transition into womanhood.
Tosh longs to attract the attentions of her foster-brother Germaine upon his return from a long sea voyage, only to have her dreams cut short in the opening scene when she is kidnapped by the notorious pirate Jebediah Blüd. The deep-seated attachment of Tosh and Germaine is the nominal driving force behind the onslaught of action that follows. Unfortunately, the credibility of the romance is plagued from the outset by a thin backstory and the inconstant affections of both parties. The reader must take a substantial leap of faith to accept Germaine’s willingness to sacrifice scores of men and women under his command in his effort to save Tosh. The authors eventually raise the stakes for the rescue by revealing the true purpose of Tosh’s kidnapping, but not before the reader must endure cringe-worthy sexualized flashbacks and borderline incestuous dreams as the authors attempt to justify Germaine’s dogged pursuit.
More interesting than Tosh and Germaine are the secondary characters populating the ship decks and city streets where the action largely unfolds. Earthy ship hands, blustering weather mages, sullen witchbreed teenagers, and spritely airship priestesses all do their part to reunite the would-be lovers. This motley crew of a supporting cast infuses the story with soul and humor.
One of the greatest strengths of this book is the authenticity of the world the authors have created. The unique sights and sounds of Aquan — its cities, cultures, and peoples; the dialects of seamen, pirates, and witches; the alliance of magic and technology — these are what stick with the reader at the story’s end.
Some readers may be bothered by the grammatical errors, typographical errors, and awkward word choices sprinkled throughout the narrative. Others may shake their heads at the sometimes jarring shifts in the narrative point of view within and between scenes, the frequent use of telling rather than showing to flesh out character backstories and motivations, and the occasional jerks in the story timeline.
Setting aside the more cosmetic concerns of word choice and grammar, several issues interfered with my ability to remain immersed in the story: an excess of fight sequences, many of which seem to drag on unnecessarily without progressing the plot; the ongoing and escalating torture of helpless captives; the repetition of escape and recapture sequences; and a series of deus ex machina revelations, many of which allow characters to be killed and almost immediately resurrected in the course of a single action sequence, thus invalidating the stakes for death in combat.
Overall, I think The Trident of Merrow — particularly the world in which the story takes place — has a lot to offer to a sci-fi or fantasy reader who enjoys exploring new worlds. However, I find that the book reads more like an in-progress manuscript than a polished final work. With editorial oversight, I think the story’s readability could be vastly improved, and its characters could be made to shine.