Just minutes before a space cannon launches a probe to Mars, a terrorist called The Bookman kills poet Orphan's love in an explosion. Orphan's quest for the truth about her death takes him below the streets of London, aboard the Nautilus with Jules Verne and Captain Nemo, and to the mysterious island home of Les Lezards, the lizard men who rule the world...
Okay, now this is what all steampunk books should aspire to be! What Lavie Tidhar has done in The Bookman is simply marvelous. Most of the steampunk books I've read had too much going on or the steampunk element seemed tacked on. Not so in The Bookman.
The world Tidhar has created is a curious mix of Victorian London and alternate history. In this case, the jonbar point was the rise of the Les Lezards from an island in what we call the Caribbean. Queen Victoria is a lizard woman, a probable nod to The Steampunk Trilogy. The word is chock-full of steam punk goodness: airships, automatons, etc, and all is integral to the plot and not just window dressing.
Orphan, the protagonist, is a poet and certainly no superhero. He takes quite a beating throughout the book, going from the frying pan to the fire on many occasions. His quest to find The Bookman, a terrorist who uses exploding books as weapons, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Fictional characters mingle with real ones. Karl Marx and Henry Irving exist in the same world as Harry Flashman and Moriarty, who is the Prime Minister. Jules Verne rubs shoulders with Captain Nemo, and Irene Adler is an Inspector while Watson is working in a hospital. Herbert West, the Re-Animator himself, is even mention.
The writing is top notch and a cut above most books of this type. Tidhar does a great job building suspense. Most chapters end with Orphan's fortunes getting even worse in the last sentence.
I really want to gush about all the plot twists but rather than be a tremendous spoiler, I'm going to go into the huge number of Easter Eggs in this thing. At one point, Orphan goes into a bookstore and there are books written by William Ashbless, Cosmo Cowperthwait, Jubal Harshaw, and Gordon Lachance. Quite a mix. In fact, Ashbless is mentioned multiple times..
I could go on and on but you'd be better served to just read the book yourself. For what it is, a steampunk adventure story, it's a solid five.