Book Review Wednesday: A Dodge, a Twist, and a Tobacconist

A Dodge, a Twist, and a Tobacconist by Sophronia Belle Lyon

Amazon Book Description:

Oh, you’re a Steampunk fan. You just don’t know it yet. The Alexander Legacy company includes a diverse collection of classic characters on the track of a ruthless enslaver of souls. Prowl the foggy London streets. Encounter a nightmare from an Indian jungle. Travel the Thames in Sluefoot Sue’s giant Catfish. Soar on a stealth glider with a Bohemian prince. When Oliver Twist unwraps an Algerian mummy at Charley Bates’ funeral, will he discover his true enemy? Or is it all just another “Dodge”?

“I’m sorry, but my time is very short just now. I have tried for months to locate you, and have only just today succeeded. The other members of the group I propose to create are en route or are already here. Everyone else has been made aware of my plan. I truly wish to explain things more clearly to you, and then if you agree, to invite you to attend our first meeting as a formal association tomorrow. Can I count on you to come, please, and will you hear my plan?” the woman pleaded. “This is the most important thing I’ve ever done, and I pray God I have chosen the right people. I also pray that the right people will choose to pledge their help.”

If ever a woman who had no reason to be desperate still managed to communicate desperation, it was this woman.

“Very well,” I nodded. “But the hotel is not so far from here and the weather has been very pleasant. I shall walk. What time do you desire me to appear?”

“No, no, you cannot walk about London so late. Please. This mail coach will arrive at ten o’clock. Do not be frightened by it, please. It is perfectly safe.”

“Frightened by a mail coach?” I was once again hesitant. “Why would I be — ?”

I’ll be honest, Steampunk is not my go-to fantasy genre, especially after a particularly disastrous foray with a series that has been put in my ‘Never to be Named’ pile. However, I find the idea of a Christian Steampunk version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen intriguing. And this book was certainly interesting.
Plot – Grade A
The prime focus of this book is on establishing the crime-fighting gang and going after the criminal organization run by a man only known as “Dodge.” What makes this book fun is how many secondary/background and lesser known main characters are the featured heroes. I think the only well-known characters people will recognize right away would be Oliver Twist and Mowgli although Austen enthusiasts will no doubt be quite cheered to see someone other than Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet joining the ranks. The crime organization has been exploiting the poorest of the poor, the orphans, pickpockets, prostitutes, and slaves to pull off a rather complex plot and it takes the heroes piecing together the varied clues and desperately hunting for the “Dodge” before they start to realize there’s even more at stake here than they originally thought. There is a twist near the end of the book that was somewhat expected from my perspective but I thought it was handled well as it also set up the next book quite nicely.
Content – Grade A-
Okay, I struggled with how to rate the content on this one. It wasn’t so much the meat of the content that was occasionally troubled me as it was the execution of the content. This book addresses the various issues associated with human trafficking in a very blunt manner. Lyon does not shy away from the darkness of this practice, which is good, but at times it seems too in your face, so to speak. In particular, toward the last quarter of the book, one of the main characters is attacked and sodomized. What troubled me was the fact that our narrator and the doctor can’t bring themselves to say “sodomy” out loud but then every character save the one who was victimized began talking about it to the extent it felt as though they were harping on it. It went from we can’t say it out loud, which would have been more than efficient to communicate what happened and why the character reacts the way he does in the aftermath, to everyone is harping on the fact that the boys captured in the human trafficking rings often killed themselves to avoid being sodomized and the character was sodomized and so on and so forth. This may not bother some readers or they will instead appreciate the way Lyon doesn’t shy away from being so very blunt about the evil and traumatizing results of sodomy, but others like me may feel the handling this particular situation could have been presented just a little differently and still achieve the emotional impact.
There is violence in this book, but it was handled well and the most graphic description was the characters’ reactions to a horrifyingly grotesque facial injury (if it makes a doctor and a former mercenary cry out, you know it’s bad). Language is hinted at but all cursing takes place off-screen with one of the good guys reacting by squirting the cursing minion in the mouth with soap. I will admit that I found several of the good guys annoying and I did not connect with them at all. But, the worst offender was the “fearless lady leader” Mrs. Phoebe Moore-Campbell…she was too perfect and practically worshipped by all the other characters. She was perilously close to being a “Mary Sue” with a near-perfect halo, especially when she seems to provide the most spiritual wisdom. It was a bit odd how Phoebe and her spiritual nuggets came across as more preachy than the minister and his sermon, but I think it was a matter of execution. I hope that improves as the character is dealt with more and is rounded out a little more through other narrators’ eyes. Evangelism is a VERY big part of this book as well, which I don’t mind except when it feels a little too contrived and there was one instance where the evangelism did feel almost too convenient, especially when you already had one minion turn ally and become a Christian and then oh, there’s another one. Yes, it can and does happen in real life but it felt contrived in the story.
There is also romance within this book. However, the romance subplots weren’t as well-developed as I would have hoped. The main romance subplot I knew was going to happen as soon as she’s introduced and that’s okay. It was a little weird when she kept calling him her “father in Christ” even as he develops feelings for her and she develops them for him, but they did seem to go together. What confused me was when he professes his feelings for her and calls himself old while she’s young, because I thought he was either right on the cusp of 30 or just past 30 while she’s in her early 20s. But then she says “I will kiss your graying head” and some other stuff that would have been very romantic if I hadn’t been too busy going “Huh? Wait, is he older than I thought or is she a lot younger than I thought?” The second romantic subplot felt like a case of insta-love or at least insta-crush on her part. The character kisses her twice and she loves him and apparently he loves her even though he wasn’t interested in love at all just a chapter or two ago. I couldn’t decide if more time passed than I thought (weeks instead of days) or if it really was just days between their first meeting and “oh, we’re getting married.”
Technical – Grade B
This book does have some typos, but they’re not plaguing every page or every paragraph. The first true typo didn’t appear until about halfway through the book. However, there are two places where the narrative abruptly switched midsentence from first person to third person. There are also some places where it feels as though it’s a first person narrative trying to be a third person narrative.
The handling of accents varies from author to author and the style, such as whether it’s written out in an exaggerated manner or merely hinted at with a specific accent-flavored word or two, also varies. Lyon opted to write out her characters’ accents. I personally would have preferred it if she had only one main character and then a handful of secondary characters with very short speaking parts with these written out accents but between Sluefoot Sue and the cockney accents of many of the other Londoners, it was painful for me to read. Sluefoot Sue’s southern/western accent (“Ah” for “I” is very southern for me) was perhaps the most painful but when she was holding a conversation with someone with a cockney accent…I couldn’t understand what they were saying and, consequently, kept having to re-read a piece of the conversation to figure out what in the world they just said. The Russian character’s accent was the most legible of these written out accents. I hope the accents are somewhat toned down and tweaked in further books since they can make it very difficult for anyone who has dyslexia or other reading difficulties.
The phrasing and pacing of the book was rather clunky in the beginning and didn’t flow well. For example, even though this is a first person narrative, the narrator twice describes someone staring into his gray eyes. I think Lyon was probably trying to avoid the mirror trick for describing her narrator but how often do you go through the day thinking about what color your eyes are when you’re not being asked about the color? Ironically, a little bit later in the chapter, the character’s sister is described as having the family gray eyes, which is where I would have put in the little addendum that the trait is shared with the narrator if I had been tackling a similar scene. If I hadn’t been scheduled to review this one, I probably would have stopped before I finished Chapter 7 since it still hadn’t grabbed my attention. However, once we do get to chapter 8, things pick up and I was intrigued by the plot and how were things going and when would a specific character realize that “Dodge” is who I know he is among other things.
Final Grade – a B or 4 Stars
The plot intrigued me, even though it took a while for it to start really building up steam, and I appreciated how faith was woven into a Steampunk novel (a rare occurrence). I am interested in finding out how the plot twist at the end is handled in the second book so it will be in my To Read pile. However, due to the content dealt with, I would recommend this book for mature Christians and add that parents need to read the book in order to discuss the issues raised with their older teenagers. Recommended for ages 17 and up.
A Dodge, a Twist, and a Tobacconist is available Kindle and paperback.
*Please note I was provided a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not paid to provide a positive review. My opinions are my own.
Next Week – Switched by Amanda Hocking

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