“Ironshield” by Edward Nile- A dieselpunk epic (SPSFC)

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing a bunch of books besides the semi-finalists and finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

Ironshield by Edward Nile

I saw this book in another group’s slush pile and thought it looked intriguing because, well, there’s a giant mech on the cover. I’m a simple man; I love fiction with tanks and mechs.

The draw of Ironshield is that it is a large-scale world with warfare and mechs. The staying power of this chunky book is found, though, in the characters, the politics, and the world. The core plot centers around a civil war between North and South Arkenia. Initially, I thought it might be an analogue for the United States Civil War. It’s not, really. The war is over whether or not to disarm at the demands of an outside force, the Xangese. The South wants to disarm to assure peace with Xang, the Northern industrialists refuse to do so, as they’re worried it could empower a different empire to attack and take them back over.

These plot points and political machinations get revealed in satisfying chunks in between character vignettes and action scenes. The moves between characters come at a good clip, so readers get to see both sides of the conflict as more and more of the world and background plot is also revealed. And trust me, there’s a lot going on here. Of course, the big hitters are the mechs, and I enjoyed how Nile made them make sense in-world while also making some of the restrictions using them to fight played out. It’s a tightly done world, and while there are a few quibbles one could bring up about how neatly some of the plot ties up, I found it all enjoyable.

The elevator pitch for this novel would be something like: WWI combined with Old West US meets mechs and a splash of Indiana Jones with implications of a bigger conflict coming.

I have a few small qualms. The Xangese people and the Native inhabitants of the region each seem a bit flat. It would be great to see them get more dynamic development and not ride the line of stereotyping. I think it’s supposed to contribute to the feel of the novel as a kind of Old West-esque setting, but I wasn’t a fan of the simplistic way these characters were written. Let them be people, and have deeper reasons to work–against colonialism or what have you! It made me feel a little iffy how they were portrayed. The final qualm is just that the book could use a little cutting of the corners here and there. It doesn’t feel bloated, per se, but there are parts where the flow could move a little better.

Overall, though, Ironshield a great read with some superb world-building. The ending feels like a huge setup for more, and I was excited to see the next book is coming soon. I recommend this for fans of dieselpunk/steampunk, and fantasy with warfare.

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Iron Kingdoms Chronicles: “Acts of War I – Flashpoint” by Aeryn Rudel

Iron Kingdoms is a campaign setting from Privateer Press that has enthralled me for almost two decades with its fantastical steampunk world and deep national histories. I spent hours upon hours poring over sourcebooks and thinking of all the stories that could take place in the setting, but still haven’t found a group that wants to play in it (alas). It was to my great delight, then, that I discovered there were novels in the setting that I had never heard of. I was surprised that they’d gone under my radar because I thought I’d been following Privateer Press fairly closely. When I saw Flashpoint by Aeryn Rudel at a bookstore, I grabbed it without any further deliberation. It was enough to know it was a novel in a setting that I’d been in love with for years. I was deeply gratified as I read the novel, though, because it cashed in on that setting in ways that I knew were possible.

Flashpoint starts off with a bang as we follow a desperate, undercover noble trying to escape from an assassination attempt. From there, we get kicked into a setup for a diplomatic showdown between the Empire of Khador (a kind of play on Imperial Russia, but with magic and steam-powered mechs) and Cygnar, a powerful Kingdom that has too many enemies. Rudel introduces readers to a cast of characters including Lord General Coleman Stryker of Cygnar, a warcaster who commands a mech in battle, Asheth Magnus, another mage-like character who is willing to do whatever he thinks it takes to win the day, Maddox, Beth Maddox, a warcaster just doing her duty, and more. The cast is full of strong enough characters to carry the plot, which is itself full of political intrigue and, eventually, squad and battle level combat.

I hugely enjoyed the mix of politicking, character interactions, and combat Rudel uses throughout the novel. It reads like a truly excellent campaign, with battles interspersed at somewhat predictable intervals as action to break up the story exposition. There’s enough conflict here to make things interesting, and both sides of the conflict have sympathetic characters. It’s a great fantasy read, and for readers who enjoy steampunk, there are new wonders in abundance.

It’d be remiss of me to not mention that there are several editing errors in the book. On at least 3 separate occasions, I ran into a sentence that very clearly had a word missing. In two cases, I was able to easily supply the word because it was a common phrase. In the third, the sentence was left somewhat ambiguous by the missing piece. These errors didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the novel, but they did take away from my immersion at points.

Overall, Flashpoint was a delight to read. I loved seeing the Iron Kingdoms come to life. I hadn’t read much from my campaign settings books in a while, and was gratified to see that I could have easily dived into the novel with no prior knowledge of the setting. I recommend the novel to those interested in a fascinating steampunk world.

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“The Mechanical” – Ian Tregillis’s Steampunk Epic

I first read The Mechanical after I saw it at a bookstore. The premise immediately struck me as something I’d be interested in, so I gave it a try. I was completely enamored at once with its compelling cast of characters and extremely high octane drama and intensity. I want to commend it to my readers here, so I’ve written up a short review. There will be some minor SPOILERS here so if you want to avoid that, just go read the book, it’s great.

The Mechanical

There are many things that make this book great. First, the setting. It’s set in the early 1900s in an alternative world in which the Dutch have mastered a kind of magical clockwork that allows them to animate robots to do their bidding. This has led to the Dutch dominating much of the world. Meanwhile, readers are also treated to following the attempts of New France to become a power again, using their chemical know-how to fight the mechanicals of the Dutch. Throughout all of this is woven a heaping helping of religious strife, with the Dutch Protestants and French Catholics being at odds against each other on almost every level.

Another aspect of the series is its fantastic characters. Ian Tregillis writes not just one, but three extremely compelling characters that were sympathetic almost from the start. On the flip side, it’s not always clear who is “good” or “bad” in many of the scenarios presented. Because much of the conflict is over both religious and economic war, it is difficult to find a right side, and that certainly reflects the real world. But tied into this is a third fantastic part of the series, which is the deep philosophical questions raised about free will and religion that come with it. Jax, a mechanical and one of the protagonists, is immediately sympathetic as one who seemingly has free will thwarted by clockwork. Meanwhile, other characters must deal with almost opposite effects. It is all fascinating.

Yet all of these wonderful details are tied into a plot with an absolutely roaring pace that never lets up. Whether it’s spy drama, nefarious evil, or warfare, there is an enormous amount of action in this book, and it never lets off the gas. It is a thrill ride that has much deeper elements than one might expect.

I have read the rest of the series, back when it first came out, and it is all very good. I will be re-reading it on audiobooks now as I continue. I recommend this series to you, dear readers. Check it out! Read The Mechanical now! And come back and discuss it with me!


“The Guns Above” by Robyn Bennis- A Steampunk Delight– Like Steampunk? Be sure to also read Robyn Bennis’s fantastic “The Guns Above.”

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!




“The Guns Above” by Robyn Bennis – A Steampunk Delight

It’s no secret: I love steampunk. The thing is, I’ve struggled to find novels that capture the feel I really, really want out of the subgenre. The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld is one prime example of an excellent series. Then, I saw The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. It had a blurb from my favorite author, David Weber on it. Surely, he would not lead me wrong! Would he?

No, he wouldn’t.

Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above is the beginning of what I hope becomes a lengthy fantasy series. Bennis doesn’t do much experimental here. No, she instead delivers to readers an extremely sound, tight, action-packed steampunk novel. Do you want harrowing air battles? Do you want some political intrigue? Character development? Check all the boxes, it’s all here.

The story centers around Josette Dupre,who is the first woman airship captain in her nation. Some doubt her abilities. Upping the drama is the addition of Lord Bernat, a love-to-hate aristocrat with a gambling and womanizing problem. These might sound like familiar tropes, but Bennis develops them so well and adds just enough twists and turns in the overall plot and world to make it a novel that I churned through not once, not twice, but three times already. I’m thinking about adding the audiobook to my collection because it’s that good. It’s a lengthy read, but one that is so quick to pass by that I sat and read it in a day the first time.

Character development is clearly one of Bennis’s strengths. I know that term gets thrown around a lot. Too many times it means a character is interesting throughout the book. Here, the mains truly develop. They change in meaningful ways that make sense within the plot. They’re not static, but living and breathing.

The blurb from David Weber is spot-on as there are many parallels here, from the military trappings to the character development. It’s a debut novel that not only shows a ton of promise but also absolutely delivers the goods. And it has airships. AIRSHIPS, people. This is the kind of novel that fans of older JRPGs like Final Fantasy IV-IX and their like have longed for. Go get it. Read it. Love it. Share about it. And then come here and talk to me about it. Oh, and good news: the second book is already out!

Tell me what you think of The Guns Above in the comments!


J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


Why I love the Library

I love you, oh Library, I love you I do

You bring me the books, I enjoy them too!

I find recommendations online from a friend

Reserve them, check out, renew, a Godsend!

Okay, so there’s why I’m not a poet. Anyway, I really love the Library. I find it amazing that I can see a book recommendation from a friend, search the book at my local library system, reserve it, walk in and out all in about 5 minutes, and boom! New book to read.

Here’s an example: with the political season underway, I decided to do some research on gun control. I know, it’s not a huge issue in the elections coming up, but I thought why not, I could stand to learn more! Boom, tons of books available instantly at my local library. How awesome is that?

Another example: a friend mentioned a steampunk book he really liked. I love that genre and thought, why not, I would love to read something steampunk. Local library had it. I reserved it and picked it up the next day!

So it seems to me that whether you’re using it for research or casual reading, your local library is the place to be. Do it!

Talk about something worth your tax dollars.

Support your local library, my friends!