Red Rose, 2012
Gearteeth by Timothy Black was a review request that sat in my inbox for a long time before I noticed it. When I did, and I read the books description, I decided not to request a copy from the author but rather went ahead and grabbed the Kindle version. Gearteeth is an alternate steampunk history set in 1910. In 1890 the United States was ravaged by a plague that transformed humans into ravenous werewolves, a plague the rapidly spread to the rest of the world. The remnants of humanity lead by a secret order of scientists founded by Nikola Tesla, the Tellurians, aided humanity by helping them escape the confines of gravity taking many of the great cities into the sky on telluric currents. The novel opens up 20 years after humanity has taken to the skies and introduces readers to brakeman Elijah Kelly who serves on one Wardenclyffe’s biggest thunder trains: Heaven’s Grace. The “Double Ts” chase thunderstorms in order to get energy for the floating city. Cut off from the other salvation cities (as the floating towns are known) Wardenclyffe and its Thunder Trains eke a hardscrabble living off the energy of the storms and off the scraps left behind on the surface.
The novel kicks off into high gear relatively early with Black detailing the harrowing work of the brakemen who have to climb around the Thunder Trains exterior while in flight, clad in a metal suit and insulated with padding. Things get crazier once Elijah gets infected by a rogue werewolf that manages to get into Wardenclyffe. Elijah’s infection opens up the novel for the exploration of the city’s various politics and particularly the secrets of the insular and authoritative Tellurians. As Elijah struggles with the curse running through his blood he is forced to make a decision to either leave or stay. Black deftly handles Elijah’s tension between his reluctance to give up the family he loves and his desire to keep them safe.
There is a point in the novel (I apologize for the minor spoiler) where Elijah finds himself ground-side and it is there that Black details the fate of those who didn’t make it to any of the Salvation cities. Indeed it is in this section that many of the novel’s more horrific elements come into play. Black creates a sense of depth and detail without ever sacrifice the novels break-neck pace. I might complain that some of the revelations Elijah learns along the way dovetail a bit too nicely into his own personal history but that would be a minor quibble and truth be told Gearteeth makes for a smooth and easy read never once truly hindered by exposition. It also certainly helps to think of Gearteeth more as a fantasy than anything resembling science-fiction and flying trains powered by lightning and floating cities riding on electromagnetic currents while both awesome do require a major suspension of disbelief.
While many of the steampunk elements of the novel aren’t too grounded in reality the characters most definitely are. Elijah as an entertaining lead and the supporting cast, particularly his grandmother and his best friend Henry, definitely help create a compelling personal story to drive the action forward. It also helps that the novel setting is grounded in reality with the creation of the werewolves themselves tied into very real historic events. Given the young age of the protagonist there is certainly some teen appeal to Gearteeth but it can most definitely be enjoyed by adults. There huge chunks of the novel that I’ve declined to discuss, because I really don’t want to ruin any surprises, Black continues to impress over the course of the novel with action packed adventure that still manages to consistently hit important, often moving, emotional beats without ever truly sliding into melodrama. Gearteeth is fine first novel from any author and worth a look for fans of steampunk and horror. You don’t have to completely take my word for it, you can check out a sample of the novel on the author’s webiste. Gearteeth is available right now through most major websites in ebook form and there is a sequel in the works.