Railroad Volume 1: Rodger Dodger
by Tonia Brown
Steampunk is a genre that for the last few years I have found especially intriguing, at least on the esthetic level. I haven't read nearly enough to hop on the steam-powered bandwagon, but I count myself as a prospective fan. For me, I just want a rollicking good time, and in the case of Tonia Brown's Railroad, I got just that.
This novella is the opening salvo in what promises to be an especially weird western. Rodger Dodger introduces us to the title character as he answers an open call for a security officer on board a train called the Sleipnir. For a gunslinger on the run from his past, a job on a train might sound downright cozy, but when he meets its eccentric owner--and inventor--Professor Hieronymus J. Dittmeyer, and discovers the train navigates across the wild west without using conventional railroads, Dodger wonders if he's bitten off more than he can chew.
Dodger on his own didn't strike me as all that compelling a character, but that's mainly because there's so little about him that's revealed in the first half of the book. He's a quiet, no-nonsense sort with a bit of charm and a lot of history in his wake that revisits him later in the book, but there wasn't quite enough to make him stand out as the star of the story. The absence of a hook there is compensated with a trio of strange and comical characters aboard the Sleipnir. There's the professor who seems a tad out of touch with polite society, having spent much of his time in recent years aboard his train, and seemingly evading unsavory characters. There's his robotic butler-of-sorts, Mr. Torque, a clockwork servant with a dry wit and resigned tolerance for his bewildering boss. And then there's the chief engineer, Ched, who gave me the impression that he's a zombie, thought that's never said outright. I just assume as much given his appearance--and odor.
The book definitely feels like the introduction to a series, and I often enjoy the setup of a wayward antihero joining forces with a band of misfits. The book offered enough excitement and enough characterization to pull me in, but made it plain that the real chills and spills will come later in the series, as evidenced by a band of outlaws who cross paths with the train and its crew. I was effectively charmed by what Tonia has got here and I am certainly going to need to make room on my reading pile for the second volume of Railroad.