Maria's Reviews > Thomas Riley

Thomas Riley by Nick Valentino
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Aug 17, 10

bookshelves: steampunk, ya-steampunk
Read from August 13 to 16, 2010 — I own a copy, read count: 1

I’m worried that this review is going to sound negative and over critical because I enjoyed this story, and I adore its Steampunk characteristics, but I have many concerns with how it was written and subsequently edited. It has been said that the devil is in the details, and this story, which is interesting and action packed, suffers because of the many little problems that plague it. I am well aware that this is a work of young adult fiction meant for the 13+ crowd, but I find this group to be intelligent and capable, and they are worth a text written with the same degree of polish and sophistication as those written for adults. That being said, I also get the impression that this author is early in his career and developing his writing style, and I am anxiously awaiting any future works he may write because I feel he has great potential to produce fantastic Steampunk stories. If he should ever read my humble review I would encourage him to engage a group of teen and adult beta readers to help him refine plot elements and spot the grammatical errors we all make when we write (I know I would volunteer for this task, and there are many others would gladly do so as well.)

The story revolves around master inventor Thomas Riley and his apprentice Cynthia Bassett. The pair lives and works in West Canvia, a nation that has been at war with neighboring Lemuria for so long that no one can remember how it all got started in the first place. Thomas and Cynthia are working in their workshop one fateful day when a West Canvian soldier arrives with the fatally wounded daughter of their ruler, and Thomas is ordered to extract the young woman’s soul so that it can be placed in a new body later. The ethics of soul extraction is never discussed, or how a “suitable body” for the soul will be acquired, but Thomas doesn’t have any choice: either he performs the procedure, or the girl’s father will have him jailed for treason (18). The procedure carries great risk, and of course it goes terrifically wrong with the young woman’s soul becoming trapped inside of Cynthia after the chemical solution used in the process explodes, and the only other person who knows how to safely extract the soul is Isaac Maier, Thomas’ counterpart in Lemuria. The pair sets off to locate Maier and return with him to West Canvia, and adventure ensues.

This book’s problems begin with its structure and I feel it desperately needed a competent copy editor. For example, at various points in the text punctuation was missing or incorrectly used. My favorite scene that illustrates this takes place on page 207: “Die,” she screamed on every swing. The character is screaming! There should be an exclamation point after the word “die” to convey to the reader emotion and excitement! In a further example of sloppy copy editing, on pages 226 and 227 the word “descent” is used three times, and misspelled “decent” twice. In other places words are used twice; in some sentences words are omitted altogether. My list of grammatical errors is fairly lengthy and I could devote a great deal of space to this topic. I realize I’m more aware of these kinds of mistakes because I’m a graduate student in English and an educator, but seeing these types of errors repeatedly as I read made me mentally reach for my red correction pen and interfered with my ability to enjoy watching the story unfold.

And since I’m on the topic of editing, I’d like to devote a moment to word choice throughout the novel. There were times when I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at some of the descriptive language used! In one scene a young man is holding an “out of date gun,” as though guns expire like milk or medication. How about ancient, antique, or old/old fashioned? In another scene he describes some of the members of a rescue party he is leading as “typical pirate thugs with unshaven faces full of scars, wild eyes, and a facial twitch most commonly associated with maniacs” (229). I’m so glad to know that maniacs have facial twitches, as this will now help me identify them if I should run across them in the future. In a final example, the book makes a single reference to an individual with a British accent (208). This wouldn’t be so odd except that nowhere, at any point, does the story make reference to Britain, only to the fictional countries of West Canvia, Lemuria, and the (real island chain) Republic of the Seychelles (I had to look it up; it’s located east of the southern tip of Africa). This confused me as a reader: Is this story placed in the world we know, or in a fictional one? The problems I have listed above should have been dealt with by an editor who asked these questions so that I could spend more time thinking about the plot and the character development.

I thought the plot of the book was interesting and fun to read, but there were some plot twists that are never resolved. One chapter is entitled “Phantoms” and involves the main character and a large stone placed in his pocket; later in the chapter this stone is hit with a shot from the villain, shattering it and releasing a large group of zombie-like people of all ages into the room. This event deeply scares the villain, who flees in terror, and leaves Thomas confused and with only a vague idea of what might have happened. He tells his partner Cynthia that he will try to explain what he thinks they are later, but he never returns to this point and the story concludes without any resolution of this point (and great unlikelihood that it will be if there is a sequel). Yes, the villain Isaac Maier is, well, villainous, but why was he scared when he fled the room to escape the zombies? The zombie people never do anything to warrant the implementation of a zombie plan or fear on the part of those who have to move through them! I assume that these entities are souls that have been extracted and stored by the villain, but this is never established and there is no purpose to the number of pages and time spent on this development, which doesn’t further the story to any useful degree.

Along a similar vein is the capture of Cynthia Bassett by the Lemurians. This twist would be an excellent opportunity to expand on her history, strength, and intelligence, as well as for the reader to learn about the Lemurians through her observations. After she is taken, however, the story remains with Thomas and the reader gains little additional information until the final chapters. There is no real reason to have any antipathy towards the villain outside of a couple of pages of posturing in dialogue and, as a result, it is difficult to develop any degree of panic, fear, or concern for Cynthia. Author Nick Valentino would have greatly enriched this novel if he had spent more time on character development, and a little less time on describing the guns, clothing, and vessels they were on; this character development is especially important for young adult readers, who have a greater tendency to see things in terms of absolutes and are developing a sense of justice. I enjoyed the action of the story, but I didn’t develop feelings for the characters, and this is disappointing.

Despite the faults I found with this book, there were elements that were well done and are worth mentioning. For one, the science of the book made sense, and many of the devices described sounded plausible. Author Nick Valentino works a little too earnestly to establish this text in the Steampunk genre--if I were motivated I would count exactly how many times the word “goggles” appears, but it is enough to say it does so very frequently—but the machinery described feels real and logical in construction. There is also significant variety of weaponry to please adventurous teens: acid shooting guns, an improvised non-lethal weapon using pepper, and a variety of steam-powered devices to name a few. Additionally, the relationship between Thomas and Cynthia is sweet, if underdeveloped, and I am left hoping that there will be future installments that continue the story and add more to the universe Valentino has created. I would encourage others to enter this world, and to ask for more…I have a feeling there are some fantastic stories coming!
3 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Thomas Riley.
sign in »

Reading Progress

08/14/2010 page 95
33.0% "An interesting take on a fictional Steampunk universe!"
08/14/2010 page 146
51.0% "I know I'm going to have a lot to say about this book!"
08/16/2010 page 204
71.0% "Too many distractions today! I WILL finish this book and write my review soon!"

No comments have been added yet.