H.E. Bergeron's Reviews > Infernal Devices

Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
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Jul 14, 12

Read from July 13 to 14, 2012

I will begin by saying that I am predisposed towards liking books that tell a complete story in a single novel, and Infernal Devices is certainly that. It's a neat little romp through steampunk England with rarely a dull moment. The plot proceeds rapidly without feeling glossed over, and with few irrelevant scenes, a lot is accomplished within relatively few pages.

The world of Infernal Devices is one full of clockwork curiosities and characters suffering varying degrees of madness. I enjoyed touring it. I admit I was a little jarred by one particular paranormal element the author introduced which did not quite seem to fit with the universe he had constructed up until then. (view spoiler) The premise of this book, the 'miracle exception,' if you will, that moves it out of the mundane world, is that in this version of history dwell craftsmen and scientists who can construct miraculous devices. Any strangeness that proceeds from these devices makes sense in context, but I was far less willing to accept a new strangeness which did not have its origin in mad science. I had already suspended my disbelief in regards to quasimagical clockwork. To be suddenly asked to suspend it again in regards to something completely unrelated almost ruined the whole precarious thing.

Infernal Devices seems to be located in an era roughly parallel to our turn of the century (allowing a wide margin of error, since no specific events are identified to anchor it), and it shares a number of stylistic similarities to the fiction written broadly during that era. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that, although it is narrated in the first person, the narrator is not particularly the protagonist. George Dower exists more as a lens for the reader to see the story through than a person in his own right. He is swept along by the current of things, and does little to influence the story by his actions; but that did not particularly annoy me, accustomed as I am to similar reader-surrogate narrators in the tales of writers such as Lovecraft or Poe. It's a tradition of the age, and if anything, it made the story feel more authentically antiquated.

Prose-wise, Infernal Devices does the thing steampunk stories always do and tries to sound Regency - and Jeter pulls that off better than most. He avoids the archaic spellings that always feel forced and pretentious as well as the obviously modern syntax that sometimes invades this synthetic style of writing and exposes the sham.

I will add, as a nitpicky footnote, that there were a much larger number of typographical errors than I am used to seeing in a published work. At first I thought the author was just getting a little creatively exuberant with his approach to punctuation. After the first fifty pages, I had changed my conclusions and decided the proof reader fell asleep on the job. By the end of the book, I was wondering in a characteristically paranoid fashion whether it was a code, and I may in the future go through and check all the letters preceding and following the unexpected periods or mysteriously absent hyphens just to be sure. If anyone else deciphers it, let me know. On the other hand, if it was simply human error, your edition may not even have this problem.
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