Romulus Buckle & The City of the Founders

The steampunk series continues with two more installments.

This retro review is from December 22, 2013.

Review: Romulus Buckle & The City of the Founders, Richard Ellis Preston, Jr., 2013.Romulus Buckle

Preston’s great strength, perhaps honed in his career as a screenwriter, is his ability to evoke and describe the physical details of a scene, its characters, land, atmosphere, and, of course, the brass fittings and leather clothes and steam engines of steampunk.

The details of this world are interesting. It is the “Snow World”, Earth about 300 hundred years after an invasion by aliens, dubbed “Martians” but they aren’t really from Mars) which left Earth with large obelisks of indestructible material and no electricity. In the ruins of Los Angeles, it has even left a permanent cloud of poison gas. Man has reverted to small clans built around professions: (the Crankshafts, merchants that Captain Romulus Buckle belongs to; the Alchemists, engineers of steam powered robots and other things; the Imperials who built the main character of the story, the airship Pneumatic Zeppelin.

And, while it’s still ludicrous, Preston’s steampunk technology is less ludicrous than that of a lot of other steampunk stories. This is something of a naval adventure with detailed descriptions of the airship and, when necessary, its repair. Essentially, the plot involves the rescue of Crankshaft leader Balthazar from imprisonment in the City of Founders, a clan living under the ruins of Los Angeles.

We get a traditional start to the story with detailed background and descriptions of the Pneumatic Zeppelin and its crew, mostly in their ‘teens and twenties. There’s handsome Romulus, half-Martian and Chief Engineer Max, and fiery Chief Navigator Sabrina. Preston does a good job with his many combat scenes on land and air.

However, for such a long story, the plot offers few surprises. We pretty much suspect where Preston will be taking us in future books. Max and Buckle, both adopted by Balthazar, will develop a romantic attraction. The fight between Smelt of the Imperials, who thinks Buckle broke a treaty and stole the Pneumatic Zeppelin, and Buckle, who thinks the Imperials broke a treaty and launched an attack on the Crankshafts, is a war engineered by the Imperials. The mysteries Preston offers as an incentive to pick up future books aren’t that many. What exactly happened to Elizabeth, Buckle’s sister? What is Sabrina’s secret past in the City of the Founders? What is the origin of Lady Andromeda’s strange charisma? And the suspense of the probable war between the Founders and everyone else (assuming they can put aside their differences and unite) isn’t that great.

Still, if you really like the physical aesthetics of steampunk – those steam engines and clothes – you might want to pick this one up.


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