The book is set during the Klondike gold rush, but with a steampunk twist: instead of using sleds and horses, people use steam-powered machines to carry their supplies across the frozen trails. The protagonists are two somewhat unlikely travelling companions. Robert lost his money gambling and had to resort to prostitution to get enough money to continue towards the gold fields. John is a scientist and he’s looking for platinum rather than gold, because he’s trying to develop a new technology with semiconductors.
I’m a fan of Jack London, so the setting immediately appealed to me, but if I had to sum it up my experience with this book in one word it would be “disappointing”. I’ve read other books by L.A. Witt and I enjoyed them very much, so I had high hopes for this one, but it just fell flat for me. One of my issues with it is that it was labelled as sci-fi/fantasy which gave me certain expectations. I thought there would be more adventures, and we would really get into the steampunk aspect, but the setting was really just a backdrop and the book was 95% romance.
It wasn’t a very compelling romance, either. The problem is that the characters get together too easily, they fall in love almost at first sight (mostly based on physical attraction) and there are no obstacles to them getting together. But since there’s still 150 pages to go before the end of the book, conflict is forced to happen for a bunch of stupid reasons. I can’t believe that John is this super-smart scientist who’s competing with Tesla and Edison, because he’s so painfully naive when the plot demands it. He insists on secrecy, and then he’s the one who reveals that he’s got a gold detector in front of dozens of gold searchers, so we spend several chapters with John and Robert worried that other people will try to steal the device, and it’s all for nothing anyway because the book forgets about the other gold searchers after a while.
That’s sort of an overarching theme: the book does set up conflict, but this conflict is resolved largely by ignoring it. At the end I felt that the whole journey described in the book had been a waste of time. Sure, John and Robert were together, but it was very much a case of “we’re together so nothing else matters”. Even though, you know, you spent half of the book complaining that you can’t be together because of those very pressing problems. It doesn’t feel like resolution, it feels like something unfinished. There were other issues here and there with editing (the same conversation was repeated twice, with two different outcomes) but this was the most glaring.
Overall I’m giving it 3 out of 5 because it is well written and because I did enjoy the journey. But the conclusion is weak and lets down the whole book. I’m still a fan of L.A. Witt, just not a fan of this particular story.