The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Thomas Riley by Nick Valentino

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Thomas Riley is a brilliant weapons designer working from the safety of his laboratory in West Canavia. His violent creations are the pride and joy of the army and their efforts in the war against Lemuria. And with Cynthia, his wonderful assistant, to keep his feet on the ground, what could possibly go wrong?

When the soul of a high ranking official's daughter gets stuck inside Cynthia's body after an alchemy accident, Thomas finds himself confronted with problems he never knew existed. Now he's caught between two enemies—the Lemurians, and his own people—for the fight of his life.


Thomas Riley by debut author Nick Valentino is a highly-imaginative steampunk offering, perfect for those new to the genre.

Thomas Riley's strength lies mostly in its imagination. Riley himself is a genius, and his inventions are the sort that will enchant even the most jaded of readers. These imaginative creations are often at the core of a good steampunk tale, and they help keep the reader engaged. One of this book's chief joys is the plethora of devices, and wondering what Riley will come up with next.

Characterization is greatly overshadowed by the plot-driven nature of the novel. In fact, one might even go so far as to say that Riley is an exclusively plot-driven novel. That being said, a lot of great plot might have been sacrificed for the sake of pacing, which, at times, was quick to a fault. The book could've benefited from being fifty or so pages longer, and the writing could've reveled in its moments of quiet development, rather than plowing along to the next element. That being said, I'm going to contradict myself, and say that I loved the fast-paced feel of the action scenes.

Thomas Riley himself is the most well-developed character. He is sweet, and identifiable, without being a Mary Sue. The other characters were flat at times, and could've used quite a bit more development, but as I mentioned earlier, this simple issue could've been solved with the inclusion of more story.

Valentino's writing is straightforward in every way. It gets the job done, and doesn't leave much room for decorum. This is not to say that the writing was dull; it portrayed what it needed to, vividly, but it portrayed little else. I haven't read too terribly much in the way of steampunk, but with there had been a little more of a Victorian feel to the writing itself.

Riley has a lot of potential in the YA market. I didn't realize this was its projected audience while reading the book—which is a good thing, because YA is better if handled discreetly. Despite the "older" age of the protagonists, its spunky characters and imagination opens the doors to a truly ageless novel. And this, coupled with the fact that steampunk as a genre seems to captivate teens around the world, leaves a lot of marketing potential for the author, if handled in the correct fashion.

All in all, Thomas Riley is a fun read. It truly shows you the power of a good imaginative tale, and would be an excellent 'starter book' for newcomers to steampunk. The few things I could find fault with are common in debut novels, and usually by the second installment, are eradicated. I look forward to reading the sequel as soon as I can.

On another note, I had the good fortune to meet Nick Valentino at a book festival earlier this year. Although the morning quickly turned to rain, his excitement was not dampened. Decked from head to toe in neo-Victorian clothing, a pair of alchemist's goggles on his head, he signed my copy of Thomas Riley (and if you know me, you know that I would take a signed book over just about anything else), and then began telling me about his writing.

Valentino's excitement was absolutely infectious, and I couldn't wait to start reading. Unfortunately, I had a backlog of other materials I had to cover first, and so was just able to finish the book this last weekend.


Buy it on Amazon
Author's website

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