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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Whitechapel Gods" by S.M. Peters

Order “Whitechapel GodsHERE
Read Reviews of “Whitechapel Gods” via Darque Reviews + Don D’Ammasa

Ever since I started putting together Spotlights highlighting a month’s speculative fiction releases, I’ve inevitably come across titles that have received little fanfare that have gone on to become some of my favorite books. Such is the case with S.M. Peters’Whitechapel Gods”, a debut novel that I almost passed over if not for its eye-catching cover. Even then, I nearly gave up on the book because I could hardly find any information on it—no author website or blogs, no press release, hardly any reviews—but I was intrigued enough by the description that I added “Whitechapel Gods” to my review pile which turned out to be a pretty smart move :)

Like Stephen Hunt’sThe Court of the Air” and Jonathan Barnes’The Somnambulist”, “Whitechapel Gods” takes place in a fantastical Victorian setting. In this case, the backdrop is 19th century London, specifically the district of Whitechapel—that is, a Whitechapel like you’ve never seen before, walled off from the rest of the city and transformed into a “steampunk-driven hell” where humanity suffers under the tyrannical rule of the ancient gods Mama Engine and her consort Grandfather Clock. We’re talking about a world where dissenters are crushed under the heels of man/machine hybrids such as the Gold & Black cloaks, and the unstoppable Boiler Men; where clocks act as portals for the all-seeing eye of Grandfather Clock; and where there are things much worse than death such as eternally serving Mama Engine in her Great Work. If that’s not bad enough, there’s also a disease called “clacks” that transforms flesh into gears & metals, and Old Whitechapel where if the air doesn’t kill you then the Ticker Hounds, nesses, clickrats or Frankensteins will. In other words, it’s a world without any freedom or hope.

Into this bleak milieu—which partly evokes
H.R. Giger, The Matrix, and various steampunk-influenced videogames, anime & comic books—we have a resistance that has finally gotten the break they need, a weapon that could actually kill Grandfather Clock. Of course, they’ll have to recover it first from the bowels of the very dangerous Old Whitechapel, and do so before the maniacal John Scared—the weapon’s original owner—can get his hands on it and without getting killed by the Baron’s Boiler Men who are determined to stop them at any cost. Even if they accomplish all that, they’ll still need to construct the weapon and infiltrate the Chimney—the heart of Mama Engine’s Great Work—in order to activate it, and that’s not even taking into account the problem of how to deal with Mama Engine or the third god that is now making its presence felt…

Told over the course of two days and through multiple point-of-views, “Whitechapel Gods” moves along at a vigorous pace that feels very much like watching a movie or playing a videogame. In fact, “Whitechapel Gods” shares many similarities—both positive and negative—with such visual mediums including comic books. For instance, the action scenes are stylish, elaborate, and over-the-top. The plot meanwhile, while cool in a geeky kind of way, is admittedly thin and relies on numerous deus ex machinas like Aaron who can see into the essence of things, the drug mei kuan, and characters who have a hard time dying. Speaking of which, “Whitechapel Gods” features many larger-than-life characters that would look good on the big screen or coming out of your Xbox 360 + PS3, but are a bit lacking in the development department. Still, between such memorable personalities as Bergen, a statuesque German hunter with a shameful secret; Missy, a former whore haunted by voices; Oliver, ex-leader of the Uprising and the key to defeating the gods; the goblin-like villain John Scared with his doomsday plot; and the Faustian-like Baron Hume who speaks in poetic riddles, it’s hard to complain.

In the end, what can I say :) I’m just a huge fan of the whole Victorian/steampunk setting, so even though “Whitechapel Gods” lacked the depth & insight one might expect from a novel and had its share of issues, I thoroughly enjoyed S.M. Peter’s debut. So much in fact that I was very sad to see the book end, especially in a manner which seems to rule out any sequels. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for standalone novels, but in this case I loved the world and the characters so much that I just want to keep returning back to S.M. Peters’ Whitechapel over and over again...

UPDATE: The cover artist is Cliff Nielsen. For more information and to view his portfolio, click HERE.


daydream said...

Another must have. I saw this cover around the net a couple of times and I hope I get to read it someday. Excellent review. I enjoy the steampunk genre.

SQT said...

I'm glad this was good. I've been so overwhelmed by my review pile I passed this on to a guest reviewer. I'm not as into the steampunk thing, so I don't mind. But I'm to hear that my reviewer will probably like it.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Wow, you really liked this one! State the obvious...

I've been adding things to my (now enormous!) reading pile from the Spotlights for quite a while now :)

I think I have a copy of Whitechapel Gods on its way -- currently reading something by DB Shan (Darren Shan's adult writing name) which I'm currently really enjoying. I think you'd like it.

Nice one.

Reanimated said...

Sounds wicked.

Rob, question for you. "Steampunk" is a new term to me that I have seen popping up in reviews lately. Could you set me straight on what the term refers to exactly? I'm assuming it is a reference to Victorian time settings involving steam driven robots and such?

Thanks my man! FBC kicks much butt!

Robert said...

Wow, this one got a good response :) Thanks so much for the comments everyone.

Chris, I'm familiar with the name Darren Shan, but not what he writes. I'll have to look closer into that...

Reanimated, steampunk is about what you're assuming it to be. If you want a more detailed definition, just go to wikipedia and type in 'steampunk'. For examples, a lot of anime is heavily influenced by it like Steamboy or Fullmetal Alchemist. A lot of the Final Fantasy videogames have steampunk elements. Heck, there's even a comic book I remember that was called 'Steampunk' ;) And of course it all goes back to authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells :D

Anonymous said...

I bought it before you wrote this review.

Who is that cover artist?

Thought it was John Picacio but he said no.


heather (errantdreams) said...

This sounds like it would be just plain fun to read, and the cover has me salivating!

Matt said...

Glad to see this book is getting some deserved pubicity.
Is it perfect? No, but what is?
Is it a fun read? Definetly.
Awesome cover. It's what drew me to the book.

aspiemom said...

Robert, is it terrible for me to say that I would buy the book based on the cover? Is that wrong? I'm not sure I would necessarily like it.

I read a cyberpunk book and wasn't crazy about it. Of course I haven't seen The Matrix (I know I know-I was popping out kids at the time and then time got away from me).

Anyway, that cover is FANTASTIC!

Robert said...

Everyone pretty much seems to be in agreement--that cover rocks! As to who the artist is, I unfortunately haven't been able to find out yet, but I'm working on it...

gav (nextread) said...

I want!!! :D

Excellent review.

Robert said...

Thanks Gav :)

Just found out who the artist is thanks to the publicist: Cliff Nielsen. To be honest, I'm not familiar with the name, but looking through his portfolio, I recognize a lot of the artwork :) Great stuff. You can find out more here:

gav (nextread) said...

Simonsays has some other examples of his cover art. The man has style!

Kimberly Swan said...

Great review Robert! I have to agree with everyone on that excellent cover art too. Now I'll have to check out that link you shared for the artist.

Thank you for the DR mention! :)

Robert said...

Kimberly, you're more than welcome :)

Gav, thanks for that additional link!

Tori said...

I definitely bought the book based on its cover. The problem I saw with the book was definitely lacking of depth in the character department. In my opinion there were too many characters and not enough to identify them with. I kept getting Aaron and Oliver mixed up, and the German guy and some other guy, and I couldn't figure out whether John Scared was good or bad until the end. Lol.
But I liked the ending immensely. About halfway through the book you might feel like putting it down... dont! Around three quarters of the way through, it gets really good...

Lee said...

Steampunk is not my thing normally, but I was just reading this book as a possible candidate for the Baltimore Science Fiction Society's Compton Crook award (it's given annually for the best "first novel" of the year written by a single author in the field of Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror).

I'd agree with the people who had a bit of trouble keeping the characters straight, at least in the first half of the book. That having been said, I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

Zach said...

I'm currently at Chpt 10 and have to say I'm quite enthralled by the book :)

I'd recommend it to just about anyone who likes sci-fi :)

Zach said...

Just finished it (couldn't peel my eyes away!) I have to agree that it when it ended I just wanted to keep reading more.

Hopefully there will be a sequel where a new god (maybe Aaron? Scared? the child-god?) attempts world domination. SOMETHING to keep the fantastic world of Whitechapel Gods alive!

North Victoria said...

Don't forget, folks, there's always fanfiction. (gasps of horror abound)

I'm almost finished with this book and have been favorably impressed so far! It's definitely a perfect novel for the anime/gamer, something that I'm sure most people don't even consider.

Interesting fact: Whitechapel Gods is listed on Wikipedia as "clockpunk"! Apparently clockpunk is a subgenre of steampunk centered around clockwork-driven technology... they also, however, listed it as THE Whitechapel Gods. Now come on, folks...

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