It always seemed unlikely that anyone would write a book which combined two of my specific reading interests – fiction set in the early modern history period (think Tudors to Regency) and steampunk. Those pre-industrial eras just don’t lend themselves to the genre as well as the Victorian and Edwardian periods but they are an age which lends itself to the magical and mysterious. Which is why, I suspect, that Andrew Caldecott’s Rotherweird reads, for me, like a steampunk novel with Elizabethan overtones – specifically like one featuring John Dee. Let me clarify….
Rotherweird is a very unusual town. Back towards the end of the reign of Queen Mary a group of children came to light – brilliant but somehow potentially dangerous – and they are sent into isolation in the small town of Rotherweird. There they are placed in the care of Sir Henry Grassal who educates them, against the wishes of the Queen, so that they develop their prodigious abilities in maths, philosophy and sciences. Scroll forward to the modern day and Rotherweird is still cut off in many ways from the modern world. No cars (bar one), no computers, no connection to the politics or government of the real world – governed by their own laws: the comprehensive regulations. There are some familiar things – pilates for example – and the community funds itself by selling the products of its brilliant scientific minds. For Jonah Oblong the new history teacher at the town’s school, however,modern history is the only permitted subject. In fact the laws of the town mean that no-one can study its history or anything at all from before 1800. This is a town which history is meant to have forgotten but history has a habit of asserting itself.
This book has a huge cast of characters – mostly with strange names which I would find far too Dickensian in a Dickens novel – and a fascinating plot involving an isolated community, an unsettling parallel world and strange and powerful forces. It has humour, action, adventure and just a hint of romance. Some of the mysteries are resolved but many more remain. There are still more of Rotherweird’s secrets to be revealed in future so I’m pleased to hear a sequel is in the pipeline.