The Tremblers (Blackburn Chronicles)
In 1885, ten years after The Great Calamity that left survivors sheltering under electric Tesla Domes, seventeen-year-old debutante Charlotte Blackburn heads to a ball. On her way, a spasmodic, disfigured man attacks her carriage. Soldiers subdue him, but they cannot subdue the rumors of a blight that is turning humans into monsters. Later that night, soldiers abduct Charlotte’s father, moments after he gives her a journal he says contains information that might stop something terrible from happening. Rescued from abduction herself by Ashton Wells, a young man who claims to be a comrade of her father’s, Charlotte embarks on a quest to save her father and, in the process, perhaps stop the plague that threatens the entire Peaceful Union.
The first in a trilogy, this novel shows Byrnes’s boundless imagination in creating a believable steampunk world. Disappointingly, the main characters she drops into it are little more than tropes: the sheltered, upper-class girl who turns out to be brave and intelligent, and the handsome, mysterious young man whose motives are unclear. And, of course, they fall in love.
Overall, The Tremblers’ biggest issue is pacing. Conversations between characters often go on too long without advancing the plot, and no chase scene needs to last for three chapters. Ostensibly a Christian novel, Byrnes’s attempts to weave in Christian beliefs are inconsistent throughout the story and ultimately unimportant to the resolution. However, Byrnes has crafted a solid mystery around the cause of the “trembling illness,” and there is a masterful plot twist. Readers may find themselves sufficiently intrigued by this novel’s potential and its cliffhanger ending to give the second book in the series a go.