I love me some steampunk and gaslamp fantasy. And webcomics. So I’m always happy to check out a new series or comic in one of those genres, especially one that’s appropriate for both adult and youth audiences so that I can write about it here. This week I checked out M. Holly-Rosing’s Boston Metaphysical Society, which is both a webcomic and a series of prequel novellas. I quickly was sucked in to the comic and enjoyed the story immensely.
It’s more on the supernatural side of steampunk – the characters deal with demons, ghosts, and monsters but there are also lightning-powered weapons and airships. It also has flavors of historical fiction and alternate history, and you’ll probably recognize some of the characters from your school days: Tesla, Bell, Edison, and Houdini.
The art in the comic reminds me of the style in the Batman graphic novels I loved as a kid, but a little more sepia-toned to give it that Victorian feel. The art is very well suited to the themes and storyline, and the people are drawn as fairly proportional people in clothing that makes sense for their jobs and culture (i.e. no women in strange, anatomically impossible poses with their chests falling out, but you will see some corsets and even bustles).
The characters range from the guy with an enormous upper-class superiority complex to a quiet, flawed hero with a past, to the under-appreciated genius whose station in life keeps him from being the tremendous success he should be. There is also a talented young medium who the hero reluctantly lets assist him out of desperation. She’s the only female character in the webcomic so far, and only a sidekick, but I have high hopes that in the future of the series she’ll get an even bigger role and continue to defy the conventions of her society.
The accompanying novella to the comic, The Demons of Liberty Row, is a prequel that gives background info on the early days of the Boston Metaphysical Society. It’s written in a style similar to the comic so it’s just a little bit dark, and it leans towards the melodramatic.
The Demons of Liberty Row was an engaging story with interesting characters, but at first I kept finding myself distracted by the need for a heavier hand at editing. Things like typos, repeated words, irregular use of commas, and long, run-on sentences with frequent use of semicolons made it hard to follow and focus on the story. The ratio of exposition and description to dialogue and action was also a little high for my taste.
About fifteen pages in, though, I mostly was immersed and stopped being quite as distracted. I was able to enjoy the really cool devices and doodads all over the home of genius Granville Woods. I would totally give my right arm to have something like Granville’s amazing house filled with gadgets, workshops, and secret passages. I also liked his spunky young niece, Sarah, and hope she features again.
My favorite part of the novella was how well it brought the steampunk and gaslamp fantasy genres together. It has tons of cool gadgets and a healthy dose of mad scientists (both the sort with questionable morals and the simply angry sort). But it also has plenty of supernatural and spiritual elements that make it a unique cross-genre story.
I would recommend starting with the webcomic, and if you are the kind of person who really likes more background info, then look into the novellas. The comic and stories contain some violence and a bit of gore, but nothing overtly sexual or over-the-top bloody. I consider it geared towards adults but appropriate for ages twelve and up, or possibly younger if you have a kid who likes spooky stuff.