A common problem with self-publishing is that stories are published before they are ready to be read. Manuscripts that are not peer reviewed or edited are rushed onto Amazon, Smashwords or elsewhere and subjected to the critiques of their readers. Broken Souls: Volume I by Alex Davidson suffers from these problems.
The first volume of this serialized novel follows two teenagers, Icarus and his older friend Kay. Both are "steamworkers" who tend the steam generators that keep their city running. They are assisted by Donna, a strange girl who appeared out of nowhere several years ago. She does not talk and does not do her work, but both Icarus and Kay are obsessed with finding more about her.
I say obsessed because no rational reason is ever given to explain why they would risk so much tracking down info on Donna's history. There was a short line about the "boss" asking them to do it, but when it comes clear that digging into Donna's past becomes dangerous they proceed in their mission, inspired by some unknown motivation. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to foil the antagonists they run across. One was kind enough to tell the pair he was going to kill them and even answered a couple of questions before our heroes dispatched him. Other antagonists capture them, but are incompetent enough to leave them armed or give them easy means of escape.
The characters are inconsistent. When they hear that people have disappeared after asking for newspaper clippings from the date Donna appeared (which was told to them quite matter of fact) they shrug it off. Yet when they are searching through office records and hear footsteps out in the hallway, but find no one there, they immediately come to the conclusion that someone is trying to kill them. Icarus himself has no issues with killing, shooting a librarian in the stomach just because she was not being helpful. When you cannot empathize with the main character it can make the story difficult to read.
The book is very implausible, even for steampunk. In 1900, it was discovered that steam works the same as oil and guns are designed to pull particles from the air to create bullets and the energy necessary to fire them. There is a magic system in place, which could explain the bizarre use of steam. Killing a "part" of your soul allows you to use magic, but it makes little sense to the larger story.
Politically the world changed in 1939 when the British assassinated Hitler and the Nazis just disappeared. To prevent the rise of another dictator like Hitler the world nations agreed to unite under a world dictator. Considering the different national interests and ideologies present in 1939, it is hard to imagine the entire world voluntarily giving up their sovereignty without a fight, even with the initial changes to the laws of nature.
The book is filled with typos and errors (the Greek god Ares is confused with the island of Crete), which just adds to the plot issues of Broken Souls: Volume I. Perhaps time with a writing group and a good editor can save the story, but I cannot recommend the current incarnation of the story.
* * *
Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a volunteer editor for Alt Hist and a contributor to Just Below the Law. His fiction can be found at Echelon Press, Jake's Monthly and his own writing blog. When not writing he works as an attorney and enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana.