Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp by Glen Robinson, is a real person? Obscure historical figures have found new life in alternate history, like Mordechai Anielewicz in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series.
Back to the novel, Tom Horn (ex-Pinkerton, ex-Indian fighter, ex-gunslinger) has settled down to enjoy the rest of his years in peace on a south Texas ranch. That is until he is arrested for murder, only to be rescued by New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt. Taking Tom and his nephew, Kid, east in a zeppelin, he recruits Horn to guard his 16-year-old niece Eleanor who is being sent to Vienna to attend a meeting of world leaders. War is brewing and the Krupp industrial family wants to stoke the fires so they can profit by selling weapons. An enigmatic group known as the Foundation wants to prevent a world war from happening and is sending Eleanor with her uncanny ability to make peace to convince the Great Powers that brinkmanship is not the answer. The Warlords of Krupp will do anything to stop her.
The plot to Tom Horn is not very original. The bad guys want to start a world war so they can sell weapons, the good guys want to stop it from happening. Similar plots can be found in the films Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and the awful abortion The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (go read the graphic novel by Alan Moore instead). The idea of starting a war, even for a weapons company, always sounds like a bad business plan. War can be destructive, so unless Krupp's factories are located in some remote corner of the Earth, the factories producing the weapons could be destroyed. Even if the factories were in some remote corner of the planet, they would still need to be staffed and supplied with raw materials and the finished product would need to be shipped to whatever nation needed it. Whether by air or sea, any ship carrying the goods could be attacked by another nation wanting to deny their enemies from gaining the weapons. Finally, people don't like it when you give weapons to the enemies. While in Tom Horn the Krupps seem to be allied with the Germans, my guess is the Kaiser would not approve of selling the same weapons to the British, French or Russians.
As I mentioned before, Krupp is desperate to stop Eleanor from reaching Venice, yet Krupp agents carry out overly-complicated to stop the teenager and her guardians. Although Tom explained to Roosevelt that he expected Krupp to come all guns blazing, not caring if innocent bystanders get caught, rarely does his theory play out. The bad guys consistently try to capture Eleanor first before they kill her. For example, the Germans use a sub to board and capture an ocean liner that Tom and Eleanor are travelling on, instead of just destroying the ship altogether. Perhaps there is some logic to the Krupp business plan and their strategy to stop Eleanor that escapes me, but at the moment I cannot think of it.
Despite the incompetent villains, Tom Horn was a fascinating character. His common sense, cowboy ways delightfully clashed with the scientists and elitists he met on his travel to Europe. I also like any story that includes a shout out to one of my favorite American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt. I wish more authors would use this bigger-than-life character, who probably lived a more eclectic life than the title character himself. In fact Robinson makes use of several historical characters, sometimes to the detriment of the novel. Thomas Edison and a very young Adolf Hitler, both mentioned in the Amazon description of the novel, do appear in non-speaking roles in the novel, but have very little impact on the plot. It felt like the author shoe-horned them into the novel simply because of their recognizable names, instead of helping the story move along.
There are other issues with the novel that prevented me from giving it a higher grade. Passive voice, POV problems and typos. There were also contradictory statements made by Tom Horn that led to some head scratching. For example, Tom mentions earlier in the novel that the mute Kid lost his ability to communicate after his father died. Later in the novel Tom explains that the boy became mute after he got hit on the head. Issues like that show a lack of editing.
Even with said issues, the book does not disappoint in its claim of being steampunk adventure novel. It includes the usual tropes associated with the genre: famous historical persons, anachronistic technology, airships and, of course, steam power. Lack of editing and the unoriginal plot hurts the novel, but fans of the less serious "steampulp" genre will enjoy reading Tom Horn beat up the bad guys and save the world in the process.
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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.