The Adventure of the Ring of Stones: A Langdon St. Ives novella

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Adventure of the Ring of Stones by James P. Blaylock fantasy book reviewsThe Adventure of the Ring of Stones by James P. Blaylock

The Adventure of the Ring of Stones is one of several novellas written by James P. Blaylock that Subterranean Press has published. Each of these is a stand-alone steampunk adventure featuring Langdon St. Ives, the gentleman scientist/adventurer who stars in Blaylock’s LANDGDON ST. IVES novels. It would be helpful, but not at all necessary, to have read the novels Homunculus, Lord Kelvin’s Machine, and The Aylesford Skull before reading this novella. Not so much for the history of the character, but really more so you’ll be in tune with Blaylock’s very particular sense of humor. It may not seem like it at first, but these books are comedies and I’m not sure how well that comes across in Blaylock’s shorter works if you’re not already familiar with his style.

The story is narrated by Langdon’s friend Jack Owlesby, a character whose voice I loved in Lord Kelvin’s Machine. Jack tells how he, Langdon St. Ives, and Langdon’s man Hasbro, join eccentric billionaire Gilbert Frobisher aboard his steam yacht. Gilbert has a secret letter (which we read in the prologue) that exposes the whereabouts of a vast treasure in a cavern under a volcanic island. He also has a diving bell (a device that was used in a previous novel) which they will use to procure the treasure. It’s a perfect and easy plan. There are two major obstacles, however. One is the murderous pirates that are chasing them and who want the treasure for themselves. The other is the ferocious sea creatures that are guarding the treasure. The gentlemen will need to overcome these foes if they want to bring the treasure back to London… and then the story takes a peculiar unexpected twist.

Readers who know what to expect from Blaylock and have enjoyed his other LANGDON adventures will probably enjoy this one, too. There are the usual heavy mid-day meals in taverns, wild chases through alleys, tromps through sewers, tricky criminals and, of course, bombs, pistols and dirigibles. And a dead cow. Jack spends one scene lamenting that while he’s about to be shot by pirates, he’s been caught out in public in his nightgown. The story is totally madcap, especially after Langdon and his friends find the treasure. At that point it turns into a bizarre steampunk mish-mash of King Kong and Cthulhu. I thought it was sillier than usual for Blaylock, and the Cthulhu bit felt a little like Blaylock was jumping on the recent Cthulhu bandwagon, but I did enjoy spending time with Langdon and his friends.

Readers who are unfamiliar with Blaylock may not know what to make of this story and, like I said, I think Blaylock doesn’t come across as well for new readers in novella form. You need a little more time to settle into his distinct style and appreciate the humor of it, and that may not be possible if you’re not already familiar with his characters. (This is a guess, so if you feel differently, please let me know.)

One other thing new readers should know: there are hardly any women in the LANGDON ST. IVES books. Langdon’s wife Alice is a smart and competent woman, but she rarely makes an appearance. Most of the other women are servants or shopkeepers. (Though Zeuglodon is a related story that stars a girl scientist.)

The Adventure of the Ring of Stones is illustrated by J.K. Potter. I can’t say I’m a fan of Potter’s art, though I did like the illustration that accompanied chapter 9… And, I guess that’s all I want to say about the art.

Publication Date: June 29, 2014. The secret log of a murdered lighthouse keeper falls into the hands of the immensely wealthy Gilbert Frobisher, who discovers encoded within it a stunning and dangerous mystery. Against all odds Langdon St. Ives and his companions set sail in the dark of night for the West Indies aboard Gilbert Frobisher’s steam yacht, pursued by murderous pirates and bound for an uncharted volcanic island on the verge of eruption. There they undertake the perilous search for a hidden treasure protected by an unspeakable pagan god, and in the process unleash a power that will ultimately threaten the devastation of London.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. Can you recommend any steampunk (or steampunk-style) novels that have a decent ratio of male-to-female characters? I want to enjoy this genre, but it is just so difficult sometimes.

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