Well, in this fantasy, horror, alternate history, (yeah, alternate history is really a genre, not just something Kellyanne Conway made up), steampunk novel, there is something for everyone. Even a sex change. OK, that was inadvertent, kind of like that Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin movie.
Our heroine, Mab … and here’s where we try to have our cake and eat it too…. is an actress, off, off, off, off, off Broadway, circa pre 1900s. The gigs are bad, but then, so is she, actress-wise. She has a real sleaze for a boyfriend, and in an altercation, he cuts her throat, and she finds herself in a dark, muddy, slimy disgusting place. Turns out it is hell. Strangely enough, she meets a guy, seems like a decent sort, and they slog together towards a hill, upon which stands a personage directing who goes where. (No, really, is Hell where a girl has to go these days to find a fella?) While awaiting their turn, a sliver, a string width, of light pierces the blackness and begins to descend from above. It reaches for the guy, but our gal Mab, being a survivor from the Bowery, etc. snags it and is hurled…. well, I don’t know how all this happens, but anyway she wakes up in the body of the guy. Turns out the people wielding the light were witches trying to get the guy back. Oops. Missed. They need him to find the killer of the daughter of the guy who invented the machine that created the light that got the dead guy back. Sounds like the House that Jack built. So our heroine turns into our hero.
Also, someone has been snatching young children and doing horrible things by way of knives. Really disgusting. I tended to skip over those parts. We do get one scene where we see the guy and he sees angles, and I told you this was a fantasy, so shut up.
So Mab, inside the guy’s revived body, is forced to go off in search of the killer, and meanwhile we have the search for the serial abductor/killer in the person of a sweet detective who Mab might have the hots for but can’t because she is in a man’s body, but that large male body comes in handy for a lot of other heavy lifting kind of activities, so it all balances out.
There’s a guy who runs the city, seems like a decent sort, well, except for the monsters living beneath the streets which he unleashes, and turns out he is really a terrible person and a witch and can do all kinds of spells, and turn into things. If you don’t generally care for fantasy, you will hate this book. On the other hand, it is quite possible you will keep reading page after page after page, telling yourself that you are going to abandon it…… right up until you get to the last page …. where, …. spoiler alert, spoiler alert…… Mab does NOT get her own body back, and we are left thinking that maybe there is another book coming.
And the black moon. There is this ominous dark presence, planetoid in shape which has risen over the city, and brought death, destruction, monsters, and apparently dirigibles with it, with sea traffic all but eliminated because of the sea monsters, and disease and pestilence. There is no explanation for this black moon; it is just there.
As a reviewer on Goodreads, known only as Ralph, wrote (lawsy, lawsy, I love it when somebody else does all the research work for me):
According to mystics and occultists, the Dark Satellite (not to be confused with the mysterious 13,000-year-old object in a polar orbit) began to recede from our Earth around 1881. Prior to that date, the object, sometimes described as an “astral moon” or a “dark body perceptible only on a psychical level,” exerted a sort of spiritual influence over humanity, causing spiritual turmoil and crises of the soul.…the Dark Satellite is more of a physical manifestation, but still with occult influences, one than not only did not leave the Earth, continuing on its long orbit about the Sun, but which came to loom hugely over the Earth toward the middle of the Nineteenth Century. At the rising of the Black Moon, societies and countries collapsed, the wilderness and rural areas became dominated by Witches and those afflicted with “the Mark,” and the largest cities of the now-fallen United States of America became self-sufficient city-states.
I really enjoyed this book. It requires more than the usual amount of suspension of disbelief, and it has a mystical and symbolic underlayment to it, which is probably why I couldn’t stop reading it. I mean, blood, gore, witches, monsters, people in bodies not their own… what’s not to like?