The Doomsday Machine: Another Astounding Adventure of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb

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The Doomsday Machine: Another Astounding Adventure of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An infernal death-dealing device puts our Victorian hero in great peril, in this interesting and rollicking little adventure. Not the clearest of introductions to the series imaginable, but recommended for at least a look.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2009
Publisher: ATOM
ISBN: 978-1905654024

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Deep beneath the London of the 1860s, dark things are afoot. People are going about their business on the surface completely unaware of an immense construction being formed from rare materials, and many thousands of hours of priceless scientific thinking, and many more thousands of hours of near value-less slave labour. It is the biggest machine the world has seen, so much so it is only known as The Machine. And because of how important it is, even though no human in London will ever notice it even when it works, the chief scientific brain has absconded with a vital part of it.

This means that people want him and it found. This means that other people want that return to be halted. This means that eventually our hero, Horatio Lyle, is brought into an incredibly tangled web of betrayal, blackmail, and bewildering back-stabbing.

Lyle, a middle-aged policeman with a great interest in chemistry and things that go BANG in the night, is not a typical hero for a young woman to be writing about in a series of books for the 11-14 age bracket. However he is a great character, and I dressed him mentally as a bit like the current Doctor Who, if slower, and with self-doubt. There is a real passion to his scientific mind, and his urging his compatriots along, that reads just as David Tennant might portray him.

These compatriots are no mere secondary characters, however many times they appear to be pawns with which to threaten Lyle. Especially of note is Tess, the street girl he has taken under his wing. She is an excellent creation - a way of feeding great comic lines (and a Feminist stance that I don't think will switch the boys off, but is borderline) into the writing, as well as a standby for our author to introduce her audience to coulombs and capacitor banks, a London with just the one, brand new, underground line, and billions being a one followed by nine noughts (whoops... ). We also have Thomas, the son of a noble London Gent, who tries his best to tag along, educate Tess, and not reveal how innocent and scared he might really be.

The baddies in the book are of note as well, but such is the depth of double- and triple-crossing that goes on it is best I not mention anything, although the race of demonic under-creatures who react to iron and magnets as vampires do to sunlight and garlic are certainly the most notable. They certainly have to be forced somewhat into this realistic-seeming depiction of Victorian London, and here the biggest problem of coming upon this book becomes important.

I haven't introduced any of the more evil side of things in this story, because clearly the two previous books in the series have done it much better than I could. There is a small sense of confusion for the reader who is introduced to shadowy people residing in subterranean prisons, and however much Catherine Webb has worked in making this volume both a brilliant summation of the earlier books in the series and making this a self-contained novel at the same time, it is never quite enough. Therefore a greater sense remains, not so much of not wanting to carry on because you've not read the first two, but certainly of missing out on capturing what to a fan of series must be an excellently thrilling way of tying all the past dramatic elements together into one huge encounter.

Also marking this book down for me was the final quarter, or third - once the book really gets incredibly meaty and ties all its threads together, it is if anything a little limp in the way it comes to a climax that negates how ultimate what has come before it feels, and paves the way for more sequels.

However this still is an interesting and entertaining read. The writing is very well done, both with the bluntly comic, and the subtly artistic, although I'm not sure how much the 10 and 11 year old reading it would get out of the switch to present tense used for much of the latter. The characters - especially the way Tess's Cockney comes off the page most superbly - might at first glance seem quite broad, but nothing is lost from this. The science involved in all aspects - whether Victorian chemistry knowledge or physics - reads with a great authority.

All in all, I am certainly jealous of the talents of Catherine Webb, in her seventh published book, and certainly younger than myself. I can't give this book full marks for just tiny and minor elements, and for the tailing off toward the end, but that was only more noticeable due to the sterling heights reached earlier. For a fan of the series this book will certainly provide more than enough thrills, and for a newcomer, I am sure I can recommend the series as well worth picking up - starting at the beginning, funnily enough.

I would like to thank Atom Books for sending a copy to the Bookbag to sample. We also had a review of The Dream Thief (Horatio Lyle) by Catherine Webb.

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Buy The Doomsday Machine: Another Astounding Adventure of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Doomsday Machine: Another Astounding Adventure of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb at Amazon.com.

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