Orgood, a renowned inventor on the surface but a mad scientist at the core, has created a serum that transforms the city's poor into literal vermin to be exterminated. The book follows the story of a street gang thriving in a world that seems specifically designed to eliminate them.
Ausema originally released this book in an episodic format, which I think is a really unique way to approach telling a story. In some ways, this format is beneficial. It presents the reader with the opportunity to reset after each "episode," and allows the author to seamlessly introduce new characters & perspectives much further into the story than what you'd expect. Ausema takes advantage of this well.
But the tricky thing about this format is that it requires a bunch of much smaller, more clearly developed arcs beneath the main plot umbrella. I would've liked for each episode to have a more distinctly defined rise & fall of action. A couple times, I felt those smaller arcs were a bit aimless & it caused certain parts of each "episode" to blur a bit in my mind.
One of my favorite aspects of this novel is Ausema's talent for description, especially when it comes to laying out Spire City. I got a very sharp image of the city's architecture, machinery, & bustling atmosphere, which is essential to pulling off the Steampunk theme. Billowing clouds of smoke, spires stretching into an overcast sky, and flying beetle taxis with beautifully designed carapaces! The construction of sentences really fit well with the setting.
"The spider webs in the corners of the shelves had something stale about them, as if they'd pulled the must out of the air and concentrated it."
My primary criticism for this book is that a lot of cases are opened, but almost none of them are closed by the end.
We see snippets of people from far off lands, immigrants living in small segregated corners of the city where they can freely immerse in their native cultures, but we don't get quite enough interaction with those aspects to satiate my thirst.
We are introduced to a handful of different gang members, but here at the end of the book I don't feel like I really know anyone well. They dynamic of the group is laid out well, but I could've done with a bit more of an explanation & development for the main crew, especially for Marrel and Williver. I don't want to rely on what I know of the "tough gang leader" and a "riches to rags pretty boy" archetypes to fill in the blanks for characters like these.
I wish we could've had more than a glimpse into the science behind the serum and the inventor, Orgood. He only makes a brief appearance at a party, but is otherwise a shadowy figure against an ominous background. Instead we focus on one of his key minions, a man named Mint. Mint is an interesting sub-villain, but he suffers from the same underdevelopment that some of the gang members do & ultimately I found myself a bit unattached to his obsession with exterminating the poor.
Finally, I really enjoyed the transformation aspect of this novel. There is an interesting variety of animal transformations & significant examples of the infection's development at different stages. The author mentions that he took inspiration from Kafka's The Metamorphosis, which brings up some interesting discussion points about whether or not life is worth living. I absolutely see the philosophical resemblance in in Ausema's work.
Would recommend this for fans of Steampunk & Dickens.