The Adventures of Alan Shaw follows a young boy as he gets into various scrapes in the mid-19th century. These aren’t run of the mill scrapes, though. They involve brass robots and mechanical squid among many other wonderful creations. Written by Craig Hallam, The Adventures of Alan Shaw is available for £3.50 for Kindle or £8.99 via Amazon.
The Adventures of Alan Shaw covers five stories of the main protagonist over roughly a decade. It sees him start from his humble beginnings as a young boy fighting for survival on the tough streets of Victorian London. In “Fate of the Automatons” he is enlisted by a mysterious stranger to deliver a package to his old workhouse. Each story has a few years in between them and interestingly, though the author is located in the North of England, he refrains from setting any stories in areas that would be obviously familiar to him. Despite this, the geographical descriptions are precise and create enough imagination to build an idea of the location.
The book is well paced with each chapter giving a little bit of a cliff hanger to keep you moving on to the next. Hallam manages to make characters easy to get along with and you can feel for them as the stories progress. The final story ends with an easy lead in to sequels.
There’s a heavy use of metaphor and the first story begins with a couple of spelling errors in the first few pages.
While the setting of the stories are more of Victorian England than a purely steampunk alternate reality, the time frame is comfortably at the dawn of what could arguably be the steampunk era. The machines are wonderful in their imagining and they’re described in the book sufficiently that you can mentally create a picture of their appearance.
There’s a distinct possibility that the artwork has been used to match the type of writing style that Hallam has used. The covers of each story have a cartoon style image with Alan Shaw flanked by supporting characters in that story and a landscape that gives a rough idea of the premise. I felt that it put me in a certain frame of mind about the type of book it is, but then reading it was different. There are some sad areas within the book and it doesn’t have that harrowing heaviness that some stories will use. In that way it’s a more light hearted story even though it deals with death.
However, on a personal level I don’t really think cartoon characters do the book justice. I didn’t get the idea of a cartoon world while reading the book. On the contrary, I got the idea that the London that Alan Shaw grew up in was dark, smelly and covered in soot and grime. Of course, this is a minor point and purely subjective, so wouldn’t affect my appreciation of the book or any ratings I give it.
As each story unfolds, they get progressively longer which is good because they slowly introduce the characters to the world which you’re reading about. The first two stories are only four chapters long – as though prologues to the main piece.
Alan Shaw is a great story to take with you on a weekend away or a long journey. It’s easy to read so you’ll find yourself whizzing through the chapters. The cliff hangars and warm characters will draw you in and you’ll want to find out what they’re going to do next. If you’re on your way to a steampunk event and you’re not driving, you could do worse than to download Alan Shaw to your Kindle before you go.