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Sneak Peek: Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper by David Barnett

Sneak Peek: Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper by David Barnett

Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper by David BarnettIn an alternate nineteenth century where a technologically advanced Britain holds sway over most of the known world and the American Revolution never happened, young Gideon Smith is firmly established as the Hero of the Empire.

Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper is the latest in David Barnett’s riproaring steampunk adventures about a Britain that never was…but should have been. We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter One


Captain James Palmer held the wheel steady as The Lady Jane lurched into a trough between gunmetal waves taller than Big Ben. There was a volley of shouts from the deck and a crack of splintering wood; Palmer ignored it, concentrating on keeping his vessel upright on the storm-ravaged sea. It would be that damned cargo, swinging around on the gantry and crashing into midships. He didn’t care how much the bloody thing had cost or whether there would be hell to pay; if it threatened to drag the Lady Jane over he would order it cut loose, and hang the consequences.


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Book Trailer: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Book Trailer: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett


Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire. Airships ply the skies and Queen Victoria presides over three-quarters of the known world—including the East Coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

London might as well be a world away from Sandsend, a tiny village on the Yorkshire coast. Gideon Smith dreams of the adventure promised him by the lurid tales of Captain Lucian Trigger, the Hero of the Empire, told in Gideon’s favorite “penny dreadful.” When Gideon’s father is lost at sea in highly mysterious circumstances Gideon is convinced that supernatural forces are at work. Deciding only Captain Lucian Trigger himself can aid him, Gideon sets off for London. On the way he rescues the mysterious mechanical girl Maria from a tumbledown house of shadows and iniquities. Together they make for London, where Gideon finally meets Captain Trigger.

But Trigger is little more than an aging fraud, providing cover for the covert activities of his lover, Dr. John Reed, a privateer and sometime agent of the British Crown. Looking for heroes but finding only frauds and crooks, it falls to Gideon to step up to the plate and attempt to save the day…but can a humble fisherman really become the true Hero of the Empire?
David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop: the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up!

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, by David Barnett, released September 10th!


Playing Fast and Loose with History

Playing Fast and Loose with History

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Written by David Barnett

With Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, I didn’t really set out to write a steampunk novel. Nor did I really plan to write an alternate-history novel. I just wanted to write a novel, one that was exciting and thrilling and a good yarn.

I suppose, though, when I wrote the following opening to the book, its fate was sealed in terms of genre, sub-genre and pigeonholes:

Annie Crook never read newspapers. If she had, she might have known what was coming.

But she never read newspapers. She passed soot- grimed boys on the streets, shrill voices jostling to present the wares of the Argus, London News, Gazette, and a dozen others. France and Spain at each others’ throats. Skirmishes along the Mason-Dixon Wall. A dirigible crash in Birmingham. All a fog of hollered headlines to her. Annie Crook never read newspapers, because she was in love.

I wanted the setting to be late Victorian, but I wanted to do it on my own terms. Hence a few differences, here and there, which as the book progressed became more and more marked differences. I wanted airships because I wanted to have my characters rapidly engage in international travel without having them lounging about on steam ships for long periods, not because I just wanted steampunk tropes. I didn’t think I was writing a steampunk book, remember. I thought the alternate-history trappings would be merely flavouring, a bit of salt in the story, until my editor at Tor, Claire Eddy, who I cannot praise enough, said:

Why is there a Mason-Dixon Wall? What’s that all about?

I didn’t really know. I hadn’t planned to take my characters to America in that book at all (though the second volume, Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon is set almost entirely in the New World) so hadn’t thought about it. Claire gently suggested I might want to think about it.

So I did. And a picture emerged of an America still ruled on the East Coast by Britain, with the Spanish still holding Mexico (New Spain, in the book) south of the border, and on the West Coast… the Californian Meiji, a breakaway Japanese faction. And with every answer about Gideon’s world, more questions were asked. I began to grind history – especially American history – under my boot heel in a bid to come up with a workable world. And I am incredibly indebted to Grant Balfour for the exhaustive (and exhausting) lessons in American history he gave me, and reasons why what I wanted to do either would or wouldn’t work.

What emerged was a document shared between Claire Eddy and me entitled The Secret History of the World 1775-1890. 1775 as the starting point because that was the year James Watt perfected his steam engine and also – according to my Secret History – the year when “British troops march into Lexington and Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and the ringleaders of a nascent rebellion against British control – including Samuel Adams and John Hancock – are arrested and summarily executed.”

The Secret History of the World 1775-1890 (the later year is the year in which the action in the book takes place) will probably never be shown to anyone else, being of little interest other than my research “bible” for the Gideon Smith series. It’s the place where the questions Claire asked are sort-of answered.

So why was there a Mason-Dixon Wall? According to the bible:

Southern American states under British stewardship secede from British rule because of the Slavery Abolition Act and form the United States Confederacy. London is unwilling to send more troops to fight a formal war between British America and the Confederacy, insisting that existing resources are used to bring the breakaway states under control.

Victoria succeeds to the throne of Great Britain

Queen Victoria decrees that if British America cannot reclaim the southern states, then they should be cut off from “civilised lands”. She orders a wall to be built clear across America, along the line of the survey carried out by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to establish Britain’s borders with the Confederacy.

But, Claire quite reasonably asked, what about all the cotton? Would Britain give up all the cotton from down south? Ah, I said, but we have air travel, remember? Vast dirigibles criss-crossing the world. They’ll bring cotton from India to the Empire!

Then I thought, why have I got dirigibles in the first place? Is it just lazy steampunk tropes being thrown into the book? No. I wasn’t having that. A quick look at the bible reveals this thought process:

Eager to win back approval from the ever-expanding British Empire [After backing the wrong horse in the failed American rebellion], France tries to court London and many artists, musicians and scientists flock to the Empire. Among them is Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who astounds London by fitting a hand-powered propeller to a balloon, and crosses the English Channel in a balloon equipped with flapping wings for propulsion, and a bird-like tail for steerage.

The astonishment at Blanchard’s flight has, over the next two years, turned into a race to transform his invention into a workable, mass-produced flying machine. Industrial giants in Britain, Germany, France and Spain work on their own versions of the airship. The race for mastery of the air is underway.

The British Aerostat Company is formed from a conglomeration of several smaller companies and makes the first trans-Atlantic crossing to New York in a small balloon with an engine powered by hand-cranked clockwork.

And so on, and so on. There will doubtless be people who read Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl and its sequels who think I might have played a bit fast and loose with history. I have. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun doing so.


From the Tor/Forge September 9th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.


More from the September 9th Tor/Forge newsletter:

Starred Review: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Starred Review: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Image Place holder  of - 14“Barnett gleefully blends Victorian-era characters with steam and clockwork technology in a ‘steampulp’ romance of supernatural adventure… With sky pirates, gibbering frog-faced hordes, and nods to historical figures both real and imaginary, Barnett doesn’t miss a trope, and even readers who don’t usually love steampunk will gobble it up.”

David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl got a starred review in Publishers Weekly!

Here’s the full review, from the July 15th issue:

starred-review-gif Barnett gleefully blends Victorian-era characters with steam and clockwork technology in a “steampulp” romance of supernatural adventure. In quiet Sandsend, young Gideon Smith dreams of adventures like those of pulp hero Capt. Lucian Trigger, as faithfully transcribed by Trigger’s friend, Dr. John Reed. When Gideon’s fisherman dad disappears at sea amid a string of bizarre events, visiting Irish author Bram Stoker blames vampires, but wandering mummies appear instead. Gideon sensibly heads to London to consult Trigger. Along the way, he teams up with Maria, a beautiful clockwork woman whose human brain is powered by a mysterious artifact from an ancient Viking longship, and tenacious reporter Aloysius Bent. Although Trigger isn’t exactly the “robust adventurer” of storydom, he’s got enough gumption to whisk Gideon and the others off to Egypt to find the missing Reed and stop a vast evil conspiracy. With sky pirates, gibbering frog-faced hordes, and nods to historical figures both real and imaginary, Barnett doesn’t miss a trope, and even readers who don’t usually love steampunk will gobble it up. Agent: John Jarrold. (Sept.)

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl will be published on September 10th.

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