Who you gonna call?
In Madeleine Holly-Rosing’s alternate American timeline, America is lead by Great Houses, who rule over the many classes of the lower commoners, highlighting and exaggerating the divisions of class and race that exist and persist in our world. In this world, the realm of spirits is very close to the world of the living, and when something comes through or is left behind, it can cause havoc among those that would believe that nothing can happen that lies outside of their philosophies. Striving to protect the balance is a former Pinkerton and a loose coalition of folks comprising various unusual skills. This is the world that Holly-Rosing offers us glimpses into with her comic, Boston Metaphysical Society, and her new collection of novellas and short stories, Prelude.
Set in an alternate antebellum period, America is rebuilding itself while the uneasy truce between Northern and Southern Houses keeps political lines shifting like sand dunes. The main thrust of the comic follows the group of ghost and demon hunters and prominent thinkers and inventors of the day, and Prelude gives us much more depth to the world and the vibrant characters that inhabit it. Mixing some standard Steampunk tropes with a compelling, character-driven narrative, she presents us with some very complex characters who deal with a world that won’t stay steady for them, battling with powers that put them in the line of fire from all sides, leaving them no choice but to act. Each character has a unique morality fitting their station, and nothing is gained easily where loss is sudden and often tragically complete. What I love about these stories is how they involve characters who don’t necessarily have a lot of face time in the comic (especially poor Andrew, who gets to live a LOT more) and each one offers us so much.
I enjoy the comic quite a bit; it keeps many mysteries in the air that keep the reader in the best kind of suspense, but I love the expanded world building of this collection. There’s an awesome sense of someone describing a world they see in such incredible detail, and each story offers a unique look at someone who only passes through the comic’s story tangentially or through mention only, and it feels like we’re getting a glimpse into the deep bible of a series, seeing the lines that connect every character through the narrative and how the world truly works. Themes glanced at in the comic are more fully fleshed out, and especially with the character of Granville, she manages to not only more fully explain how his motivations came to be what they are, but manages to imbue him with a sense of honor and decorum that every character gains from this treatment.
Rather than feeling like an add-on, these seven stories seem to help complete the world, but still leave more questions than answers in the best way. My favorite story is “Steampunk Rat,” and it boggles my mind how the boy we meet in it becomes the stoic house leader we see online, and the disparity between the two makes me hope for more glimpses into his life and that of the folks that make up his experience. Holly-Rosing’s writing is tight and energetic and makes me want to know more about this fascinating place, full of wondrous people, that she’s conjured for us on every page.
If you’re looking for a solid Steampunk adventure with ghosts, demons, and mysteries galore fueled by a sterling imagination and filled with interesting and heartbreaking characters, then this is the series for you, and Prelude will have you all in.
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