This is classic Steampunk genre with a morality tale or two, writ large. The young teenaged, Beatrix, escapes a suitably Dickensian circus to travel the world on a multi-story dirigible, a craft common to so much of the genre.
The adventure, the search for the long-hidden artefact, is entertaining, even though the elements that build the story are somewhat contrived and sometimes less than well knitted together. However, the words themselves are nicely knotted and well cast-off. A ‘Victorian’ tone is achieved and displayed well enough, onto which is painted vivid pictures of both the cast of characters and the world in which they are played. Comedy is a consisted chord, tongue-in-cheek rather than riotously funny. The Colonel is all comic foil, a wild mix of Phileas Fogg, MacDonald Frazer’s Flashman, and Captain Pugwash. It is his eccentricity rather than any string of logic that binds the book.
I am mystified as to what age group the author was aiming at, if any, but certainly its general tone leans most heavily towards the age of its heroine, the young teenager, Beatrix. However, I must point out that even in my seventh decade, I was well entertained. Adventure books, especially ones like this, of a Disneyesk nature, tend to be of liked or loathed flavours throughout a life rather than attractive in a certain decade.
Death is treated with a certain flippancy, being generally confined to the less nice people. A great deal is sexually implied, though the subject detail is suitably distant. That the Colonel is of a particularly libertine, rakish, nature is obvious from early in the book. We must worry at first about the abused young lady coming into the Colonel’s household, and later about the character of one of the darker characters. We are though, kept aloft in lighter airs, in the comical balloon.
My overall feeling was one more of reading the detailed story behind a cartoon strip than a book with any profound depth. I found myself to be seized in a picture world that blended Herge’s Tin Tin and Moore’s Extraordinary Gentlemen. Certainly, the vivid scenes that the prose brings to my mind is the real strength of the book, a world of solid characters that somehow never quite distil from their comic cartoon into the world we live in.