Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World could be described as steampunk, but instead of taking place in an alternate history with advanced steam- and clockwork-powered technology, it takes place in an alternate reality, where supernatural forces are prominent and steampunk-like technology also exists. The story is set on a continent, which I think of as an alternate North America, that is slowly being created along its westward edge. Civilized nations lie along the east coast, especially in the northeast. On the west coast, the laws of nature have not quite settled down, that the distinctions between plant and animal, the phases of matter, natural and supernatural, are not strict. Between the coasts is a vast frontier that serves as the setting for a 400-year-long war between the forces of Gun and Line.
The Line is a mechanized, industrial society ruled by a few dozen Engines, each of which is inhabited by an immortal demon. The Gun are also immortal demons of similar numbers, but they choose to inhabit pistols and rifles. Each Gun is carried by an Agent, whose speed, strength, senses, and healing are all enhanced by their masters' influence. The Line's forces number perhaps in the hundreds of thousands, while there are only as many Agents as there are Guns. The Line represents order, the Gun, chaos. But it's not that simple.
Also present on this continent are the aboriginal First Folk, supernatural not-quite-humanoids with access to their own demonic powers. The Red Valley Republic, which attempted to carve out an independent existence, was destroyed decades ago, but its presence is still felt on the continent.
The story follows John Creedmoor, Doctor Liv Alverhyusen, and---best title ever---Sub-Invigilator (Third Class) Lowry as they each set out on a mission of their own or their masters' choosing.
What I Liked
- The universe Gilman created for this story is very interesting. The nature of the demonic forces and the unfinished state of the western edge of the continent are particularly intriguing.
- The story itself is both interesting and exciting. It rarely drags.
- The writing style seems very appropriate for the subject matter.
- The characters are interesting and distinct from each other. In particular, Creedmoor is a lot more than the by-the-numbers charming rogue he could have been.
- The narrator, Tamara Marston, does an excellent job of giving the characters distinct voices and deliveries. In particular, her rendition or Marmion is enjoyable.
What I Disliked
- The pace does slow down more than I'd like sometimes, but that's usually only for a short time.
The Bottom Line
Overall, I give The Half-Made World 8.5 out of 10. It's imaginative, fast-paced, and satisfying. I highly recommend it. In particular, it seems like exactly the kind of story Alison would enjoy.