I don’t collect as many kinds of things as I used to (no more room!) but I still love to buy signed books, particularly if they’re by local authors. A few years ago, I got a copy of a slim book called Cibola’s Promise at a convention and promptly forgot about it. I rediscovered it while assembling my steampunk bookshelf, which will serve as a background to my upcoming Steampunk Desperado video reviews. I was glad I found it.
Cibola’s Promise centers around a group of traveling grifters in the Arizona Territory at the turn of the century. Their leader is the malevolent Mordecai MacHurdyGurdy, a conniving seller of patent medicines. Among them are sideshow curiosities such as Sybil the Snake-woman and Miss Chevious, the dancing life-size clockwork doll. Mordecai seeks a lost Spanish treasure, the titular Cibola’s Promise, and will stop at nothing to get it.
This being steampunk, there are sci-fi elements that make some interesting modifications to history. Mordecai’s band must evade the Pinkertons, a real-life historical detective agency. In this timeline, however, they pursue their quarry with airships. Mordecai’s associate brother Bernard has created some wonderful clockwork dolls to distract and charm their audience. Miss Chevious is the most advanced and lifelike. The story opens from her perspective as she becomes self-aware and curious about the world. She attempts to flee the troupe with a cowboy named Slim. Mordecai sends Syrus the snake charmer to kill Slim with this trained rattlers, but his protege Sybil saves him. Thereafter, it is Sybil’s story.
There’s something very charming and satisfying about a simple tale with well-realized characters who play the time-honored roles of good and evil. Cibola’s Promise does this well and adds some ambiguous characters into the mix, notably the good-hearted outlaw Slim.
Steampunk is in some ways an ill-defined genre and I’ve been known to bend the classification of a number of works to fit. Cibola, however, fits it well, with an appropriate setting and technology. I’ve always loved to read about the historical Arizona. This book had me wishing I could go back and experience that world – even though, of course, Lausten has spiced it up a bit. The book’s only flaw is that I wished Miss Chevious could have been the main character throughout. Also, the story wasn’t resolved when the book ended, but fortunately, the author has written a sequel, Cibola’s Revenge.
I’ve enjoyed most of the works of steampunk that I’ve read, but there are few that seemed as magical as this one. Or perhaps it was just the Arizona setting that I found to be so compelling. In any case, Cibola’s Promise is a great read. I give it five out of five gears.