Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
When Robert Belton and his brothers left home to make their fortune in the Klondike gold fields, they never imagined where their gold fever and poor judgement would take them. Amid betrayals and gambling debts, only Robert is left to survive in Seattle and he does so by becoming a prostitute. Robert hopes to save enough money to make it over the Chilkoot Trail into the Yukon and join the hunt for gold.
Dr. John Fauth is on sabbatical from his teaching post at the university in Chicago. Dr. Fauth carries a precious machine with him to Seattle, one he developed and built himself. With it, John hopes to find the platinum deposits he needs to further his experiments. But first he needs to hire someone to help him make the journey into the Yukon, for where there is gold, there is also platinum.
When the only room available in Seattle happens to come with an attractive young man attached to it, John hires Robert for the evening and finds more than he expected. In the morning, he offers Robert a job. One man cannot haul the equipment needed for mining by himself, so when John offers Robert a job to join him on the trail going north, Robert eagerly accepts.
Even in ordinary conditions, the gold trail into the Yukon and Canada is fraught with dangers. But John’s machine and the purpose for which it was built is drawing predators of its own. The long nights, tough journey, and common enemies bring John and Robert together in passion and friendship. As the danger mounts, both must decide what is more important to them…noble metals or love.
L.A. Witt takes a gripping period in history and gives it a steampunk twist in Noble Metals. Just the mention of gold rush brings all manner of images and references to mind. A huge human migration built on greed, adventure, and the hope of a quick fortune to be made saw towns and small cities spring up around the locations near to the mines or close to the heads of the trails into the gold fields. Those towns quickly filled with the unfortunate, the desperate, the opportunists, dreamers, the predators that fed on them, and everything in between. L.A. Witt brings that Seattle to life here in Noble Metals.
Seattle is the center of the mining explosion. A port bringing in supplies, hardened men and the unwary, people are arriving by boat, horse and carriage and airship if you have the money to afford it. Yes, airship as in blimp. For in this universe, its the blimp or zeppelin or airship that is the highest mode of transportation. Electricity is still largely undiscovered with Edison, Tesla, and Fruth in the race to develop semi conductor technology. Until that happens, everything mechanical runs on steam.
I love the ingenious twists and inventions that L.A. Witt brought into her Steampunk Gold Rush. The Golden Staircase, the fifteen hundred steps carved into the ice from Chilkoot’s base to its peak, a treacherous ice stairway that all and their provisions had to climb if they wanted to reach Dawson City and the Yukon. Vivid descriptions of the biting cold, sliding mechs, and a slow climb upwards in pain, fortitude, and numbness makes this trail feel like the hell it would have been to all those that attempted it. Right down to the cannibalized structures of abandoned, broken down machinery that littered the landscape around the Golden Staircase, Witt’s scenes immediately bring to mind the litter and dead bodies left on Mt. Everest, making the connection to each climb clear.
Ah, the mechs. Steam powered, eight legged, mechanical beasts of burden. What a great contraption for L.A. Witt to invent for her story! A new fangled piece of equipment used to convey supplies needed by the miners to dig for gold, they are a quixotic wonder. Here is L.A. Witt’s description of the beasts:
“…mech, a spidery brass machine that would carry the ton or more of gear over the rugged terrain…I watched an empty mech limp past us. The valves on the front-mounted engine coughed little puffs of steam out the top, and the whole thing rattled as one leg landed badly with every step. I couldn’t tell if the leg was bent or if one of its joints was damaged, but something was definitely wrong.”
Amazingly, lives depended on such a strange walking machine. And the fight to get it to function and walk properly is as nearly entertaining and fraught with peril as is the rest of Robert and John’s journey. I really loved those mechs and could picture them quite clearly in my mind as I read.
Then there is the romance between Robert and John. It found them endearing and their relationship moving. While unequal in social status, John recognizes a kindred mind in Robert’s. John values Robert’s intelligence and honesty as much as Robert’s good looks. They bond over books, and the cold solitude of their tent along the trail on the slow journey to Dawson City. Nary a case of instant love in sight, I loved how slowly their feelings for each other grew. Not only do they question their feelings for each other but what future, if any, was possible for them. Great job by the author on making this element feel as real as the situation they find themselves in.
The story is told from Robert’s point of view but John’s side of the story is inserted here as well via journal entries in the diary John is keeping. I loved seeing Robert and the trail from John’s perspective. It also widened our view of the universe the author created by getting glimpses of John’s life in Chicago and the world in general.
My only wish was that the journey had gone further and the story continued on longer. I’ll say no more. But the world that L.A. Witt build with its tent city at the border, filled with miners, mechs and run efficiently by the North West Mounties (instead of the Royal Canadian Mounties today), along with the rough and tough city of Seattle made me want more of the stories of the people passing through and what if any fortunes they found along the way.
I love Nobel Metals and highly recommend it to all lovers of steampunk, m/m romance and adventure.
Cover art by April Lee. Love this cover, perfection in every way and one of the best of the year.
ebook, 1st Edtion
Published January 2nd 2012 by Carnal Passions
Publisher’s Note: This book was previously published by a different press; it has since been edited extensively and expanded by over 10,000 words.)