I first started reading Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp some time in May, but between a trip to Spain, my own work on Prism World, and the bet I made with my step-dad to read The Help, I have only recently gotten around to finishing it.
The book is a small, 132-page steampunk/alternate history story written by my professor, mentor, and fellow writer Glen Robinson, so obviously I had to read it. It started out as something of an experimental project, as he had only recently begun to move from traditional publishing to try his hand at self-publishing. I must admit, it isn’t his best work. But as we do in our creative writing group, the Rough Writers, I would first like to discuss what it is I do like about the book.
The story centers around Tom Horn, a famous gunslinger in the dying years of the Wild West era. Through a series of events,Tom is recruited to act as a bodyguard for Eleanor Roosevelt, a key diplomatic and peace-keeping figure in a world on the verge of a global war thanks to a weapon-dealing family known as Krupp. Throughout the story, the main cast – including Tom, Eleanor, and Tom’s nephew Kid – run into a large array of historic figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, the Wright brothers, and even a young Adolf Hitler, all the while dodging bullets and steam-powered inventions sent after them by the illusive group referred to as the warlords of Krupp.
First off, and possibly the most compelling part of this book to me, is the action. The action scenes are well worth the read. They are clear, easy to imagine, and kept me on the edge of my seat. (Literally, I was sitting on the edge of my seat while reading it.) In my opinion, the action scenes were where the characters really came to life, as well as where their characterization seemed the most believable.
Along with the action scenes, Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp has generally well-done description. At most points, I found it very easy to imagine the scenes portrayed in the book and, being a naturally visual person, good description is always a plus.
Reading through the book, I found the addition of historic individuals from various eras to be a fascinating aspect. It’s always interesting to see modern portrayals of historic figures, and it is doubly interesting when those historic figures are taken out of their natural world and thrown into a steampunk story. Perhaps my favorite of these historical characters were the Wright brothers. In Tom Horn, these two ingenious characters get a life of their own and go from mere inventors to action-quality heroes, and perhaps of all the characters in the story, these two fit in with the steampunk atmosphere the best.
Of course, there were also some serious downsides to the story too, not the least of which being the long and rather odd title. One of the problems I initially noticed in the story was the huge assortment of editing errors that I found in it: changes in tense, misspellings, words missing, and various other typos. Of course, I also bought one of the first edition stories, back when Dr. Robinson was trying out writing under the pseudonym Jackson Paul, and I have since been informed that a large portion of those errors have been fixed, so the typos are something of a mute point.
Plot-wise, there isn’t a lot of new material here. It really is just a basic “war maniac wants to throw the world into chaos and get rich” sort of story. The characters, and one plot twist I actually, honestly didn’t expect, were what really made the story interesting, so it wasn’t all that bad, but if you’re looking for a particularly fresh idea, you won’t find it in this book.
I think the thing that bothered me the most in this book, though, was the extraordinary amount of inconsistencies. One minute, Tom is wielding dual revolvers, then they become pistols, then they become a single rifle. The revolver vs. pistol thing really isn’t that big of a deal to me, as most people don’t recognize that there is a difference between the two. I actually wouldn’t have recognized the difference if it weren’t for my brother, who pointed out that error when I read the first draft of Prism World to him. The rifle, though? That one was a bit of a stretch for my imagination.
However, it isn’t just the weaponry that tends to be inconsistent. The characters themselves seem to change frequently, particularly during the slow parts of the story but also occasionally in parts of the action as well. One instant, Eleanor is admitting to Tom that his method of handling difficult situations, namely fighting, is rather beneficial; the next, she is scolding him for knocking out a Krupp soldier who was trying to kill them. I recognize that she is supposed to be a naive character, but at some points she verges on the realm of just plain stupid.
Dialogue was another thing that remained rather inconsistent, and even stilted, throughout the story. At some points, Tom is using cowboy dialect; the next, he is speaking in proper English. Some of the characters’ choice of words in certain instances seemed to be out of place and, for that matter, out of character. Then there’s the simple fact that the description is decidedly gory in parts, while Tom, who technically should be a badass character, is still saying, “Dang it!” I would much rather have seen the character use the unveggified version of the word or, at least, to simply read something like, “He swore under his breath.” The use of a mild cuss word by a character who is anything but mild just cheapens him in the end.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp when I first started reading it. It certainly has its slow, sometimes unnecessarily slow, moments, and then there are moments that could definitely have been expanded, (shown rather than told, as we put it in Rough Writers). Overall, though, the story was a good one, and turned out better in the end than I expected it to in the beginning. It’s an easy, fun read, so if you’re looking for something quick to pass the time, Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp is a good fit. However, if you’re looking for a serious, professional-quality story, this isn’t the book for you. It all depends on taste.