The Violins Played before Junstan by Lou Kemp
The Violins Played Before Junstan is a magical realism story, also using the genres steampunk and historical fiction.
The story opens in San Francisco during 1865. Celwyn is an immortal magician with incredible talents but several enemies. He is employed to capture an evil inventor, Professor Kang, by Kang’s brother; the capture is to occur en route to Singapore. However, Celwyn discovers that many aspects of the brother’s story are untrue.
Kang is unusual because he is an automaton, but he has very human habits. As I turned the pages I came across much murder, mayhem and mischief, along with heroic aided escapes and a small band of travellers that grows in number as the adventure rolls along until the story reaches a grand climax in Prague.
This is a well written story; I easily found myself immersed in the narrative and could picture the wonderful scenery and magic that Celwyn conjured. There are a couple of dark threads which weave their way through the story and the reader is kept guessing about their outcome until the end. I liked the characters too; they were well rounded and quite believable.
The pace of the book is leisurely and reflects both the era and the style of the chosen transport that the characters use. Occasionally I did wish that the story moved at a quicker pace as it dragged a little, but not enough to frustrate me greatly. I did spot one or two plot holes: characters appearing or events happening that weren’t absolutely feasible and needed a bit more explanation or thinking through. However, they didn’t detract much from the overall enjoyment that I had from the storytelling.
Overall, a good start to a series, and I shall be interested to know where the author takes the characters to next.
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San Francisco, 1865.
At first, the immortal peyote-eating magician Celwyn is hired to deliver an automat, Professor Kang, to a priest called Talos. Everything Talos told Celwyn was a lie, and by the time their ship, the Zelda, encounters a terrific storm in the Arctic Circle, Celwyn finds he must reconsider his allegiance. He chooses Kang, and they travel to Singapore, preparing to journey west. In order to deflect the attention of the city’s police, they allow an American heiress to go with them as she escapes matrimony to seek adventure. Her crazy aunt hops another train, and the pursuit is on. The third member of their friendship is from Juba in the Sudan; a widower, scholar, and brave but superstitious man. Their deep friendship grows as they battle several malevolent forces at the same time, and rescue two orphans along the way. Celwyn has avoided caring about anyone for hundreds of years, and now must learn the cost of friendship, and loss. Eventually they reach Prague. The culmination of their battles with evil occurs on the Vltava River under the shadow of the Prague Opera House. As always, it is accompanied by the ethereal music of the magician.