Steam Punk from Richard Harland. Anticipation and Reflection.

song of the slumsA book near the top of my MUST READ list for this year is Richard Harland’s Song of the Slums, to be released in May by Allen and Unwin.

Before I write anything else I have to confess an apparent “vested interest”. Richard Harland was one of my lecturers/tutors at University in the early 1990s and he wrote me a very generous reference when I was looking for work afterwards.

While this may appear to give me reason for bias in my response to Harland’s books, I will also add that for one essay, Richard gave me the lowest mark I ever received for any assignment during my whole time at University (and I still remember after 22 years). So can we pretend that the positives have been cancelled out and a balance of neutrality has been restored?

On his website Harland reveals that Songs of the Slums is “set in the same world as ([his previous books] WORLDSHAKER and LIBERATOR, but going back a bit in time. New characters, new story”

I cant’ wait!!

The following reviews of Worldshaker and Liberator are taken from my original “Out of Shadows” blog.


shakerWorldshaker was a book I didn’t want to leave. I read it at every opportunity and was disappointed when I reached the end. It’s the kind of book that demonstrates why continuing series of novels can be so successful. It is a book that creates a world and characters so interesting that you want to explore and experience them some more.

Harland has created an alternative history, a world where the industrial innovation and creativity of the Victorian era has taken a huge leap beyond the bridge and shipbuilding wonders of I K Brunel. In this world political necessity has driven steam age technology to achieve far grander goals than was the case in the “real” Victorian age.

Worldshaker is a massive “juggernaut”, part ship, part tank, part earthmoving excavator, which houses and employs citizens of various fixed classes. Perhaps a comparison could be made to futuristic stories of massive star-ships transporting nation sized communities through space – except juggernaut communities are earthbound and restricted to Victorian age technology.

Colbert Porpentine, heir in waiting to Worldshaker’s Supreme Commander, is thrown into contact with a girl who has entered his room to hide from the authorities. She is a member of the lowest of the low, a “filthy. A reflex decision not to expose the girl’s forbidden presence puts Col’s privileged position at risk and leads him to discover the price that others continually pay to maintain the lifestyle of the Juggernaut’s elite classes.

Worldshaker has what I consider to be a novel’s most essential qualities: strongly believable characters that I care about; an exciting storyline with interesting and original ideas and on a more practical level – short chapters.

I have found long chapters can be a stumbling block to successful reading. It is a major reason I’ve always struggled with Lord of the Rings. By the time I finish one long chapter, the task of reading another of similar length can seem too daunting, especially when other things are competing for my time. With shorter chapters it is easy to read “just one more chapter” several times in succession until a significant portion of the book has been read.

Worldshaker would be classed as a Young Adult title and it was a pleasure to read a book untarnished by the presence of graphic sex and foul language. From recent experience, books that don’t resort to such devices are becoming increasingly hard to find.


Many stories reach a satisfactory conclusion. The hero overcomes the odds and defeats the villain. Cinderella is found by her Prince Charming and rescued from a life of drudgery: and they all live happily ever after. At least that is the impression given by a neat and satisfying conclusion. Richard Harland’s Worldshaker would fit into that “satisfying conclusion” category, but the follow-up novel, Liberator shows us what happens AFTER the initial euphoria of a “happy” ending.

It shows that such endings are only temporary and one problem solved will merely lead to another. Liberator begins not long after the concluding events of the earlier novel and things have deteriorated very quickly. The Leviathan WorldShaker has been renamed Liberator to reflect the freedom gained by the lower class “Filthies” – but that freedom could now have severe consequences for the previously privileged “swanks” who chose to stay on after the Liberation, even those who played a significant part in overturning the former oppressive, elitist regime.

It soon comes clear that elitism and oppression are not the exclusive traits of those born into privilege. This book was just as enjoyable as the first in the series. Again I was compelled to read it at every opportunity I could make. Both are very near to the top of my favourites of recent years

2 thoughts on “Steam Punk from Richard Harland. Anticipation and Reflection.

  1. Sounds interesting…

    Although I’ve stated I [mostly] don’t read novels,
    I’m currently reading an old western (with short chapters).

    I’m liking it but don’t have a desire to read more of those (a movie with Jimmy [James] Stewart was based on this one). These sound better yet. Short chapters, you say…

  2. I didn’t choose that western because of the movie (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it, while it’s possible I have, but I remember liking him in other types of movies). It (in fact the author’s work) was spoken well of by someone who’s review of a Wizard/Oz dvd set I liked (the review, I mean); I didn’t buy the dvd set. I was on the verge (nostalgia from my youth); he sobered me up.

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