Steampunk Classic: The Angel of the Revolution

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The Angel of the Revolution airship
Illustration from George Griffith’s The Angel of the Revolution (1893)

Today’s Kindle pick is George Griffith’s steampunk epic, The Angel of the Revolution, A Tale of the Coming Terror. At around 446 pages, it’s a story you can sink many hours into.

The plot concerns Richard Arnold, a young man in England at the beginning of the twentieth century who devotes his life to creating the world’s first fully functional airship. After years of effort, he finally succeeds but at the expense of everything else in his life — to the point that he finds himself broke and about to be thrown out of his home.

Fortunately, his invention comes to the attention of the Brotherhood, or, as they are more commonly known, the Terrorists — a revolutionary group dedicated to nothing less than the complete breaking down of society in order to rebuild it according to the will of their leader, the mysterious Natas. Arnold soon agrees to join the Terrorists and build airships for them in order to achieve their common dream of peace on Earth through military intervention. You see, they are determined to bring overwhelming force to bear against the nations of the world to make them play nice.

The Terrorists are aptly named, as they use the brutal power of Arnold’s weaponry to make a very blunt point about the nature of war. Even though their main nemesis is the ruthless tsar of Russia, who is waging a vicious war for control of Europe and Britain and to whom they show very little mercy, I often found myself wondering just who was the lesser evil. As the Terrorists rain horrendous death and destruction upon their despotic enemies, you start to question who you want to see win the war.

Speaking of war, the strange thing about this story is just how little actual conflict Arnold and his friends face. Once he builds the airship fleet for the Terrorists, there is rarely any doubt as to their chances of victory. They frequently storm the battlefield with such overwhelming firepower that you know they’re going to win every time. The only real conflict for Arnold is his desire to win the hand of the fair Natasha (Natas’ daughter), whose hand seems unatainable at first but the problem actually resolves itself without too much trouble.

Nevertheless, George Griffith has painstakingly crafted a believable story of war. In fact, he spends a great deal of time detailing the movements and military strengths of the various sides of the war. Despite the lack of challenge the protagonist faces in his journey from penniless genius to undisputed master of the skies, the book becomes harder and harder to put down as it goes along. You want to find out the secret of Natas and his strange power, and how the Terrorists came to be, so you keep reading. Also, there are numerous detailed pictures that help bring Griffith’s world into sharper focus.

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