Note: Fiendish Schemes is the direct sequel to Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy. Check out the review of the the first book here. Otherwise, read on!
After the events of Infernal Devices, no one could blame Mr. George Dower for retiring to the countryside. Besides having his reputation ruined by both The Paganinicon and The Ladies Union for the Suppression of Carnal Vice, he was never really going to be able to keep his father's shop afloat. So he sold the place out, and left the city.
After a gambling addiction left him penniless, he made one more journey, to the dedication of a walking lighthouse which was made possible by one of his father's inventions. Staying in an inn that is in perpetual risk of collapsing on his head, he's decided that after the dedication ceremony, there's nothing left but to end his own life.
But as he contemplates the clockwork pistol that he recovered from his father's belongings, he is accosted rather abruptly by a Mr. Hamuel Stonebrake, Senior Vicar, The Mission to the Cetaceans. And while one might assume that a man dedicated to saving the souls of whales would be a rather harmless, if befuddled, type of gentleman, one would be very wrong indeed.
Most of the book leaves the reader about as befuddled as our poor Mr. Dower. The book is full of info-dumps, as our protagonist arrives in a London completely unlike anything he, or we, have experienced. The Steam Revolution is in full swing, but instead of huge boilers in factories, steam is being channeled through huge pipes that lay tangled across the countryside, from a group of steam geysers in the North, all the way to London itself. There's also more private revolutions, that leave poor Mr. Dower aghast as the morals of this new world.
Before Mr. Dower, and the reader, can absorb each new twist in the plot, the story takes continual hairpin turns that leave the reader feeling completely lost. Jeter does have a plan, and in the end all of the contradicting plot points weave back into one another, but the ride is so confusing as to be almost unpleasant. I spent about as much time flipping back in the book, trying to figure out if I'd missed something, as actually reading. While an appearance by our favorite voyeuristic con-men ironically begins the most sensical part of the story, it would be too little, too late for any but the most dedicated readers.
Highs: The last quarter of the book nearly makes up for everything that comes before
Lows: Either the bum-obsessed, steampowered Orang-Utan, or the whole idea of the Steampower-enhanced customers at Fex
Verdict: The core idea of a great story is there, but so buried beneath layers of shock-value imagery and convoluted premises that it's nearly lost
Further Reading: 'Tanglefoot', 'Clockwork Chickadee', The Iron Wyrm Affair