The Greatwinter Trilogy by Sean McMullen



When I first had the book Souls in the Great Machine suggested to me by my significant other, I initially had my doubts. It was supposedly a steampunk novel which is a genre that I really don’t take to seriously and my significant other and I usually don’t agree on what books and literary genres we enjoy. When I was halfway through this book though I had come to realize that I was pleasantly surprised.

Before I begin to discuss what I really enjoyed about this trilogy I really should give some info on the plot. All three books take place 2000 years in the future. The first book takes place in Australia (called Australica by the time the books take place), while the second book takes place in North America (called Mounthaven), The third book takes place in both places and beautifully combines the stories of the first two books. This world is very much different from our own. This is because 2000 years before a strange phenomenon known as “The Call” occurred killing a large swath of the world’s population. The Call when it strikes cause people and any animal larger than a cat, sans all birds, to surrender all control of themselves and to slowly walk into the sea and drown themselves. While most inland area are struck by a Call every few days or so all coastal regions are in a permanent Call that never stops. This obviously had ill effects on the human race and nearly destroyed it. However, out of this humans still survived. To make things worse high above the Earth satellites from before The Call destroy anything over a certain size or speed as well as all electrical devices. This has forced human society into an artificial dark age. I won’t give the source of The Call, nor why there are technology damaging satelittes in the upper atmosphere as these plot points are to big to be given away so easily. 😛

Despite all this humanity has still adapted and is largely prosperous. Cities are built and organized in such a way that if a person is caught in a Call there are various barriers along roads to catch them, houses have no windows or doors on sides that face the sea and most people have clockwork call anchors that if not reset occasionally will release a hook or other sort of anchor that will catch hopefully catch on something or lodge itself in the ground to stop people long enough for the Call to pass. Trains are in existence in Australica, but due to religious precedent by all religions cannot be powered by anything but wind or muscle. Mass communication is maintained to a point by a series of beamflash towers that use mirrors and sunlight to deliver coded messages across large distances. In Mounthaven where there is no such religious precedent a rigid class system has developed which is more similar to feudal Japan than anything else. The ruling class is made up of Airlords and their Wardens who fly above the Earth in small personal aircraft. Wars are fought in the air solely by the airlords and their wardens, both to spare the civilian population at large from brutal warfare, but to also conserve resources. Personal duels have also returned to both continents.

This may seem like a lot to take in, but the author does a very good job in slowly orienting the reader to this new world of his. Also the imagination the author obviously put into all of this is quite impressive. He imagines humanity, despite numerous impediments to its advancement still moving forward, both culturally and technologically. It is quite interesting to see how the author finds ways to get past the barriers he has set for himself. This is quite impressive.

I also enjoyed all the characters. There was not one that I hated, nor found disinteresting. All were interesting in their own right. I have never encountered this in a book before. I mean in most books there is at least one character you can’t stand or at the very least would rather skim over the parts they’re in in order to get to more interesting characters. This is not a problem here. Each character also seemed to have a drive behind them. Some purpose that they all felt they needed to carry out. While this may seem cliché and somewhat unbelievable, I found it quite interesting, this was it was intriguing to see how the author tied in various seemingly unconnected plot points together to become something greater in the end.

The writing was also phenomenal. I have never before encountered a work or series of works that so masterfully combined comedy and action so well together. There were so many witty remarks in all the books that each time you picked up the books to read you were guaranteed at least one laugh. This was a good change of pace for me as many of the books I read are quite serious in nature.

The fact that this trilogy is sometimes labeled as steampunk quite annoys me. This is because it quite simply isn’t. Steampunk is largely Victorian in nature and is needlessly showy. It’s also completely unbelievable, technologically speaking. These novels on the other hand have instances of technology that are quite possible. It’s easy to imagine, for instance, a complex network of towers that deliver messages to each other through sunlight. It’s also easy to imagine pedal trains.

Overall these were amazing books. I was genuinely crestfallen to have had to finish them all. I hope you’ll give them a try and fall in love with them the same way I have.

The books in this trilogy are in order:
The Souls in the Great Machine
The Miocene Arrow
Eyes of the Calculor




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