“The Rise of Ransom City” by Felix Gilman

The Rise of Ransom CityThe Rise of Ransom City is the sequel to The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman, but also works very well as a stand alone book. It’s one of the best second books I’ve read; it manages to avoid the sophomore slump by shifting focus to a new character, “Professor” Harry Ransom, who we saw briefly in The Half-Made World. Liv and Creedmoor are still in the story, but they are just minor (but important) characters whose adventures Harry occasionally hears about – Heroes of Another Story. (I apologise for the TV Tropes link… see you in a few hours).

I love a good framing story, and this certainly has one. The Rise of Ransom City is presented as the autobiography of Harry Ransom, inventor extraordinaire (according to himself, anyway). It is introduced and edited somewhat by a journalist of Ransom’s acquaintance, Elmer Carson, who has had his own adventure tracking down the full manuscript. It covers Ransom’s childhood and his journey from a relatively unknown traveling showman looking for investors for his Apparatus, to his rise to widespread infamy.

Ransom makes a very unreliable narrator – sometimes he’s self-satisfied, other times he’s full of despair and hopelessness, and he’s often evasive. He dedicates his life to his Apparatus, with which he hopes to provide free energy to the world – the one problem is that he doesn’t fully understand how it works, and it doesn’t reliably work yet. He would probably be insufferable in person, but his flaws make him all too recognisable, and his genuine idealism and earnestness make him ultimately pretty darn lovable. You can’t help but root for him, even as he makes some questionable decisions and ends up in some pretty awful situations (not all of them are his fault), and learns that achieving your dreams can sometimes be the worst experiences of your life.

The rest of the characters are pretty wonderful too – there’s the mysterious and profanity-ridden mechanic Mr. Carver, who is Ransom’s constant companion. There’s the Amazing Amaryllis, a brassy woman trying to make it as a female magician against all odds. There’s the wry Elmer Carson, who is also the editor of the book (usually books with “editor’s footnotes” are very overdone – this was not; I actually wished there were more footnotes). And of course, there’s Adela, the passionate inventor of the player piano, and Ransom’s intellectual match.

I also loved the setting – this book didn’t have the quest-type plot that the previous one did, so there was much less breakneck travel into unexplored territory, and more regular travel around the settled West. I especially enjoyed the portion of the book set in Jasper City – vibrant and cultured, but still quite new – probably inspired by late 1800s Chicago, or something like that. It was also nice to hear about the great events of the day, but from someone that (mostly) wasn’t involved in them.

There were some pretty sad events – most of the book is set during a war, and war has many casualties and some of them are very unexpected. One in particular was devastating. The Gun and the Line are both pretty horrible (this book shows that in even more detail than the last), and it was nice to see the beginning of the end of their Great War.

I still have a lot of questions about the people and the events in this book (for instance, I really want to know more about the Folk and their motivations), so I’m eagerly awaiting Gilman’s next foray into this world.

I highly recommend this book, whether or not you’ve read anything else by Gilman. If you’ve read The Half-Made World, you will be satisfied – we find out about what Liv and Creedmoor did and the consequences thereof, but with a fresh and exciting voice. If you haven’t, this is a great introduction to both the world and Gilman’s style.

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