It's the reign of Queen Victoria but not the Queen Victoria we know. The world has been taken over by a race of lizards from an alien planet and they now rule over most of the countries of the world, including England. Queen Victoria is a lizard.
Orphan is, as his name suggests, an orphan. He knows only that his father was a sailor of some kind, but knows nothing about his mother or her family. He lives in London, in a bookshop, with Jack, a close friend. The love of his life is Lucy, and when she is killed in a bomb attack on the Mars probe, Orphan's life falls to pieces. He is himself attacked but does not know why. Arriving back at the bookshop he discovers that Jack is not what he thought and, after a catastrophic event, goes on the run. He realises The Bookman is after him. The Bookman is a very mysterious figure who is commiting terrorist attacks and, Orphan suspects, is the one responsible for Lucy's death.
When The Bookman captures Orphan he gives him no choice but to go on a mission to a mysterious island known as Caliban which, it's rumoured, is where the lizards first landed and came from. The promise is that if he does this, Lucy will be returned to him. Orphan sets off on a voyage with Jules Verne and a rum looking bunch of sailors, having no idea what is store for him, or whether he will ever see London again.
I'm developing a bit of a taste for steampunk with its dark, Victorian settings and weird mechanical elements such as automatons or flying machines. The Bookman is pure steampunk and I felt I should have loved it a lot more than I actually did. The silly thing is, I can't really decide why I didn't love it. I suppose it didn't help that I was unable to read it all in one go, over a couple or three days. I was busy, so it took me over a week to read and it may have been that that made the plot feel bitty. At times I felt confused about what was going on and that's a shame as this is in fact quite a readable book. There is adventure a plenty, the main character, Orphan, is a likeable young man, and the various settings - Victorian London, the high seas, the island, are well described and easy for the reader to imagine.
There are also many literary characters which make the book fun and interesting. Mrs. Isabella Beeton is a spy character, Jules Verne, a French poet and adventurer, Irene Adler, a police inspector, Moriarty is England's Prime Minister, Sherlock Holmes makes a couple of very brief appearances and his brother, Mycroft, is also alluded to. It's fun - if a bit bizarre - but somehow it all lacked a bit of depth for me. The Bookman could have been a chillingly frightening character but he was just short of that. I wanted to know a *lot* more about these lizards, as I thought there was real potential for fear there, but there was precious little detail. It's a huge shame as there was certainly no lack of imagination in the book. Perhaps the author attempted too much, I don't know. There are two subsequent books in the series and it's possible that a lot more will be explained in those. At the moment I'm not sure if I will read them, if I do they'll come from the library I suspect.