Fans of a Wild West-type setting should sit up and take notice of Sheryl Nantus’ Wild Cards and Iron Horses, which plays out in a frontier town in the American West. With a strong steampunk flavour, the novel tells the story of a dashing gambler, Jon Handleston. He arrives in the upwardly mobile town of Prosperity Ridge, intent on winning a poker tournament so that he can repay an old debt.
But Jon has a problem. An old injury has resulted in his right arm being crippled, and he can only move it with the aid of a clockwork brace of great ingenuity. While this doesn’t aid his card-playing beyond helping him use both hands, the loss of a spring results in the device not working to its full potential; a serious blow to Jon’s confidence.
Sam may just have the answer to Jon’s problem. She’s a maverick for her era: a woman who dresses in men’s clothing and is obsessed with mechanical devices. An engineer extraordinaire, she soon catches Jon’s heart when she offers to help him fix his brace.
But things aren’t all plain sailing. Victor Morton, one of Jon’s bitter rivals, is after the secret of Jon’s brace, which he believes offers the wearer some uncanny advantage at the poker table and he will stop at nothing to ensure the device’s destruction.
Sheryl, as always, delivers a story chock-full of action with memorable characters. I found her steam-powered mechanical horses to be an interesting quirk, and like the fact that she touches on the consequences of industrialisation.
Today Toad also welcomes Sheryl to the Corner for a little Q&A. It's love to have you back here, lady.
Tell me about Jon. How did he come knocking at your door?
I've always loved gamblers in the Old West and thought that I'd bring my own character out to play in the New Old West, as it were. But I wanted him to have a different motivation other than just make money and con sweet women, so I wondered about the circumstances under which an Englishman would find himself in the Western United States.
The Civil War wasn't just between two factions in the United States. It involved many countries who watched and waited to see which side would win with observers on both sides along with many who sought to make money off of the pain and suffering. Unfortunately Jon ends up being pulled along with the family tide when his father sees an opportunity and rushes to exploit it.
Environmental pollution is quite the issue with this story. Care to elaborate?
Well, I put part of the blame for that on Second Life, a virtual world where I visit and play as a clockwork dragon in the steampunk town of New Babbage. We're always talking and joking about the soot and dirt in the air from all the new-fangled inventions and when I started writing Wild Cards I went back and looked over the Industrial Revolution - and it was a dirty, gritty world right from the start. It didn't take much to transplant it to the American Frontier where the fresh air could and would be easily destroyed by the addition and exploitation of the virgin territories.
It's a trade off. Breathing problems for technological advancement. And many are willing to make that trade and/or suffer for what they can get to make their lives better.
Definitely food for thought.
Mechanical horses are a big plot feature with this story. How would these be used? Ridden or to draw carriages?
Well, the idea is to use them to pull stagecoaches but also to provide individual travel - how great would it be to never have to rest your horse or worry about his feed, other than how much coal you shovel into his belly? The only problem is, of course, that you're riding or being pulled by possible bombs, if the pressure ever goes too high and they explode…
You mention an independent nation for Native Americans. How would this have occurred in your setting keeping in mind the actual turn of events in history?
Well, in my version of American History the Native Americans move against the government just after the Civil War, offering a choice - either negotiate for a separate Indian Nation or they'll start up another Civil War for their freedom. Lincoln, seeing a country already exhausted and war-weary, agrees to set apart a huge section of the West for the Indian Nation.
Of course there are and would be internal problems among the Native Americans, but I felt that I couldn't write about the Old West and not mention these First Americans.
Are you planning on returning to your frontier setting with future stories?
I'd like to. I've already thought about exploring outside of Prosperity Ridge and visiting other towns, perhaps even the emerging Indian Nation. But, as with all things, it depends on how sales go and how the muse takes me. Which is a plea to go buy Wild Cards and Iron Horses, of course. I have no shame.
Buy Wild Cards and Iron Horses here: http://store.samhainpublishing.com/wild-cards-iron-horses-p-6042.html
Or visit Sheryl at: http://www.sherylnantus.com/