I discovered this series by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris a couple of years ago. They were my first foray into the genre of steampunk. I fell in love with the main heroes - Eliza Braun and Wellington Books - in the very first book. I was instantly intrigued by the setting and fascinated by the steampunk genre. In all, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series hooked me from the very beginning.
The fifth, and latest novel, is Ghost Rebellion. I was sent a preview copy for a fair and honest review. Perhaps, it isn't fair because I like the series so much. But it will be an honest review.
The first thing I enjoy about the books is that they are fun. The stories are filled with adventure. The characters, main and supporting, are truly heroic. I feel my own adrenaline rush reading through their exploits. Ghost Rebellion offered that same thrill. The conflicts are quick paced and do not get drawn out with gory details. The action moves quickly, but is related efficiently so that you can create the mental visuals to "watch" the scene unfold.
Second, the historical references are usually an interesting alternate history perspective. The Ministry novels are set in last years of the 19th and early years of the 20th centuries. The Ministry is a secret agency within the British Empire and servants of Queen Victoria. This also is the dawning of global travel, so adventures will take them the heroes to all corners of the Empire. They encounter historic and literary figures well acquainted to that time period. But because of the alternate history angle, they may be more heroic, or villainous, than remembered. The Ghost Rebellion takes our stalwart heroes to the length of the Empire, India. The beginnings of the Indian independence revolution are played out as the background to the larger narrative of the Ministry's ongoing struggle with a nefarious conspiracy involving a familiar literary character. I love the weaving of the historic, fantastical, and alternate history.
Third, steampunk tickles my fantasy and techno-geek funny bones. Steampunk is a hard genre to describe. It is pre-science fiction science fiction. These are not spaceships flying across space with hypothetical, theoretical physics bending warp or hyperspace drives. There are no blasters or phasers shooting beams of projected energy. Instead, it takes steam and sound, brass and copper, to make things that are more beautiful in imagery. Yes, these are tools of a more elegant age. The fundamental understandings of electricity and biology are the foundation of the theoretical weapons and vehicles.
If you have watched the Robert Downey, Jr version of Sherlock Holmes or the abominable movie adaptation of Wild, Wild West with Will Smith, you have seen steampunk.
The Ministry novels sprinkle in little nuggets of the genre. It isn't so heavy as to force you to think about it. When Wellington is tinkering about with some gadget, it feels natural. The Ghost Rebellion offers up the continuation of a good balance between steampunk fandom and casual reader ability to grasp the technology.
Ghost Rebellion is a fun and fantastical example of steampunk literature. But it is also an easy adventure read. It reminds me of the classic adventure tales of Flash Gordon or the Lone Ranger. But if you pay attention, you also learn something of the times these books are set within. It doesn't ignore the real world history. A careful reader could get hooked into going beyond the novels to discover a wider, very real world.
Ghost Rebellion is not, however, a book where you want to start your adventures with the Ministry. I have read (well listened to the audio version) of almost all of the books. I missed the fourth, The Diamond Conspiracy. The Ghost Rebellion requires knowing some of the previous story. Wellington's backstory has been unfolding across the series and this chapter in his story could prove confusing without knowing what has happened before. I must confess to being a little lost at times just because I missed the 4th book. I would not recommend picking this book up as your introduction to the Ministry series.
For fans, though, The Ghost Rebellion is a great return to our heroes and their struggle.