The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman

cover-ransomcityI saw this book tagged somewhere as “weird western” which is surprisingly accurate. The Rise of Ransom City feels at times like a Western, where our hero travels west to undiscovered country in search of adventure and a new life. The main problem with this is that the novel is set in a fantastic world, which would cause some to plop this firmly in the Fantasy genre. Then we have elements of folklore, science fiction, and steampunk that all mashed together make the book hard to describe. If all of this seems like too much for you, you’re likely not alone, but Gilman’s latest effort is well worth your time.

This is the story of Harry Ransom. If you know his name it’s most likely as the inventor of the Ransom Process, a stroke of genius that changed the world.

The novel is written as a combination of letters written by Ransom as he travels west to found Ransom City that have been later compiled by his friend into a cohesive story about Ransom, his discoveries, and his efforts to bring electricity to the world. The narrative must be taken with a grain of salt as Ransom writes as though a proud father seeking to share his beloved child with the world. It is quickly apparently that his version of events is subject to scrutiny and controversy.

Though the story meandered at times, the plot pacing fit with the story, and there were always details about Ransom and the Ransom process that kept me going. The setting was at once familiar and exotic, and I felt as though I spent a lot of time sorting out parallels with the real American West at the turn of the 20th century that added an extra layer of credibility to the story.

This book is truly unique and I would recommend it to anyone looking to read something new and different.  The ending wasn’t entirely memorable, and there was some slow spots, but in hindsight, these observations seem minor compared to the otherwise richly imagined story.


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