Clockwork Imperium is a set of three stories by J. P. Medved set in an alternate history of the British Empire. All feature the same three characters, British soldiers Henry Emerson and James Billingsworth and their Sikh comrade Raheem Aranjapour. The author establishes their friendship in the prequel story, “The Great Curry Contest,” available for free on his website.
The history in Clockwork Imperium is not that much different from the real thing, except for a usual steampunk device: airships have come into common use a few decades before this actually happened. That change and the actions of the series’ irrepressible heroes cause historical events to be altered significantly. For example, in the first story “To Rescue General Gordon”, James hatches the scheme to steal an airship and use it to rescue Major-General Charles George Gordon from the Siege of Khartoum. In real history, Gordon was killed by the forces of the fanatical Mahdi after a year-long siege against the capital of the British colony in Sudan, just days before the British Army arrived with a relief force. In Medved’s fictional version, our three heroes rescue him, despite his wish to go down with his troops. The series’ three heroes also face an assassination plot in “Queen Victoria’s Ball” and get mixed up in a Flemish rebellion in “Airfleets over Ostend.”
There’s a lot of fun packed in these fast-paced adventure stories. Medved’s sparse prose works well in the action sequences and doesn’t burden the reader with a lot of introspection. The characters are memorable albeit a bit stereotypical. The biggest problem I have is that James and company don’t get in much trouble for their frequent antics. In other words, for military men, they’re not very military. Their insubordination is not without precedent, however. General Gordon himself was acting in defiance of orders, holding fast against the Mahdi rather than evacuating the city. According to Gordon’s biographical entry on Wikipedia, this is why the Army hesitated to send a rescue mission, doing so only as a result of public pressure.
The three stories of Clockwork Imperium are available as separate ebooks, but I recommend getting the collection, as each story leads logically to the next. I consider it to be one of the better steampunk works out there, without the romantic and supernatural elements that dilute so much of the genre. It appears that the author intended to continue them, but hasn’t yet done so. He does, however, have a number of other works online that I intend to review at a later time. As for Imperium, only the first of the three stories has a significant number of reviews. It’s a shame that good works like this can get lost in the enormous quantity of fiction now being published. I rate it 4.5 out of 5 gears.