by Mark Sumner
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Mark Sumner succeeds in Devil's Engine where he failed in Devil's Tower. While the earlier novel focused on the exploits of Jake Bird, the new novel throws its net further afield to show how the rise of magical talents in nineteenth century America effects cities like New York, as well as small isolated villages like Medicine Rock.
Jay Gould is attempting to resurrect the idea of a transcontinental railroad in this age after the United States has become fragmented following the rise of magical talents. What sets Gould apart, and makes Devil's Engine a good companion to Devil's Tower, is that for all his temporal power, Gould has no talent of his own. Instead, he epitomizes the fear that the talentless feel toward those who have a talent, a counterpoint toward George Custer's talent-centric viewpoint in the first novel.
When Gould decides that the two halves of his railroad (coming from the east and the west) should join up near the town of Medicine Rock, Jake Bird and his companions become involved. Although at first Jake isn't sure whether or not the arrival of the railroad is a good thing, the thought that it could mean a doctor in Medicine Rock eventually sways him to agree. In order to get the doctor, however, Jake must leave Medicine Rock behind and travel to New York City to convince Gould that the railroad should provide the doctor, leaving an untried deputy, Tom Sharp in his place.
Sumner does not only rely upon the exploits of Jake Bird to carry the novel. There are two other story lines, one concerning Buffalo Bill Cody, hired by Gould to work as a scout for the railroad, and another about Muley Owens and the Rainmaker, a couple of itinerant men who bring the Rainmaker's rather obvious talent to places in need of irrigation. These storylines add to the depth of the novel and allow Sumner to more fully explore the society which he has created.
Devil's Engine is the stronger of the two novels and gives hints of where Sumner could go with the series if given a chance. Unfortunately, after these books, his publisher failed to pick up any further adventures of Jake Bird, so this world is, for now, stagnant. Perhaps in the future, Sumner will find another publisher willing to give him the chance to explore his world of talents and the west.