James "Bodacious" Creed stopped a killer and helped bring peace to Santa Cruz, a coastal California city on the edge of the American frontier. Now, the undead lawman, resurrected with steam-based technology, takes on dangerous criminal cases as a private investigator.
One night while riding by the wharf, Creed hears a gunshot. He and his coyote companion, Coconino, rush to the scene. In a forest clearing, he finds two dead men and a dying woman. Mechanical parts ring her neck and wrist, and as she whispers of her travails, the former Chinese slave dies in his arms.
Someone in San Francisco is using illegal machinery to alter and control women like her. To hunt down the perpetrator, Creed travels to the City by the Bay. His journey takes him into the depths of Chinatown, reveals a secret society, and puts old and new friends in danger.
How can Creed learn the truth before more women are changed, manipulated, or killed?
Creed wanted to ride and think. He did this sometimes when upset, nostalgic, or too restless to sleep. Tesla bulbs in the streetlamps shone enough light that he saw color, but not much more. Johann moved at a trot, hooves clopping on the hardpacked earth. Here and there, Coconino sniffed the ground and yipped at his master. Creed would then offer a kind word or comment as if Coconino had shared a profound bit of wisdom.READ MORE
Away from the lamplight, darkness covered the streets, and aside from a saloon near the end of Pacific Avenue where rowdy ranch hands and cowboys were finishing their drinks and shuffling out to ride home, all was quiet. The fading scents of a dozen meals drifted down. Jonny and Anna had improved his head unit last September, and that fully brought back his senses of smell and taste.
Lately, when not on an investigation, he felt self-conscious around crowds. Rebirth had changed him significantly. He was the same person inside, but outside, he was pale as a corpse. He never knew how people were going to look at him.
At the clock tower, Creed turned around. He found himself back at the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. Light from the waning half-moon and the faint lamplight along the pier shimmered on the bay and the foamy crests of the waves. Dozens of seagulls slept on the beach like little cream puffs, their heads tucked under their wings.
What Clem Balcom said about Anna...
Yes, his daughter had done what society required of her to survive. As a prostitute, Anna was working in secret on her first discovery, a way to tap into the luminiferous ether.
She would have been destitute if not for former madam Margarita Fullerton, who hired the inexperienced seventeen-year-old to work at The House of Amber Doves. She went through a dark time to get to the light.
What if Creed had searched for her, finding her years ago, living unhappily with Emilio and Loretta Boyd, the uncle and aunt who kidnapped her away from him? He could have taken her back, raised her, encouraged her to pursue her scientific bliss, and even helped her get into a college. Sure, few women made their way into higher learning institutions, but with Anna's brilliant mind, there were countless possibilities.
Creed turned right again and whipped the reins, encouraging Johann into a faster trot away from the boardwalk and along Cliff Drive, so named for the cliff face over the beach. Several mansions, among them Miles Morgan’s, overlooked the ocean from this vantage point. Scattered cypress trees stood proudly at the edge of the bluff.
A mile from the wharf, Creed heard shouts and a woman screaming.
He kicked at Johann's flank and the horse broke into a gallop. The lampposts here lit the road better than those in town, likely thanks to the rich families living along Cliff Street. With his keen hearing, Creed could gauge distance well. The sounds came from about a mile and a half southwest. A minute later, another scream rang out, this one male, then a gunshot.
Horses whinnied. Three broke from a stand on the right side of the road. The horses, valuable as they may be, did not concern him. He feared for the people.
Johann galloped on until they arrived at the stand of cypress. Before his steed slowed, Creed dismounted, leaping from its back to land in the brush at the roadside. Coconino rushed past him, then Creed broke into the woods.
Through the dim lamplight, Creed spotted three figures, two men and a woman. One man lay among the leaves, his neck twisted so badly, he appeared to be a giant, abused wooden doll. The other reclined against a tree, head forward, arms splayed to the side. To Creed, they appeared still, not even breathing.
The woman, however, lay on her back, both hands on her solar plexus, with dark liquid spilling out, breathing hard. Though he saw in shades of gray in low light, Creed recognized blood from a gunshot wound. Her breaths came out heavy, but she was at least alive.
Creed went first to the man lying in the leaves and felt for his pulse. Nothing. He did the same for the other. Both appeared dead. He noted one was white, maybe of German ancestry, the other Chinese. Both wore cowboy apparel, including bandannas. One still wore his bowler hat, and a Stetson lay several feet away.
He knelt beside the woman. "I'm here. I can help."
"No help. Nothing can help," she intoned in a heavy accent. Her dark hair spilled around her heart-shaped face and framed her eyes. Another Chinese person. He pulled her hands away while she said, "Are you Bodacious Creed?"
"That's what they call me." Behind his mask, he cringed at her wound. Could he get her to Anna in time? He didn't think so. The bullet might have lodged in her spine, and moving her could kill her. If Anna or Jonny were here with the proper tools, they might stand a chance of stabilizing this woman.
A curious silver bracelet ringed her wrist. As Creed looked at her wound, she reached up and touched a similar necklace.
"I'm dying," she said. "But, I got away."
Creed lifted her as much as he dared, putting her torso in his lap and cradling her. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Thank you." A tear spilled from one eye, then the other. "I was a slave for too long. No more."
"What did you escape from?"
"Cow yard. You understand?"
Creed nodded. He knew about cow yards. His work as a marshal had taken him mostly around San Francisco, into unincorporated areas, while the police handled law enforcement in the city. He never dealt with parlors, brothels, bordellos, or cow yards.
Of all of the houses of ill repute, the cow yards were the worst, unadorned buildings comparable to farms where Chinese prostitutes worked. American slavery should have ended a decade prior. Not so in San Francisco. Shipments of girls as young as ten sailed in from China, and pimps and madams forced them into sexual services.
"Then her. She did this to me."
Creed furrowed his brow. "Who did what?"
"It's all right," Creed said, but her eyes closed. She breathed a sigh, then didn't breathe at all. "Young lady?"
Beside him, Coconino whined. Creed's gut clenched, and he leaned his head forward. His hat tumbled off his head as his forehead touched hers. This could have been Anna, or Maybelle, or any of the women in Anna’s employ. This woman…forced into sexual congress with strangers. He regarded her face, now at peace. Grief filled him. Even with mechanical eyes, his tears flowed.COLLAPSE
Stephanie Kato on Stephanie Kato, Author wrote:
James “Bodacious” Creed is many things. Devoted father, private investigator, steampunk cyborg. But right now, he’s a man on a mission.
Set in the 1870’s, Bodacious Creed and the Jade Lake picks up where the first Bodacious Creed tale left off. There’s a warehouse theft in Santa Cruz, and someone’s trying to take off with a sample of “steelie” – steampunk automaton – tech. Creed catches the bad guys in short order, but then runs across a Chinese prostitute from San Francisco who was apparently trying to escape something – or someone.
She dies in Creed’s arms, and he vows to get to the bottom of who killed her, and why she has a strange kind of metal tech bonded to her that’s suspiciously similar to his.
Creed hitches a ride on the train to the City with his horse Johann and his domesticated coyote Coconino, but not before his daughter Anna presents him with a pair of new guns, keyed only to him. Anna both runs a local house of ill repute (or in this case pretty decent repute) and is a tech whiz who helped invent the new technology with… wait for it… Nikola Tesla
Once he reaches the City, Creed follows a number of leads, meets some of San Francisco’s elite, and soon has a whole posse of his own working to crack the conspiracy.
This is actually my first steampunk read – I know, I know. But I thoroughly enjoyed this book. One of my favorite things? The glimpses of old-time San Francisco, complete with a few of its most colorful characters, including Emperor Norton, a real-life figure who styled himself the Emperor of the United States and who paid for his purchases with his own hand-made money.
In the second half of the book, things heat up as Creed closes in on the perps, and they retaliate against him and his friends, setting even the quick-healing Creed back on his heels. And at the end (which I won’t spoil), it’s clear there are still some loose ends to be tied up, including from the first book.
Fesmire’s steampunk world includes some fascinating stuff - lightbulbs invented by Tesla, and “a mysterious substance called ‘liminiferous ether’ making automaton brains and rapid healing possible.” I loved these bits of tech woven into Fessmire’s wild-west world, and the implications they are having as they ripple through society.
Jade Lake is a quick, fun read, filled with action sequences and great worldbuilding. And Creed himself displays a surprising vulnerability for such a robust action hero, especially when it comes to his daughter and several of the Chinese slaves he helps to free or avenge. It’s a good look.
If you love steampunk, westerns, or just good action-adventure sci-fi, grab a copy of Bodacious Creed and the Jade Lake – you won’t be disappointed.
Bodacious Creed and the Jade Lake is an entertaining steampunk adventure in the Wild West. Equipped with both heart and grit, Bodacious Creed is a brisk read and a nice alternative to a disappointing season of blockbuster cinema. Sometimes books are more vivid than movies. Fortunately, this entry in the series adds a brand new chapter and engaging characters without suffering from sequel syndrome. Steampunk as a genre didn't quite break through the mainstream wall during the past several years, but indie authors, like Jonathan Fesmire, might help it reach a broader audience.