Captain Draco commands an airship in Her Majesty Queen Victoria's flying service. At a ball thrown by the Aztec emperor to celebrate Draco's victory over pirates that had plagued trade between the two nations, Draco learns of a new assignment: he is to captain the first ship to travel in space, a joint venture between the British and Aztec empires. To “assist” Draco on his mission, the Aztec emperor binds Draco the Yolotli, a beautiful young man Draco assumes is a palace pleasure slave. But Yolotli is more than he seems. He has his own reasons for being by Draco's side, as well as the emperor's command to find out who is trying to sabotage the space ship project.
I feel quite safe in classifying this book as “steampunk”, a genre which puts science fiction in a Victorian setting of steam and brass. It's an interesting idea, harking back to when science fiction itself first gained a wide readership with the writing of Jules Verne, and the imagery some artists have generated for this concept has been quite captivating. However, this is the first full length story of that genre that has caught my attention.
The basic story line of “Smoking Mirror” is quite interesting, and it is on the whole a pretty good “yarn”. Unfortunately, the rather wooden writing doesn't really bring the story alive, and it's made a bit worse by wholly inadequate proofing. There are also a few plot holes, as well as a case of “convenient magic” — something that comes off as the author painting the characters into a corner with a scene and having to use until-then unmentioned magical powers to get them out of it.
The narrative alternates points of view between Draco and Yolotli. Draco is your standard, off-the-shelf Victorian gentleman-soldier, and very little is done to make him anything more than a cardboard cutout. Yolotli could have been a very interesting character. The whole idea that the Aztecs were able to resist the Spanish invasion and retain their empire into the 19th century is a fascinating idea, but beyond meticulous details about how they dressed, there's very little to add color or verisimilitude to the story. Yolotli's character pretty much comes down to a young man with a huge crush on an older man, and even that didn't feel believable.
“Smoking Mirror” is available from Amazon.