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What if they’d invented rock ‘n roll way back in the 19th century? What if it could take over the world and change the course of history?

In the slums of Brummingham, the outcast gangs are making a new kind of music, with pounding rhythms and wild guitars. Astor Vance has been trained in refined classical music. But when her life plummets from riches to rags, the only way she can survive is to play the music the slum gangs want.
A book that celebrates steampunk and music. Honestly, can it get any better?

Having previously read Richard Harland’s Worldshaker and enjoyed it, I immediately latched onto this book when I saw it advertised at a book store. I was captivated by the title and theme, and curious as to how it could be pulled off. Steampunk and music, in a book no less? I was not disappointed. 

When Astor, a young lady brought up in a well-to-do British home visits the powerful Swale family with her mother and step-father, she is under the impression that the intended purpose of their visit is to arrange a proposal for her to marry the youngest Swale brother. Not so. Her step-father has contracted her out of the house to become a governess to the Swale’s three bratty youngsters, and Astor is horrified that her position has been so drastically lowered. The children make her life a misery, and no amount of effort on her part can possibly make them learn, so Astor is reduced to trying to keep order whilst the young Swales make mischief out of everything. 
The one comfort she was granted was a servant from home, however Verrol seems to be much more than he appears. After the two eavesdrop on an important political conversation between the older Swale brothers, Astor’s letter to her influential step-father warning him of the Swales traitorous dealings is intercepted and causes both Astor and Verrol to flee from the household into the dirty slums of the outer city. 
It is here they come across “gang music” and its players, but it is nothing like the delicate harp and stringed music Astor has known. However it being their only hope for protection, Astor and Verrol join the band and before Astor realizes it, the music has captured her; and it may become the key to how they can fight back against the looming revolution.
Though not a particularly fast moving book, this was one compelling read. My biggest concern was how well the appreciation for music would be portrayed, since the plot was so pivotal on this point. I needn’t have worried. There were so many moments throughout this amazingly fascinating story that stood out for me as a musician – the author knew exactly what he was talking about. The essence of the musical world was captured so fully, I found myself grinning with delight or laughing with the dialogue because I knew the feelings so well. 

The whole band was as if bonded together in a single state of euphoria. When they started to speak, they all spoke at once.
 “I hit that note and just kept following it‒”
 “It was bouncing off the walls‒”
 “What about our fast version of‒”
“How did it even manage to work?”
“Remember that bit in‒”
“That was you‒”
“We were all waiting for that chord, and you kept holding it off‒”
“The audience almost stopped breathing‒” 

 I also love the author’s recognition of the power music has. It’s not just a pretty noise, or a pointless art; music is a movement, and it can state a belief or conviction with more passion than words alone. Music is God’s gift to mankind, but like all His gifts, it can be perverted. We as Christians often need to be reminded to recognize what a powerful tool music is and be responsible stewards of it. Music can be the voice of God, or the voice of the devil.

He stopped pacing and faced the group around the table. “It’s a power that can be used for good or used for evil. It’s our responsibility to use it for good. We choose. We can create feelings of joy and warmth, or we can create feelings of rage and revenge. It’s up to us.”

Bang on, right there.

The world and setting of the book is gritty and authentic; a very real, tangible depiction of what futuristic 1846 could well have looked like. The book – though not fast nor slow – moves through the story at a good pace, and the characters grow and mature over the way; not changing so fast that the facts are spat at you. The historical elements were also very believable, as were the political references.

Content wise, there is nothing to speak of. The book is clean language wise, and although this could also be dubbed a ‘gaslight romance’, I feel that the romance is so well written that it is on a deeper level than today’s general romantic fiction. There are no kisses or anything physically romantic shared between said characters, but the heart of the matter was clearly visible. Definitely one of the more brilliant examples of romance in fiction that I have come across. This book is proof that a romance can be pure and simple, without anything physical shared or really even said. This is showing-and-not-telling at it’s best.

In closing, I give Song of the Slums five very hearty stars out of five. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of Mr. Harland’s steampunk works.

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Published on 20 September, 2013. Last updated on

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