Steampunk is a subgenre that has had quite the boom in recent years, although it is starting to die down somewhat. Most fall in to the standard ‘Victorian England with versions of modern technology powered by steam’ plotlines. I’ve read, and enjoyed, a number of these (such as The Ministry of Peculiar Occurences series by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris).
But while the standard Victorian England Steampunk stories have to work to get my attention, I’m a little more drawn to the steampunk stories set elsewhere in the world and in different cultures. For example, there is Cherie Priest’s series that started with Boneshaker, set in Civil War-era US, and there are multiple writers who tackled steampunk in Asia.
Toru is one of the later. It’s set around the historical event of Admiral Perry forcing feudal Japan to open up to the world, and incorporates historical persons, either as themselves or transformed into fictional persons. Toru, himself, is loosely based on a real person, but in this story he is the son of a fisherman who was rescued by an American ship from a sinking fishing boat. He travelled to America, learned English and travelled the country, collecting books and technology, before being cheerfully returned to his homeland by his very friendly American acquaintances (which seems a little silly, considering the prejudices of the time).
Once home, he talks his way out of being executed (as required by the isolationist laws of the time), and goes on to convice local lords that the US will be coming to force an end to the laws constricting contact with the outside world, and that they would use force if need be. To resist, he brought back steam technology, and convinces people to rapidly industrialise.
I have to admit, the fact that he is so convincing is hard to believe, and the fact that they develop steam trains, telegraph, dirigible, Babadge machines, and mini submarines all in a single year is ridiculous. However, I was willing to ignore this based on how likeable the characters were, and how enjoyable the plot line. I did appreciate the fact that there are references to things like just how depressing the landscape was in places because all the trees had to be cut down in the work.
But despite plot quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and I very much look forward to the second book when it comes out.