Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, I feel that most readers could pick it up and enjoy it. There is enough material from Book 1 mentioned to explain the background of characters in Book 2.
This book is part alternate history, part steampunk, part mystery and all those parts come together for a massively entertaining read. Set in the 1870s Western USA, Russian forces occupy the Pacific Northwest while the desert Southwest is still Wild West. Our heroes from the first book have since scattered; now the impending doom (or fate) brings them back together. Ramon Morales (who was once a sheriff) and his fiance Fatemeh Karimi (a healer and owl talker) are resting up at Ramon’s mother’s house at the start of this series. But soon they are traveling west. Professor Maravilla and Larissa are hiding out in the Grand Canyon tinkering away with the ornithopters and other mechanical wonders. They too are pulled into the trouble brewing in the Pacific Northwest.
Billy searches for work and ends up on a chili farm owned by Hoshi, a retired Japanese samurai. Soon, they are asked to help hunt down a thief and murderer, William Bresnahan. New characters are pulled in to round out this team of soon-to-be heroes; the Shieffelins, Luther Duncan, and a completely foreign entity that only Maravilla can communicate with.
A wild ride through the wild west, with a rich mix of the various cultures and political factions, this book is a most entertaining read. Growing up, I didn’t really care for Westerns because I felt they only focused on the Caucasian cultures while casting all others in a negative light (if mentioned at all). Lightning Wolves does not make this mistake pulling in many cultures with real characters that have regular flaws and gifts.
The plot jumps from character to character, giving us quality time with all our main characters. Some of my favorite scenes are where Maravilla and Larissa go off to investigate the rumor of a warrior ghost who rides a camel, haunting a certain mountain range. Just the imagery alone evinces a giggle from me. Natives of the desert Southwest may recognize several real locations used in this story (a plus in my book!).
For those who need some mechanical wonders in their steampunk novels, you also will not be disappointed. There are some carryover wonders from Book 1 (Owl Dance) such as the ornithopters. But Prof. Maravilla has been hard at work in Book 2 – there are indeed lightning wolves! These are steampowered metal contraptions in the shape of wolves and they are pretty awesome. Then there is the digging peccary, a metal mining machine in the shape of a javalina (but far larger).
I do have one small criticism for this book: many of the fight and/or escape scenes are pretty basic, like something you would see in the old black and white Zorro TV series. They also often come off rather flat as the characters don’t have any particular emotions during the scenes.
The ending was definitely satisfying and I did not expect it to be quite what it was – pleasantly surprised! For those of you who read Book 1, you will notice a minor but important scifi thread weaving its way through the plot. This comes to the forefront at the end and it is well done!