If the first volume of Lady Mechanika’s adventures The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse had Sherlock Holmesian undertones, this second volume is channelling Lara Croft in a big way. Returning from a hunting trip, Lady Mechanika finds a young friend of hers, Winifred, waiting with news of unusual goings-on that have her worried for the safety of her Grandfather, Professor Henry Thomsen, who is currently on an expedition in Africa. No sooner has the continent been mentioned than Nika and Fred are making their way there with the help of the mysterious Mr Jabir. Adventure ensues.
This story has some fabulous ingredients: secret societies, the search for a lost city, a brave and intelligent young girl that I hope to see much more of, an ancient weapon of phenomenal power, some seriously scary villains (in true B-movie fashion), a band of warrior women … and all so lovingly rendered that if Benitez and his crew carry on like this it’s going to become my go-to cheer-me-up series. Maybe I was a little disappointed that none of the questions and mysteries set up in The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse were addressed again in this volume, but I get the impression that this is a palate-cleansing episode and perhaps a way to introduce characters who will be important later on, (I really hope I’m right about that last bit – I want to see a lot more of both Akina and Fred. And Mr Jabir).
That’s not to say that this volume doesn’t bring anything new to Nika’s world. The ancient weapons that Professor Thomsen and Mr Strassmann discover is a complex clockwork masterpiece, technology only a little beyond their current level of understanding as academics in this world. Importantly, the weapons are not overtly magical and are in keeping with the steampunk aesthetic. This shows a continued commitment to worldbuilding, following the ‘rules’ set out so far. It also shows a history for the world in which this line of knowledge has been explored. It’s consistent. Yes, there is a supernatural element running through the story – the villains of this volume are astonishing – but it blends seamlessly with the steampunk nature of this world.
An interesting additional tidbit that almost gets lost in the action is the queen of the Desert Wraiths saying that her people have seen others with eyes like Nika’s before – eyes that Nika believes to be a part of her mechanics, which are highly sophisticated … as was the weapon discovered. Am I reading too much into all this? Maybe, but it’ll be fun to find out where I’m right and where I’m wrong.
The artwork continues to be sumptuous and beautifully atmospheric. Mike Garcia has taken over from Peter Steigerwald as the colourist in this volume, and a lot of that atmosphere is down to him as his choices breathe life into the underground caverns explored by the professor and his assistant, the jungles, deserts and skies that Nika fights in, treks across and flies through. I was blown away all over again by the detail in each panel too, and the gorgeous cog-work frames that set off some pages.
I both did and didn’t get what I wanted in this volume. I was hoping to see more of the world – and we do and it’s fab – but I was disappointed that none of the questions from the first volume were explored further here. I don’t necessarily need answers right away, but I do want to be reminded of what the mysteries are and know that the characters are still driven by them. So, yeah, great fun, if lacking some of the depth of the first volume. Which only makes me want to devour the rest of the series … well played Mr Benitez, well played.