Realmgolds, by Mike Reeves-McMillan, is set in an alternative world with an earlier level of technology than our own, but where magic is a reality. Mike's books were my first foray into steampunk as a genre, so initially I was not sure what to expect. Happily I have enjoyed the experience, and am very happy to recommend this book and its successors, and to explore the genre further.
The Realmgolds series, of which this is the first, are not arranged in sequence, but overlap one another and often touch on the same events from a different perspective. As such, they do not strictly need to be read in order, although inevitably the later ones assume more familiarity with the world and its denizens than the earlier ones. Indeed, to some extent I feel you need some general acquaintance with the conventions of the genre in order to get what Mike is doing. There are (I came to realise) numerous places where his dryly humorous comments only really make sense if you know how other authors have tackled these issues.
This book's main focus is on the military and political changes taking place in one of the world's countries (Realms). A civil war takes place, and the legitimate ruler of that country (one of the Realmgolds of the title) is temporarily forced out before rising to the occasion and reclaiming his rightful position. The campaign and military sections are written well and persuasively, with believable levels of technology and tactics. However, I found the political plans at the end less convincing, with a rather Utopian plan for future prosperity schematically laid out and enthusiastically received. The bad guys and girls are portrayed as obviously economically wrong as well as morally dubious. If only it was so easy to run a country here in this world!
I think that the book could best be classed as Young Adult rather than Adult. Only one of the main characters is substantially transformed by the events of this story, and most of them, even the second , are very simply delineated. Character details are usually supplied for their contribution to the plot rather than to build complex personalities. The emotional impact of major events on the characters seems low, and perhaps in consequence, the story did not generate strong responses in me. Sex and intimacy are treated in a rather coy manner - when the characters get involved with such things they cease to seem like adults, and appear more like teenagers who have found a copy of the Kama Sutra. It was unclear to me if this was part of Mike's world-building or to do with his target audience. The world itself has obviously been carefully thought through by Mike, with considerable detail provided or implied about prior history and culture.
Overall for me this was a four star book. It is confident and consistent in its presentation of the world, and has clearly been given huge attention to detail. The prose is well-constructed though plain. The kindle version which I read was excellently produced, complete with proper navigation guides and so on - touches which are often omitted in books that I have read recently. At the end I wanted to know more about this universe. However, I prefer more depth and more ambiguity in characters, and felt that this world could potentially offer me much more of its evident mystery and antiquity than I had been granted in these pages. I have no idea if it would appeal to regular steampunk enthusiasts, but it is certainly accessible to those, like me, who have had no prior acquaintance.