What I gleaned about the stories: Two mystical orders engage in a Manichean battle for the Grail using steampunk technology. Meanwhile the rest of Europe obsesses about political preference and dressmakers.
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Analysis: The protagonist has been securely chained to a frame. Toxic gas is filling the room. The mechanism for undoing locks that the protagonist has up his sleeve has just failed.
So he takes that time to ponder the wider events that have lead to a battle between warring secret orders and the long term consequences of success for his opponents.
This mystical info-dump set me pondering on the geopolitics of classic European conspiracies, ancient and modern, and killed the tension that had been building. Although pondering comparisons doesn’t automatically reduce immersion, it is a calm intellectual pursuit so gives the impression the character is also at leisure. This made the sudden reminder he was strapped to a frame, actively struggling to escape from a painful death especially jarring.
Apart from the pure mental disjunction, the character taking time to rehearse world history didn’t feel realistic. The flood of chemicals released by peril boost the senses and fixate the mind on immediate threats, making it the time the character is least likely to consider wider politics.
These inappropriate discussions of history most often occur at the start of books, where the author has started with a dramatic scene then wonders whether the reader needs to know more about the circumstances leading to the scene. However, there are two different causes for this issue: not giving the reader enough reason to sympathise with a character; and not trusting the reader will wait for their explanation. Here, the second reason applies.
Analysis: While I am not counting the end of a short story as a WTF, I am unable to read beyond the end of the book.
Had I not moved on after the first loss of immersion, I would still have finished in under 40:00 minutes.
Both the political manoeuvring and obscure social niceties of normal Europe were revealed organically, preventing them from slowing the flow. The references to mystical history in other stories were similarly well integrated. So, the issue in the first story was a single drift over the line from showing the world to narrating it.
The later stories would even have maintained immersion with a greater level of historical explanation. So, the sudden solliloquy on warring conspiracies from the first story could have been inserted almost wholesale later in the collection without issue. Or even later in the first story, when the peril was less immediate.
If the reader had been trusted more to ride along with a protagonist until things were explained, a journey actively sought by conspiracy story readers, this book could have passed but for it’s length.