Review: THE RED HOURGLASS (Slaves of the New World #1), by Ashley Capes

I received this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve often reviewed the works of Australian author Ashley Capes, whose writing range goes from fantasy to magical mystery to (albeit mild) horror: this time he’s tackling another genre, steampunk – but with a touch of magic thrown into the mix.

The siblings Mia and Thomas are running from pursuers across a desert landscape: they just buried their deceased old protector and guide David, and their prospects look quite bleak, since over the horizon a dust cloud signals the approach of the hunters looking for them.  Mia and Thomas are escaped slaves, the condition indicated by the hourglass tattoo on their arms: in this future or alternate history, slavery has returned – at least in Australia, so that the country has been isolated from the rest of the world because of this – and the siblings were the property of self-proclaimed King Williams, who wants them back because of their special gifts.

The clues in the narrative point to a classic steampunk background: steam-powered vehicles, the mention of airships (although this particular technology seems to have been lost by the ruling dynasty) and so on, and yet there are a few tantalizing mentions of a more advanced past, one that has now become more legend than actual memory. On top of that, however, there is magic: Mia shows a sort of precognitive ability, paired with her almost total blindness, and the knack of summoning a powerful creature with destructive powers; while later on Thomas discovers an affinity for steel, which he can bend or break with the sole strength of his muscles.

The world in which they move is an intriguing one: even though it’s not immediately mentioned, we soon understand the action is based in Australia – if the author’s origins were not an obvious clue, there is at one point a mention of an iron fountain shaped like a kangaroo to make this clear. The country appears different from the one we all know, the desert encroaching on the fewer livable spaces, red dust creeping forward like a tide that covers abandoned cities and chokes everything and everyone.  It’s not clear what happened, but at some point major environmental and political upheavals must have combined to create the present situation, one that nobody in power seems to care about.

As the two siblings run for their life and freedom, while searching for answers about the past they seem not to remember – including the bewildering changes worked on them by the mysterious Alchemist, something they have no memory of, as well – we get to know this cruel, harsh world and its few islands of respite, like the colony established by former slaves on the shores of the ocean, or the rebel camp where a handful of fighters tries to subvert the rule of King Williams’ dynasty, or the freemen of the mangrove village no one seems to know about.    I have to admit that these proved something of a frustration to me, because they were more like fleeting glimpses rather than deeper explorations of these enclaves, where I might have learned more about the past and the events that brought on the current situation.  The same happens with King Williams’ capital city, a place of hard labor in the smoke-belching factories and of fear of terrible retribution for those who cross the ruler’s wishes: I would have loved to know more, and to see more than the quick peeks the novel afforded.

On the other hand, this is a story carried by motion, the constant, running motion of the two fugitives trying to stay at least one step ahead of their pursuers, so I understand how it would have been difficult to… stop and smell the roses, so to speak: still there is that nagging voice, asking for more, that is not so easily silenced. My hope is that the next installments in the series will shed more light on the whole scenario and bring about a few answers as well.

As an introduction to this world, The Red Hourglass is an intriguing offering that promises to develop into a quite exciting story, one whose follow-up I’m looking forward with great interest.


My Rating: 

12 thoughts on “Review: THE RED HOURGLASS (Slaves of the New World #1), by Ashley Capes

  1. I often struggle with steampunk unless it’s a romance/steampunk mashup (a la the Parasol Protectorate), but this sounds really intriguing! It’s especially cool that the story is set in Australia rather than England, which seems to be the default more often than not. Hopefully the sequel will deliver more on world building!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s my hope! The author loves to keep his readers in the lurch 😀 but hopefully we’ll learn more with the next installments. And the cover is truly amazing and quite similar to my mental image of characters and settings…


    1. To say the truth, I closed my blog to submissions from independent authors because at times it looks more like work than fun, and I already have a day job :-D, but there is a number of authors I already reviewed that are always welcome to submit their works, because I know I will enjoy their stories.
      Ashley Capes is one of them, and I can recommend his Bone Mask Trilogy (, epic fantasy with a very peculiar twist. Or, if you like Urban Fantasy, the White Dragon Black series by M.R. Ridley (
      Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Steampunk in Australia? That’s so awesome! That’s definitely a nice change from your usual Victorian-era London brand of steampunk. I wish the cover could have represented the story and its setting better though. I never would have figured it for the kind of book you described in this review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, at the beginning of the story the two siblings are in a desert, running from the pursuers that want to bring them back, and having read that prologue before reading the full novel, that image had stuck in my mind, so that seeing it on the cover it felt quite right. 🙂

      And yes, a change from Victorian London is like a breath of fresh air, indeed…


  3. Steampunk always wins with me 🙂 I love the new design of your blog – I’ve been a bit MIA so perhaps it’s not too new 😛 Will go through your other posts as soon as I get a chance- looks like you’ve been busy discovering some real gems 🙂 Ciao ciao!

    Liked by 1 person

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