With his unique storylines and vivid descriptions, Oisín McGann has built a complex world that is a thrilling addition to the canon of steampunk and dystopian fiction.
THE WISDOM OF DEAD MEN (Open Road Integrated Media/December 8, 2015)
In an alternate Victorian Ireland, the Wildensterns are the most powerful and ruthless family in the country. Trained from childhood in the art of killing and conspiracy, they also have the uncanny ability to live for over a century.
Eighteen-year-old Nathaniel Wildenstern has given up his dreams of travel and adventure to devote himself to being his brother Berto’s head of security. With the help of his wife, Daisy, Berto wants to change the barbaric ways of the clan.
But there are many among the Wildensterns who like things the way they are, and will resort to whatever devious methods necessary to keep them that way.
Meanwhile, mysterious murders are occurring around Dublin. When a connection to the Wildenstern family is discovered, Nate, Daisy, and Nate’s sister Tatiana decide to investigate. Soon they are digging into shadowy societies and dark family secrets that date back to the origin of the part-animal, part-machine engimals. And what the young Wildensterns find could shed light on the savage nature of their family itself.
Teenage and adult readers alike will be rooting for Nate in the latest installment of McGann’s complex and fascinating saga set in a steampunk Ireland.
Excerpt from The Wisdom of Dead Men
II. A Visit From the Royal Irish Constabulary
NATHANIEL WILDENSTERN WAS brooding in the breakfast room late in the morning, when the police inspector came calling. He was alone; the rest of the thirty-odd members of the family resident in Wildenstern Hall had eaten and left. The rich, wake-up scent of eggs, bacon, kippers, tea, coffee and fresh bread hung in the air. The maids had cleared the tables and only his manservant, Clancy, hovered unseen nearby. The large fireplace was filled with a display of flowers during these warm summer days and the paintings on the walls had all been changed to pastoral scenes to suit the season. Not that any of this could improve his mood.
Nate was sitting in the light of the east-facing French windows, indulging his taste for hot buttered toast—cooked on one side only, as all toast should be—berating himself for failing to anticipate Simple Simon’s attack.
It was true that the boy was thought so innocent he could not constitute a threat, but even so, Nate should have taken the proper precautions with him, as he did with everyone else.
Berto had become Heir after their older brother, Marcus, had been killed by Edgar, their father, in self-defense … and had then been elevated to Patriarch when Edgar was murdered by a group of very old, very savage relatives. The upheaval that had resulted in the family had forced Nate to give up his boyhood dreams of wandering the world in search of adventures and instead, to support Roberto in his new role.
Nate had committed himself to the protection of his older brother—a serious undertaking for a nineteen-year-old who had spent most of his life avoiding responsibility. But he was well-trained in armed and unarmed combat, poisons and explosives, and had been given a thorough education in the family’s history of plotting and conspiracy. He had an intimate knowledge of the house’s defenses—the booby-traps, hidden rooms and passageways, the armories and secret weapons caches. And he could count on the support and expertise of Winters and Clancy, along with a team of loyal and able footmen. He had convinced himself it was enough.
After Edgar’s death, there had been a rash of plots to remove Berto, some bordering on the absurd, others planned with chilling precision. Nate had succeeded in foiling all of them before they could get close. As Patriarch, Duke of Leinster and Chairman of the North American Trading Company, Roberto controlled the Wildenstern Empire and its vast resources. There were many among their flock of uncles, aunts and cousins who wanted Berto’s power and would stop at nothing to seize it. Roberto was trying to reform the family, but his efforts were simply creating more enemies.
Berto was not perturbed by the family’s resistance and was determined to force them to change their ways. And he was certain that they would, eventually. Nathaniel found it difficult, sometimes, to share his brother’s optimism.
Not for the first time, Nate cursed the Rules of Ascension and the predatory practices they encouraged. For the Wildensterns were no ordinary family. Ordinary families did not think it acceptable to betray those closest to them in order to get ahead. Ordinary families did not tolerate murder.
It was Nate’s job to weed out the conspirators and deal with them. Anyone who defied Berto’s will had to be dealt with. Nate had thought himself up to the job, but he was beginning to have his doubts. He had thought that giving up his dream of a life filled with travel and adventure showed that he was maturing. But now he was feeling the pressure, and his initial confidence was giving way. He was desperately afraid of failing and beginning to fear he should have left this task to someone with more experience. But who could they trust?
The Wildensterns were bred to be cunning, deceptive and ruthless. Simple Simon’s unpredictable attack was just the latest proof of just how dangerous they could be.
Nate had questioned the boy, but could get no sense out of him. Simon had sat at the table in the small boxroom where he was being held, his face in his arms, moaning incessantly about his mother. As far as anyone seemed to know, Simon’s mother had died of tuberculosis when he was three or four. His father had passed away a few years later.
Nate chewed his toast thoughtfully. His tea had already gone cold. He was about to call for more, when his manservant appeared behind him and softly cleared his throat. Clancy was a Limerick man who had been raised to serve the Wildensterns. For many years now, he had been Nate’s personal manservant and bodyguard, as well as his tutor in the family’s unorthodox survival skills. Dressed in a black suit with tail-coat and buckled shoes, he was a short, solid man with a straight back, square shoulders and graying hair. His inscrutable face was shadowed by bushy eyebrows and looked as though it had been shaped out of wood with a blunt hatchet. Nate had seen Clancy’s short-fingered hands sew the finest seams and break bones with equal ease.
Nate could sense Clancy’s eyes on him and suddenly resented the degree to which he relied on his manservant. The older man often seemed more like a mentor than a member of staff and he had saved Nate’s life on more than one occasion. Nate had the definite impression that Clancy disapproved of his more reckless behavior and expected better of him—a ridiculous attitude to have. That feeling was even stronger now that Nate had actually taken on some responsibility.
“Inspector Urskin of the Royal Irish Constabulary requests a moment of your time, sir,” Clancy informed him now, handing over the policeman’s card on a small silver platter.
Nate picked up the card and gave it a curious look. He nodded to Clancy, who retreated to the hallway, returning with a narrow-featured man dressed in a long gray coat, a mediocre brown suit and cheap but tasteful shoes. He held a slightly scuffed bowler hat in his hands. The policeman had a prematurely crumpled face sporting a bushy lip-whisker that was a shade lighter than his auburn hair. His eyes were intense and intelligent. He was accompanied by a young constable dressed in the RIC uniform of dark green with black buttons and insignia.
“Inspector Urskin and Constable Mahon,” Clancy announced. “Nathaniel Wildenstern.”
Nate avoided using all the titles to which he could lay claim—they made him feel old, and besides, his family name was more than enough to impress anyone.
“Thank you, Clancy,” he replied. “What can I do for you, Inspector?”
“Thank you for seeing me, sir,” Urskin addressed him, speaking with a guttural midlands accent. “If I may be so bold, I was hoping you or your brother could shed some light on a case that has come to my attention: the unfortunate death of an old woman in Tinahely.”
Nate restrained himself from asking if any death could be considered ‘fortunate.’ The policeman had a very solemn look about him.
“And what makes you think we could help?” he inquired.
“Well, it seems the woman might have had some connection with your family,” Urskin replied, handing over a small framed daguerreotype of a man and woman sitting in a formal, posed portrait. “That is your father, I believe.”
Nate gazed at the silvery image, intrigued by it. He had never seen this picture of his father before. The daguerreotype was old and faded, and crude by the standards of modern photography, but there was no mistaking the countenance of Edgar Wildenstern, the most fearsome Patriarch ever to rule the family.
“And this is the woman?” he asked, nodding to the other person in the picture.
“Yes, sir. Vicky … Victoria Miller was ’er name. She was well known in the area. Had the reputation of being a … well, a healer an’ all that.”
“I see.” Nate studied her face, noticing for the first time the likeness to his father’s. Was it possible she had been related in some way? “My father was not fond of having portraits done, and certainly not with common folk. Perhaps some of my older relatives might recognize her. I can ask at dinner. How did she die, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Ah, well … ” Urskin shifted uneasily on his feet. “That’s one of the more … puzzling aspects of the case. It seems she burned to death. We just can’t for the life of us figure out how.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I’ve seen enough deaths in my time, Mister Wildenstern. Bodies burn a certain way. You’d have to see the scene to understand why it’s so damned odd.”
“Well, then, Inspector,” Nate said to him, “why don’t you show me? We can go now if you like.”
It did not occur to Nathaniel that the policeman would refuse. Nor did he. Urskin knew that the Wildensterns owned most of Wicklow and had almost as much influence in Ireland as Her Majesty’s government. They were accustomed to getting their way.
“I’ll be waiting for you in the square in Tinahely,” Nate told him. “Try not to be too late.”
Praise for Oisín McGann and the Wildenstern Saga
“In the tradition of Jules Verne or R.L. Stevenson, McGann totally dominates the genre.” – Eoin Colfer, author of Artemis Fowl
“An exciting new steampunk adventure... Resembles the powerful Russian sagas written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy... [with] spunky characters, accessible dialogue, and nonstop action.” — School Library Journal on Ancient Appetites
About the Author:
OISÍN MCGANN born and raised in Dublin and Drogheda, County Louth, in Ireland. He has written several novels for young adults, including Rat Runners, Strangled Silence, and Ancient Appetites. A full-time writer and illustrator, McGann is married, has three children, and lives somewhere in the Irish countryside.