This novel is set in the world of "Tracks" where the romance of steam never died, and hobos still ply the living rails. As with "Tracks", this is not your regular fantasy. I trade the usual stock of wizards and elves for railroads and unions. And no, you don't have to be a rail fan to understand this or the first book, as I sprinkle my background lightly like a fine spice. "Storm Child" is a stand-alone novel. You won't have to read "Tracks" at all to enjoy the story, but if you did, you will find a few familiar characters and settings as this story takes place before "Tracks" in the same Hobohemia universe.
"Storm Child" visits several locals, from the United States' largest rail yard to the famous spiral tunnels carved through the Canadian Rockies. I bring in a couple rich cultures and lore associated with railroading, but not at the expense of story or characterization. There is plenty of action too, given Red's nature.
If trains connect different yet similar worlds, there must be a hub. This over-arching landscape is Hobohemia, a network of rails, hobo jungles, and baronies supporting the mighty engines hauling freight and people across mid-America. Here, both the engines and even the rails themselves are alive, maintained by both artisans and high-spirited steam children.
"Storm Child" centers on Hobohemia's steam children - spirits of little girls who can be seen playing in the steam around the great engines. These children grow up, but usually retain their more childish forms and manners despite their wisdom of years spent on the rails. True spirits who can change their appearance at will, the steam children are not invulnerable creatures, and are as subject to their emotions and relationships as they are to those who might prey on their frailties.
Hobos make up much of Hobohemia's population, and for the most part travel the rails spreading their own brand of free spirit and culture. They live outside of "anchor cities" such as Chicago and Cleveland, which serve as conduits between Hobohemia and the regular worlds.
When your destination might be one among many realities, each with its own network of tracks, knowing how to get there is where the conductor comes in. He can fix a train station in a particular location, at a specific time, and is the unquestioned navigator of all trains crossing Hobohemia. You need to have a schedule book of course, but more importantly you need a timepiece.
Unions play an important part in the organization and welfare of Hobohemia. A carded member will see Hobohemia slightly differently than regular folks, with even the Hobos looking more like gentlemen of the road rather than vagabonds.
These monstrosities are the physical manifestation of a man who has succumbed to his base nature. Shorn of self-esteem and hope, yegg are the swirling black antithesis of steam children.
At one time, the Pinkerton Dectective Agency was one of the most powerful private police forces in the United States. They safeguarded the railroad empires, and were known to bust up union strikes when called upon. The latter activity gives them a darker countenance in the fantasy world of Hobohemia.