L.A. Witt’s Noble Metals isn’t the Victorian London, smoggy air, steam wafting in the distance from the smokestacks rising into the grimy skyline sort of steampunk novella I prefer, but the originality of the mechanical devices was fun, as was the journey that brings Dr. John Fauth and Robert Belton together in this undeniably romantic adventure that’s set in 1898 and is filled with all the greed and danger of the Klondike Gold Rush.
John is a scientist on his way north from Seattle with a tool he’s invented that, if discovered by the other prospectors making the trek in search of riches, it would set off a firestorm of avarice even greater than the gold itself already inspires. John doesn’t use the device to find gold, though. Gold isn’t his goal; John’s goal is the small deposits of platinum that can be found in and around those gold fields. With the platinum he discovers, John’s goal is to create a technology the likes of which no one—not Nikola Tesla, not Thomas Edison—has ever dreamed of and is far, far ahead of its time.
Robert is a prostitute in a saloon in Seattle, the final outpost of civilization before the trip toward Canada and Alaska. He didn’t set out to make money that way. His journey north started much like anyone else’s but ended very differently, when circumstances forced him to give up on his dream. Unable to move forward and unwilling to go back, Robert serves the men whose preference it is to seek comfort somewhere other than in a lady’s bed. It’s not what he wants to do, but it’s what he does do in order to survive and remain independent until he can one day finish his journey.
What happens after the two men meet, the instant spark of attraction that’s somewhat subdued by the fact that John has paid for the privilege of spending the night in Robert’s bed, is exactly what you’d expect from a romance, so that part didn’t hold any surprises, but what L.A. Witt does well is to make each of these characters more than what’s on the surface. So, while the way they met and what happened after was everything I anticipated it would be, it’s what happened as the story progressed that provided the bigger payoff.
The story is told in the dual first person, Robert as the “vocal” narrator and John as the epistolary narrator, who tells his side of the story to the reader as he writes in his journal. As their journey toward gold gains momentum, what John began as a diary to recount the events of his quest becomes increasingly more a revelation of his growing feelings for Robert, who is so much more than the young man that sold his body for sex.
The enforced intimacy of being two men against the forces of nature, technology, and the men who will kill for what John has is enough to bring them together quickly, and I found that I totally bought into their relationship. I liked them so well that I wanted them to be together, and that was more than enough for me.
Robert’s innocence in spite of his former profession, his intelligence, and his unwavering loyalty to John, as well as John’s ability to see past the fact that Robert had been a prostitute, and was all those wonderful things and more was ::sigh:: yeah, rather sweet and romantic.
Throw in guns and greed and a hostage situation, a great escape and a noble mission to return the device that became worthless when compared to what the two men stood to lose if they’d lost each other, and I found a little story that made me pretty happy to have read it.