This, the first 'universe book' for Amazing Engine should be used in conjunction with the System Guide, the combination making a complete game.
It opens by describing the alternate history of the setting, a Victorian England where the fey do not only exist, they have seats in Parliament and are invited to all the best parties. This all dates back to Roman times if not before, but at that time the dark powers of the Unseelie Court were defeated in a great battle, and from then faerie blood has mixed with that of human beings throughout the history of Britain. Needless to say, the Unseelies haven't gone away, they've just gone underground, and still cause problems upon occasion although due to their appearance they have to recruit and operate through human allies and agents.
History has taken a largely similar track to the real world, although a descendant of Napoleon rules in France, a foil to Bismarck in Germany, and the big surprise, America is still a colony of Britain having been defeated in 1812 after their brief flirtation with independence. Fey live openly in Ireland, having an enclave named Tir Nan Og that operates as a separate country - or is that countries, as each sidh or barrow has its own British Embassy! Many challenges face the British Empire at this time. This opening portion, The State of England, is presented as a report suggesting the provision of 'special agents' to troubleshoot any problems... and this is where the player characters come in.
The role of both player characters and the GM are briefly touched upon and then the matter of creating player characters based on the existing player core (as detailed in the System Guide) is dealt with in detail. The first thing you have to determine is whether or not your character has fey blood - there's quite a high chance of having at least some, although full-blooded fey are quite rare. There are usually some visible hints of fey blood such as a greenish tint to the skin, pointy ears - or maybe hooves instead of feet. The more fey blood the character has, the more noticeable it is. Apart from full-blooded faeries, you next need to choose nationality. This determines where you come from and the language(s) you speak - apparently everyone from Wales speaks Welsh, which certainly wasn't the case in real Victorian England (in fact, the Welsh language was discouraged!). Next up in social class and occupation. These choices lead to background and to the skills available to that character. Naturally there is plenty of information to aid an informed decision. Much is (mostly) historically accurate, but magic exists and so sorcerer is an established profession.
Setting-specific notes on awards and experience follow material on wealth and resources. Many genuine Britsh awards and medals are listed here. Next up is magic. In this setting, magic works rather like a recipe, with a magic formular being constructed like a sentence including the action, the target, special conditions and so on. Each part has a range of options, this results in every spell cast having the potential, indeed likelihood, of being unique. The best spells are researched in advance, but they can be created on the fly although the chances of success are lower. A skill check is necessary every time a spell is cast, and it takes a physical toll on the caster. There are guidelines and examples aplenty, but spell-casting is something that the player will have to work at, there's no handy spell list to pick a spell from and just cast it as needed.
The next section, By All That is Holy, deals with religion. Faeries are pagan, it's somehow so deeply embedded in their being that they cannot embrace any other religion. There are various Christian denominations - based on real ones although with different names - and it is in their clergy that divine power is concentrated, although they do not cast spells as such but have certain powers that they can wield. No other faiths are mentioned, not is there any detail on what being a pagan entails.
This is followed by a section on Combat. Here we read about violence and the law, along with a note that combat is by and large deadly and ought to be avoided whenever possible. Much fighting is little more than brawling - mostly fistfights, perhaps a knife. Gun crime is rare, although a prudent fellow may take a pistol when entering a situation about which he is nervous. There's plenty of detail on both firearms and melee weapons.
We then turn to details about the fey, presented as Peak-Martin's Index of Faerie, a series of lectures to the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1877. It makes for fascinating reading, categorising the different varieties of fey folk and classifying them... and providing game statistics so that they can be used as opposition! For those who want to know more about the geography of the setting, there is also Crompton's Illustrated Tourbook of Great Britain, a quite comprehensive gazetteer. Back to everyday life, The Glorious British Life provides ample detail on what it's like to live in this setting: time, money, incomes, city and country life... and even how much you ought to be paying your servants! Modern conveniences, or the lack thereof, are discussed, along with price lists for the things characters may require and details of transportation - rail between towns, carriages or horseback within them, or out in the country once you have alighted from your train. The current state of knowledge and the policical scene are also covered, along with foreign relations and law enforcement. Much of this is historically-accurate, but with a distinctive spin on things to reflect the differences between this setting and historical Victorian England.
There's a rather entertaining guide on How to Speak Proper, which seems to be mainly aimed at Americans. This covers not just "the Queen's English" but Scottish and Irish dialects and a somewhat bizarre attempt at Welsh (which, it must be said, is my native tongue), claiming that Welsh words are unpronouncable... Best to move on to the underworld slang section. There's also a note about the role of women in Victorian times: strange to modern attitudes but historically accurate. Likewise, provision for the poor and disabled - mostly woefully inadequate by modern standards - charities and leisure pursuits are also covered. Various leading Victorians are introduced, perhaps the party will bump into them, or they will at least know about them.
The setting, then, is well presented with as much historical accuracy as the introduction of the faerie folk permits. Character creation is a bit clunky, but once you have built the characters and formed the party there's an impressive amount of background to set the scene in which they will operate. The GM, however, is left to come up with adventures. Some of the background might suggest ideas, but nothing is provided in the way of suggestion or plot idea, although the setting is good.
[4 of 5 Stars!]