The first book in a YA Steampunk series called the Illumination Paradox.
Publication year: 2013
Publisher: Amazemo Books
This was part of the steampunk bundle I bought and I didn’t realize that was YA so I had different expectations for it.
The main character is Eyelet. We first encounter her as an eight year old girl who is wandering in a carnival. She has seizures, epileptic fits, so her mother is very concerned about her. But Eyelet knows that her father will cure her with his Illuminator machine – he’s promised to do so. However, she realizes that the carnival folks use the Illuminator as a carnival trick and to sell miniaturized copies of it. She thinks that they’ve stolen it. When she confronts the carnies, they call the guards and chase her. But everything changes when the Illuminator causes an eternal twilight to decent over the city.
Nine years later Eyelet is a student at the Academy and she’s secretly reading her father’s notebooks in order to find the Illuminator which was supposed to cure her seizures. She and her mother have kept her fits a secret because otherwise Eyelet could be accused of Madness or Wickedry, and she would be either sent to an asylum or hanged. Her father died years ago without telling her what he had done with the Illuminator.
However, one of the professors tell Eyelet that her mother has been sentenced for Wickedry and has been hanged and Eyelet herself is to be taken into custody. But she flees and managed to find her mother. Just before her mother dies, she gives Eyelet a mysterious pendant and says that it’s the key to everyone’s future. Eyelet barely escapes the guards called the Brigsmen.
From her father’s notebook, she gets an address to a warehouse and is convinced that the Illuminator is there. She races to the warehouse but the Brigsmen are at her heels. When she gets there, a man is loading a large machine into a carriage. Eyelet can’t let him escape so she grabs onto the carriage while it’s moving. The man has no choice but to haul Eyelet aboard or let her be crushed under. But the man is very strange indeed – he has red eyes and chalk white skin and one side of his face has large birthmark. It turns out that his name is Urlick and he lives in the far Follies with his eccentric father and a mute maid called Iris. He has lots of secrets.
The pace of the book is quick with chases and plot twists following quickly. The book is written in first person, present tense. Most of the time the POV character is Eyelet but in a few chapters it’s Urlick.
Eyelet is a very plucky heroine: she’s quick to draw conclusions and act on them. She’s also determined to find the Illuminator and cure her condition. When she meets Urlick, she’s at first afraid of him because of his looks. But when she gets to know his secrets, she quickly starts to find him attractive and starts to trust him, more than she has any reason to. She’s also very curious and doesn’t follow rules well.
By contrast, Urlick is a more patient person. He has good reasons to keep lots of secrets. He’s attracted to Eyelet from the first time he sees her but is convinced that nobody could ever find him attractive. Urlick’s mother died giving birth to him and his father accused Urlick of it. He also knows that people consider him a monster because of his odd looks. But he’s very brave and loyal to his friends. He’s also very interested in the sciences and has invented a number of gadgets.
Of the two main characters, I found Urlick to be more appealing, heroic even. They’re both damaged, by their own estimates and in the eyes of their society, and they both harbor secrets, even from each other. Iris is also an interesting, tragic character. I also really liked some of the gadgets. And the ravens.
Unfortunately, there were some irritating things in the book, too. Both Urlick and Eyelet ask the other “How much do you trust me?” when they barely know each other and don’t have much of a reason to trust each other. Especially at the start of the story, this is asked after some big revelation which is forced out of the character, demonstrating that the other, indeed, doesn’t have any reason to trust. I also thought that the characters behaved sometimes in unnecessarily melodramatic fashion jumping to strange conclusions and having teenage angst. Also, the romance is more pronounced in the first part of the book, when the characters are just getting to know each other. Also, Eyelet’s mother’s death didn’t seem to be a big deal to her.
The setting has some interesting features which aren’t really explored. One of them is the constant twilight which has fallen on to Earth. Also, outside the Brethren, which is the city where the rich people live, women are literally owned by men. If a woman is caught alone outside, she belongs to the man who caught her. Yet, this is only used once in the book, to threaten Eyelet, and never even talked about afterwards. None of the males behave according to that sort of culture. However, the Vapors are a constant threat to everyone. They are poisonous clouds which force people to stay indoors or die. They can also mutate some people.
Still, this is a fun, fast-paced book and ends in a cliffhanger.