Cogs and Mechanisms Reading Challenge 2015

A steampunk book.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook

The second book in the Drifting Isle Chronicles and part of the Storybundle’s Steampunk bundle. All of the books are written by different writers. They happen in the same city but have different main characters.

Caspar Goldstein is the heir to Goldstein Industries but much to his father’s dismay, he has no interested nor talent to become a businessman. Instead, he loves to race steampowered cars and has a talent for that. More than anything, he wants to win the Autocarriage Cup. But during a qualifying race for the Cup, Caspar sees one contestant deliberately crashing into his best friend’s car. Angry, Caspar deliberately collides with the troublemaker in turn, almost totaling his own car. His friend, Lukas, breaks his leg and is out of the races. Caspar is bruised and has a concussion but is still able to race, if his aunt Hildy can repair the car. But soon he has bigger problems than the Cup.

Clara Koh is Caspar’s assistant and also Hildegar Goldstein’s friend. She also helps Hildy with her secret project. Hildy has gotten her hands on a new substance which is called black mercury and is testing it. Everyone else thinks it’s a waste product but Hildy thinks that it can be used to increase engine performance. She’s invented the first flying machine, the autogyro, but it doesn’t fly very far. When Hildy wants to test black mercury in her autogyro, Clara won’t let her do it alone. Together, they find out that Hildy is correct: black mercury does enhance the autogyro’s engine remarkably. This doesn’t go unnoticed by the media or by mysterious people who want the secrets of black mercury for themselves.

Hildy and Clara make the historical first flight to the floating island, which is right above the city of Eisenstadt. However, they don’t have the time to explore it any further but return almost immediately. The authorities ban the use of autogyros and are sending their own expedition which is shown in the next book, The Machine God.

Clara and Caspar are the two POV characters in the book and they’re very different. Clara is very practical and level-headed woman, to the point that even she herself wishes she could be more spontaneous, while Caspar is a spoiled man who has never taken any responsibility for anything. They bicker a lot but they clearly like each other a lot and Clara spends a lot of time worrying about Caspar.

This was a quick, fun read with plenty of action. I liked the secondary characters a lot. Hildy is an inventor and almost reckless in testing her inventions. She’s also frustrated because she’s under that thumb of her brother Max, who leads the Goldstein Industries. She’s doing secret projects in order to get enough money to make her own company. Her other assistant, in addition to Clara, is Til, a huge but gentle mechanic always looking out for her. And then there are the pigeons. In this world, pigeons can talk and Minnie is Clara’s companion. Min tends to speak before she thinks – and she mostly thinks about food. She and the other pigeons are a great comic relief and also dependable companions.

The first book in a YA Steampunk series called the Illumination Paradox.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
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.

I’m joining steampunk reading challenge Clocks, Cogs and Mechanisms Reading Challenge 2015.

This challenge runs from January 1st – December 31st. Sign up ends September 30th, 2015.

What do I let count as steampunk?
You can count books like “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells and other books that are considered precursors to steampunk, I have no problem with you counting graphic novels like Full Metal Alchemist.

They do not have to be on a paper to count, your ebooks count as well.
You can also count these books towards other challenges.

Brass Gears: Read 1-3 steampunk books
Flight goggles: 4-6 books
Button-up boots: 7-12 books
Clockwork Corset: 13+ books

I’m going for Flight goggles level with 4 books.
Last year, I bough the Humble Bundle’s Steampunk bundle which is 7 books and I’ve got a couple of steampunk print books on my shelves. Most of these are new-to-me authors, too, so I really like to sample their work. I’m also shamefully behing in reading Girl Genius.

Books read:
1, Scott E. Tabert: A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk
2, Jacqueline Garlick: Lumiere
3, Charlotte E. English: Black Mercury
4, MeiLin Miranda: The Machine God
5, Clay and Susan Griffith: The Rift Walker
6, Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith: The Kingmaker
7, S. M. Blooding: Fall of Sky City
8, Cherie Priest: Fiddlehead
9, Susan Kaye Quinn: The Third Daughter