steampunk


The first book in the Risen Kingdoms fantasy series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 18 and 27 minutes
Narrator: Erin Bennett
Publisher: TOR

Jean-Claude is a young, loyal musketeer to the king of l’Empire Céleste, Leon XIV, and the king has commanded Jean-Claude to go and witness the birth of a noble child. Jean-Claude has never been comfortable in sky ships but when the king commands, his musketeer spends six weeks on a sky ship. Even when the child will be born to the comte and comtess des Zephyrs who are evil people by any standard. After a terrible journey, Jean-Claude arrives just in time for the birth. But things go wrong because instead of a son the comte hopes for, the child is a girl and her left hand is malformed. Only Jean-Claude’s quick thinking saves the girl from a quick death because the Temple says that all malformed children are evil and should die at birth.

The king orders Jean-Claude to stay with the girl, Isabelle. She grows up in the vile household and her father tests her often for any sign of magic. Des Zephyrs are descended from saints and therefore have inborn magical talent for blood magic; as Sanguinare they command their shadows which require blood sacrifice. Unfortunately for Isabelle, she doesn’t seem to have inherited any magic. Her father makes it very clear that she’s a disappointment to him and even goes so far that when she and her best friend Marie are 14, the comte makes Marie into a bloodshadow. Essentially, the young girl’s spirit is dead, but her body still shuffles around, without a will of her own, and the comte can use the girl to spy on Isabelle, or anything happening near Marie. Driven by guilt, Isabelle takes on the duty of caring for Marie who can’t care for herself anymore.

Isabelle’s future is uncertain but she’s a smart girl and enjoys studying mathematics and science, including the science of magic. However, women are forbidden to study them, and she must do so in secret. Jean-Claude protects her as much as he can even though he has to pretend to be a wastrel and a drunk.

The story really starts when an artifex brings a message that prince Julio of the Kingdom of Aragoth wants to marry Isabelle in order to secure a peace between their two countries. Isabelle’s mother is King Leon’s aunt so she’s part of the royal family and can make such alliances. However, because of her congenitally deformed hand, many people see her as evil and even heretical, so she’s very surprised by the offer. But in the end, she’s eager to escape her father and to see the world and so she agreed.

However, she and Jean-Claude quickly realize that she’s in great danger. Not only are the people who want to see someone else married to prince Julio, there are many other factions in play. Julio’s father is dying and the battle for succession is just starting.

Isabelle is a very determined and compassionate young woman. She’s loyal to her friends and still takes care of Marie herself because her maids are too scared of the bloodshadow. She’s smart, too, and shows it. Jean-Claude is a middle-aged man who is also showing his age. Still, he adores Isabelle and doesn’t regret essentially losing a lot of years of his life while guarding her when she grew up.

This book has a very interesting world with magic and religion. There are two kinds of magic, at least as far as we know: blood magic and mirror magic. Blood magic is used in I’Empire Céleste and mirror magic is used in Aragoth which is traditionally Céleste’s enemy. Mirror magic makes for a great weapon for Isabelle’s enemies because the Glasswalkers can use mirrors to go to different places and escape them.

The world-building is very complex but woven well into the story. It has lots of intricate stuff and I think I missed some of them when I listened it as an audiobook so a relisten is in order before the next book. Still, I greatly enjoyed the book, the characters, and the world. The pace is somewhat slow at times (it’s not a thriller!) but never too slow for me. In addition to magic, this world has pistols and gunpowder, men who are half a person and half clockwork creature, airships and floating continents. It all works surprisingly well together! In fact, this is another excellent addition to the “fantasy musketeers” category.

Despite being the first book in a series, it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger and can be read as a stand-alone.

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The third book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk series.

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Publisher: Ace
Page count: 374

Our colonial pepperpot and dashing archivist are heading to the US. During the airship voyage, a mysterious man tries to sabotage the ship but Agents Eliza Braun and Wellington Books manage to stop the sabotage. Otherwise, Eliza is unhappy with the voyage because Wellington kissed her previously and she’s expecting him to continue in the same way. Instead, Wellington labors with his steam powered motorcar.

In Norfolk, our intrepid agents are met by two agents from the US’ Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical. Librarian Felicia Lovelace is on her first field assignment and she clearly doesn’t have any experience in spying, going so far as forgetting the others’ assumed names. On the other hand, her partner William “Will Bill” Wheatley is a very experienced field agent. The Ministry agents are supposed to just consult the Americans about why ocean and airships are disappearing. Soon, they uncover an ominous plot which seems to involve Thomas Edison and his inventions.

I really enjoyed the steampunk elements and the inventors, Edison and especially the others. Both new agents are also rather interesting characters and they play well against each other but their role in the story made me dislike them. I also rather enjoyed the Ministry’s own mad scientists Blackwell and Axlerod.

Also, the Ministry’s enemies are on the move. Almost every other chapter was an interlude focusing on a mysterious priest doing the House of Usher’s work or Sophia del Morte moving in on her newest target. I rather enjoyed these chapters as well. The story is fast-paced with lots of fight scenes.

Unfortunately for me, this book has not just one romantic triangle but two. That’s right: Bill/Eliza/Wellington and Eliza/Wellington/Felicity. Both American agents start to court a British agent amazingly quickly. Eliza and Wellington are unsure about each other’s feelings and Eliza is barely civil to Wellington. So, the story has lots of Eliza and Bill going off to do mayhem while Wellington and Felicia do scouting and other spy things. So, there’s plenty of time for Bill to make moves toward Eliza and likewise Felicity to Wellington. Unfortunately, it felt very contrived to me and went on for far too long.

Near the end, there are some revelations which will, no doubt, feature heavily in the next two books. It ends almost in a cliffhanger. I was thinking that I might not want to continue with this series but it seems that the jealousy and UST is now finally ended as major parts of the books, so I’m going to get the next two books, too.

The first book in a planned steampunk series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 122

This short book starts the story of two young women in a country at war. Both women are interested in mechanics but don’t think they can really pursue it for real. But when men are called to war, women get chances they otherwise wouldn’t.

Alicia Reynard is a farm girl with a very active imagination and eye for mechanical work. Her father has always encouraged her and even bought some books for her, even though they’re very expensive. She loves to draw and read. When the war against a neighboring country heats up, their small earnings go down and her father has to find another employment. But then the University at the capital calls for female students. It’s very expensive but it might also be the only chance Alicia will have.

Lady Elena Singleton was born into a wealthy noble family but she has to keep up with appearances. This means getting married which is she doesn’t want to do. She studies mechanical engineering secretly and thinks that her life will end when she’s forced to marry some bore. However, her grandmother smuggles science books to her and encourages her to dream. When the university calls for female students, Elena’s mother forbids her to go.

This is quite a gentle story with little adversity to the women. Alicia is encouraged by everyone around her. Elena’s mother is against Elena’s scientific interest but her grandmother is supportive. I liked the main and the supporting characters. Alicia’s mother goes through a more significant change than Alicia herself. However, we saw Alicia a lot more than Elena. In fact, when we saw Elena in the latter part of the book, through the eyes of someone else, she didn’t seem the same character.

The ending is abrupt although I wouldn’t call it a cliff-hanger. There’s no clear ending and we don’t know when the story will continue.

The culture feels like a Victorian one where women stay at home and most of the time don’t take part in any business or other public venture. But when men are sent to war, women all over must take over for the men. And nobody objects. This is what I have some trouble with, being a student of history.

The whole culture seems to be very practical about it. Only one person in the book objects, and that’s Elena’s mother, and her reasons are “respectability” and “tradition”. But if most people are alright with women working and being able to work just as well as men, why don’t capable women already run their own business (even in Middle Ages, a widow could take over her deceased husband’s business) or work alongside men or demand to be let into university? Historically, women’s work has been discouraged because most people thought women were simply incapable of any intelligent work and/or it’s the natural order etc. Nobody here said anything like that, which seems strange.

But I’m curious to see where this story will go.

Set in 1878 in Rapid City in Washington State, it’s a steampunk Western detective story.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 351
Publisher: TOR

Let’s get something out of the way: Karen Memory is a prostitute and she lives in a brothel. She’s also around 17 and not the youngest girl there. She’s also smart and loyal and cares for the other girls. But she prefers to work in Madame Damnable’s brothel to working in a factory, which was at the time dangerous and very dirty.

The book is Karen’s journal and so written in first person and with a dialect.

There are (at least) two main brothels in Rapid City. Hôtel Mon Cherie is run by Madame Damnable who doesn’t allow the girls to drink too much and keeps her place clean. The girls are like family to each other. Also, one of them was born a man. The girls also gather around at evenings, after the clients have gone, and read different sorts of books.

Then there’s Peter Bantle’s place where the girls are kept prisoners, underfed, and beaten. Unfortunately, Bantle is quite influential. One Chinese woman, Merry Lee, tries and sometimes succeeds in freeing Bantle’s girls.

The story starts when Merry Lee comes into Mon Cherie shot and supported by one of Bantle’s escaped slaves. Bantle follows with his goons but Karen and a couple of the other girls and Madame manage to send them away. But a war starts between the two brothels.

Also, a new marshal is in town following a man who murders prostitutes gruesomely. Marshal Bass Reeves is black and he isn’t going to get much help from the locals, except from Karen and her friends.

I really enjoyed this tale a lot. I did have difficulty with the language sometimes, though. I also really enjoyed the side characters and the references to earlier steampunk books, such as to Jules Verne’s books.

Fantasy book about a spy/librarian who works for the Library which has access points to many alternate worlds. To get books!

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 329
Publisher: TOR

Irene is a junior Librarian in the Library which exists between alternate worlds. Her mission is to save books from various worlds. To do that, she often has to use cover identities and get into places where she shouldn’t be. The book starts with the end of one mission. After Irene returns to the Library, she’s immediately given her next assignment: to get one of the collected fairy tales of Grimm from an alternate world. She isn’t told what is special about it. Instead, her supervisor gives her a trainee, the handsome and mysterious Kai. She’s used to working alone, so she isn’t happy about it, but she can’t say no.

So, Kai and Irene head over to an alternate London to steal the book. However, the owner of the book has been murdered and the book stolen, so their mission becomes far more dangerous and difficult than they thought. Also, a famous private detective notices them, and Irene has to decide if she can trust him or not. Another shadowy character is Silver, a fae noble who is also after the book.

This setting has a wealth of possibilities and it fascinated me. However, Irene is pretty standard plucky heroine. She loves books and has a special love for detective stories. Her specialty seems to be more in spying and acting than fighting, though. She’s dedicated to the Library and its mission of preserving fiction from various alternate worlds. However, at the same time she doesn’t really know the senior Librarians nor does she know their real goals. Her beliefs about the Library and Librarians are challenged in the book, though. This clearly isn’t her first mission and references are made to her previous jobs, especially one involving a charming cat burglar and her fellow Librarian, Bradamant, which made her and Bradamant mortal enemies.

Kai is a very handsome and elegant young man who is more than you’d think at first glance. He’s a trainee who hasn’t yet sworn himself to the Library. This is his first fieldwork assignment. There’s no romance in the book, despite this obvious set up, which was very refreshing.

The Librarians use Language, the primal Language of everything. They use it to command stuff but they’re very limited in what they can do with it. The alternate worlds are battle grounds for order and chaos. Dragons are on the side of order (along with the Library) and the fae on the side of chaos. This London has steampunk technology side by side with vampires and werewolf, who aren’t hiding from the general public. Oh and time doesn’t flow inside the Library, so most of the Librarians are several decades or centuries old.

This was a fun book but clearly first in a series. There are hints about lot of things, such as just what the senior Librarians are up to and about the main villain, a former Librarian. However, the Librarians come across as very focused on books, to the exclusion of everything else, and even cruel towards people outside their company.

A non-fiction book about all things Steampunk: fashion, art, sub-culture, books.


Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 224
Publisher: Abrams Image

This book showcases the Steampunk sub-culture with lots of gorgeous pictures. It’s divided into six categories: the origin of steampunk, literature, art & craft, fashion & music, movies & tv, and the future.

For fiction, it covers only the basics. But the chapter of past gives a lot of information about H. G. Wells and Jules Verne who wrote the first books which can be described as Steampunk. Some other writers are included as well. I was particularly fascinated by the pulp stories written in American magazines because I’ve never heard of them before.

The fiction chapter gives an insight into how writers came up with steam powered Victorian stories in the first place. Not all writers can be in the book, so VanderMeer selected the most important ones, such as Blaylock, Michael Moorcock, Tim Powers, and K. W. Jeter. Others, such as Cherie Priest and Ekaterina Sedia, are also included.

This is a gorgeous book with lots of pictures of art, fashion, book covers, and more. The TV section brought to my attention a lot of TV shows and movies which I hadn’t know about. It was great to see that many fans, no matter if they’re writers or fashion tinkerers, like the punk, or revolution, of the movement and not just the aesthetics. After all, Victorian England did have its problems, too.

I think this would most interest people new to steampunk. While I’ve read or know about most of the books mentioned, I didn’t know much about the sub-culture, either in Japan or USA. There are a few Steampunk enthusiasts here in Finland, too, but I think they’re quite a small group.

This is a collection of seven retold fairy tales in steampunk settings. I wasn’t familiar with any of the authors before.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Page count: around 100

The Clockwork People by Angela Castillo: Mr. Streusel builds toys whom all the children love. He lovingly crafts a clockwork boy and calls it Pieter. Then Pieter starts to move in his own.

Perfection by Chris Champe: Mary used to be a wonderful pianist but she had an accident which left her weak and unable to play. Her husband builds automatons which move like humans but much of his time goes to support Mary. One day, Mary realizes that her piano has been taken away and she searches the labyrinthine house for it.

The Mech Oni and the Three-Inch Tinkerer by Leslie and David T. Allen: Issun Boshi was born to an elderly couple. He was wanted but he was also tiny, only three inches tall. When he’s sixteen, he leaves his parents to become a samurai.

The Copper Eyes by Allison Latzko: Oliver is the youngest son of his inventor mother. Unfortunately, his mother has lost her mind: she has built Oliver’s brothers into her inventions. Oliver has no choice but to run away.

Strawberry Sins by Heather White: Dr. Samuel Wolfe and Dr. Fermin have been working together to make a formula which will change a man to something else and back again. Unfortunately, the formula which is supposed to turn Wolfe back to a man didn’t work and he despairs. He feels his mind is starting to deteriorate. But then Fermin’s daughter appears and starts to help him.

The Yellow Butterfly by Ashley Capes: Takashi works in a factory for a cruel and demanding boss, Mr. Nishimura. But when Nishimura closes the factory, the former workers have to move or starve. Nishimura’s daughter tries to help the men but she might make things worse.

Aubrey in the World Above by Daniel Lind: Aubrey lives in a world where thieves are sent to the World Above and forced to serve the people there. Her mother has just been condemned and her cruel father forces her to witness how the giant beanstalk springs up and spirits her mother away.

I didn’t recognize all of these stories as familiar fairy tales but I did enjoy them even though none of them were exceptional. The most recognizable ones have interesting steampunk twists. Two of them are based on Japanese fairy tales which I’m not familiar with. Interestingly enough, I thought that Strawberry Sins was based on quite another story until I got the end of the book where each writer reveals the fairy tale his or her story is based on. The book has excerpts from some of the writers’ other books.

Most of these stories are pretty dark, but I guess that’s appropriate for stories with “punk” in them. A couple of them have actually a gothic horror feeling. They have cruel family members and mad scientists. Yet, they all have hope in them, too. “The Clockwork People” and “The Mech Oni and the Three-Inch Tinkerer” are the least grim and “The Copper Eyes” even has an amusing twist on the damsel in distress trope.

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