steampunk


Collects issues 1 and 2 of the miniseries.

Writer: M. M. Chan
Artists: Joe Benitez, Martin Montiel

I was a little disappointed when I realized that this collection has only two issues and the cover gallery. This means that the plot must be very straightforward, which it is.

The story starts with a kidnapped little boy. The child is strapped on a table and next to him is a childlike automaton. They both have wires running to their heads. Someone pushes a rolled piece of paper into the mouth of the automaton.

Then we return to Lady Mechanika and the young Winifred, Fred, as she’s called. Fred has noticed an interesting article about murdered young boys who have been the subjects of mechanical experiments. The lady and her right-hand man inventor Lewis go to investigate. Near the crime scene they’re attacked by street toughs but they give up after one punch from the lady. At the crime scene the mechanical gadgets bring to the lady’s mind her own life. She doesn’t know who did her mechanical augments or why. She remembers very little of it but thinks that this case could be related to her past. However, they are interrupted by detective inspector Singh. It seems that nobody else is interested in the murders of poor boys but Singh is investigating them. He joins forces with the lady and Lewis to find out who is responsible.

This story is very different in tone compared to the previous one. This one is focused on solving the murder mystery and because of the limited page count it’s done very quickly. However, I rather enjoyed it and I also liked Singh a lot. He seems to be more complex character than the others and I’m hoping we’ll be seeing him again.

The art is again lovely, if focused too much on the lady’s breasts which are on display in a very non-Victorian way. Otherwise, it has a wonderful steampunk feeling with lots of gears and gyros.

A short story collection of steampunk tales. Most are reprints.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Publisher: Robinson
Page count: 518

Many steampunk stories are set in Victorian England but I’ve read some set in the Wild West settings and of course those set in fantasy worlds with steampunk machines and magic side-by-side and alternate worlds without actual magic. This collection has wide variety of settings from imaginary worlds to Mongolian steppes and rain forests of South-America.

The characters are also quite varied. Some of the stories are from “SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories” so we also get lesbian lovers (no sex scenes), along with the usual spies, adventurers, detectives, and apprentices. The moods of the stories range from adventurous to horror to contemplative. However, especially those stories that are set in the past, racism and sexism is shown affecting the main character. Also, I don’t consider all stories to be adventure but they do have social conscience, so they definitely have a “punk” attitude. In some stories that conscience is hidden, rather than overt and some explore the evils of tech (such as genetic engineering) slightly sideways. A couple of the stories are about the horrors of war.

Tobias S. Buckell: “Love Comes to Abyssal City”: Tia is a young diplomat whose job is to meet the people who come to Abyssal City. However, that job demands that she spends time away from her social duties, spending time with the travelers when they’re quarantined before letting them into the city. Even the day when she’s supposed to meet her future cardmate, she instead spends three days together with a young traveler from another city. She’s fascinated by his stories and him. Perhaps more than she should be because the city itself notices the anomaly when she doesn’t like the man the city has computed to be her perfect match.

A.C. Wise’s “A Mouse Ran up the Clock” is set in Nazi Germany. Simon Shulewitz can build mechanics inside animals and they don’t die. Unfortunately, his skills attract attention from the ruling Nazis.

Cherie Priest: “Tanglefoot” is set in her Clockwork Century series, even though you don’t need to know anything about the series. Dr. Archibald Smeeks is an inventor and a builder but is now quite elderly and lives in the basement of a sanitarium. Edwin is one of the orphans there and does his best to assist the doctor both in work and in remembering. Edwin has his own job, too; he’s building a mechanical boy as a new friend.

Jay Lake: “Benedicte Te”: Algernon Black-Smith is a secret agent for Her Majesty. But someone tries to murder him quite spectacularly with a runaway steam train. Then the Consul-General sends him to a secret mission into the Republic of Texas. However, Algernon strongly suspects that the Consul-General himself tried to assassinate him. So, he must be very careful.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew: “Five Hundred And Ninety-Nine”: This story starts in the modern day Krungthep (Bangkok). Nathamol and Rinnapha are roommates in a university. At first, Nathmol’s biggest problem is that she’s in love with Rinnapha. But when China and America go to war, electricity and other modern comforts are stripped away.

Christopher Barzak: “Smoke City”: The main character of this story has two lives. She lives in the modern world with her husband and kids. But she’s from Smoke City where she has another husband who must work in the steam factories. She also has other children whose destiny is to work, too, in those same factories.

Carrie Vaughn: “Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil”: This is essentially a female Indiana Jones story. Harry (a woman) steals the talisman and then must try to take it back to England in Marlowe’s airship. However, while she and her handsome partner Marlowe have been getting the talisman, the Germans have blockaded the whole island.

Jonathan Wood: “Anna In The Moonlight”: In this world, England has been torn by civil war because some people have had animal parts ingrafted into them and others think that’s against god’s will. Frank is a soldier in that war. The killing hardens him. Until he meets a woman.

Chris Roberson: “Edison’s Frankenstein”: Set in the Chicago World Fair and in a world where prometheic matter has replaced the fledgling electricity as the main power source for steam engines and “Antediluvian” machinery. Archibald Cahabane is the leader of the Algerian Exhibit and he’s trying to get the Exhibit to be built in time. But then a strange man is found and Archibald hears that someone has been murdered.

C.S.E. Cooney: “The Canary of Candletown”: The coal to power steam engines must come from somewhere. Candletown is a coal town where the children born are automatically put to work, with barely enough food to survive. Canary is one of those children. One day she meets with a woman from outside the town.

E. Catherine Tobler: “Green-Eyed Monsters In The Valley Of Sky, An Opera”: Dinosaurs! Opera! Mechanical dinosaurs! In South America.

Alex Dally MacFarlane: “Selin That Has Grown in the Desert” in set on the Mongolian plain. Dursun’s parents are talking about finding a husband for her. But she doesn’t want that because she isn’t attracted to men. However, no other woman is like that and she knows she must do her duty. But then the traders come and with them is a strange looking woman who has many secrets.

Gord Sellar: “The Clockworks Of Hanyang”: MacMillan is a brilliant and famous English detective. He and his long-time friend Lasher are in Hanyang, Korea. They’re disturbed by the local mechanical constructs, the mechanika, which can’t speak and which are built without the knowledge of language. That and the fact that they’re built with the five relationships of Confusious are supposed to ensure that they never rebel, unlike the Western mechanika. However, a mysterious young lady asks MacMillan to investigate on her behalf and he agrees, even though Lasher has more doubts than usual.

Tony Pi: “The Curse of Chimère”: Professor Tremaine Voss has been invited to the screening of one of the first color films, an new invention by alchemists. However, when he arrives, people are running away from the cinema in panic or unable to move and bleeding from the eyes. Luckily, Voss is a very experienced investigator of supernatural things gone wrong. The story’s available for free online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Aliette de Bodard: “Memories In Bronze, Feathers And Blood”: Nezahual used to be a Jaguar Knight. Now he builds mechanical creatures and some of them even come alive. Then Acamapixtli tries to convince Nezahual to start building a different, more peaceful world with his machines. Even the idea is threatening to some. The story is told from the POV of one of Nezahual’s mechanical creatures. The story’s available for free online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Nisi Shawl: “The Return of Chérie”: Lisette is an agent of Kalima, an independent African state. She returns with secret offers of alliance from two different nations to the head of state. She also meets Daisy, who is a secret agent for Kalima and Lisette’s former lover. Oh, they’re both over 50.

Lisa L. Hannett: “On The Lot And In The Air”: A mechanical crow is part of an carnival show where people try to throw rocks at him to make him drop the golden cog in his beak.

Genevieve Valentine: “Terrain”: A steampunk Western. Fa Liang, who builds mechanics, Shoshune siblings Faye and Frank, freedman Joseph and his wife Maria, and Elijah, who is the only one of them who can own land legally, are living and working together on a small farm. They also run a message service where the boys ride mechanical dogs instead of horse. But the railroad is coming and threatening their livelihood and their very lives. Available for free at Tor.com

Sofia Samatar: “I Stole the DC’s Eyeglass”: Pai-te is a servant in the DC’s household. One day she steals his eyeglass. She gives it to her sister who develops a “spirit eye” and starts to build strange things.

Caitlín R. Kiernan: “The Colliers’ Venus (1893)”: Professor Jeremiah Ogilvy is a curator of his own museum and a geologist. When the local miners find a woman trapped inside a mineral deposit, the professor demands to speak with her even though she has killed two men.

Cat Rambo: “Ticktock Girl” is told from the POV of an automata which was built to by wheelchair-bound Lady Sybil to be her legs and fists. A reporter is asking the robot to remember her life and she remembers snippets of it.

K.W. Jeter: “La Valse”: The wealthy with long, long pedigrees are preparing for their annual New Year Eve Ball. Herr Doktor Pavel and his young assistant Anton are making sure the mechanical orchestra functions and that the aristocrats of both genders are property tightened into their mechanical body cages which will make them seem somewhat younger. Then something goes wrong.

Margaret Ronald: “The Governess And The Lobster”: Rosalie has come to Hakuma as a governess for four orphan children. She’s also required to find out if a school should be started in that town. However, Hakuma is a city of transients; both humans and automata rarely stay there for longer than a few months. Apparently, the automata have their own city nearby. The children have had no formal education and pretty much left to their own devices.

Samantha Henderson: “Beside Calais”: In this world, flying machines roam wild, like a cross between birds and horses. Some have been captured and tamed to work and when war threatens, humans start breeding the flying machines for war. In France, the breeding is planned to begin on a seaside farm where éoles and a couple of other breeds of machines still fly wild. Ian Chance has taken a commission to oversee it. On the farm is Ian’s previous lover Claire. When Claire was grievously hurt, crippled, four years ago, Ian ran away. Now he must face her again.

Ken Liu: “Good Hunting”: Liang’s father is a monster hunter and when Liang turns 13, his father takes him along to hunt a hulijing, a fox woman. Young Liang finds out that his father doesn’t know everyone. But the British are building a railroad through China and the old magic is disappearing. Both monsters and their hunters must find new ways to survive.

All of the stories have fascinating worlds. I liked all of the stories although not all of them have adventure. My favorites were “Beside Calais”, “The Governess and the Lobster”, and of course Carrie Vaughn’s story. The stories set in other countries than US or Britain brought a whole new angle to steampunk which I very much enjoyed.

The first book in the fantasy series Thieves of Fate.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: Pyr
Page count: 366

This isn’t the ordinary fantasy world set in pseudo Medieval or Renaissance setting. It’s got two other sentient races but it’s far more technologically advanced than usual fantasy worlds. Most people use guns, not swords. All sorts of mechanical contraptions are become more frequent, at least for the wealthier people.

But what really sets this world apart is its religious philosophy. The Theosophy declares that God and Reason are one. Science and religion are one. God is a scientist, and some believe that life is an experiment. The Reverend Doctors are scientists. There’s no magic as such and the book has only one magical element.

This is a very dark world. Poor people are living on the streets and if you take a loan and can’t pay it, you’re thrown into prison and most likely die there. If you have enough money or right connections, you can do any crime you want. The police are corrupt. Some reviews said the world is Dickensian and that’s a good description.

The story has a lot of POV characters and some of them just disappear before the end. One of those was my favorite character and while I really enjoyed the beginning of the story, I was less enthusiastic with the ending. I found the characters sufficient different from each other that I had no problems following who was who.

Rowena Downshire is thirteen and working as a messenger girl for Ivor who handles both legal and illegal post. Ivor’s got a nasty temper and he feeds and pays the kids who works for him as little as possible. Rowena’s mother is in debtors’ prison and she’s trying to earn enough for both keeping fees and for buying her out. When Ivor’s best messenger girl goes missing, Rowena is sent in her place to Reverend Chalmers’ home with important letters. After receiving the letters, Chalmers sends her to the notorious Alchemist. Unfortunately, a lot of people want the book Rowena is now carrying and she’s robbed of the book.

Rare is a thief. She’s been a thief for most of her young life. While she’s been with her master (and lover) at the start of her career, she’s more independent now. She gets some (or most/all?) of her info from her lover Anselm and uses for her own gain. She’s pretty ruthless and when she gets wind of a prize that many people want, she thinks that she can get it first and sell it to the highest bidder.

Anselm Meteron is a retired thief and now owns several legal places in the city. Rare is his primary mistress and while she infuriates her, he’s very fond of her. When the chief inspector of the city, who is in Anselm’s payroll, comes over and acts strangely, Anselm realizes something is wrong.

Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers is doing important and controversial work with a book that he thinks will change the dominant religion in the world. He’s also nervous because he knows that not everyone will be pleased with that. When the delivery girl finally brings the letters from his partner, he panics and sends the book to the Alchemist. Just in time, because he’s attacked and imprisoned.

Bess is Ivor’s former delivery girl. Now, she’s a courtesan for smallduke Regenzi and he’s young and handsome and doesn’t want anything too difficult. She’s happy to be in a place which feels much safer to her. However, when Regenzi goes to buy something from the Alchemist, that mysterious old man warns Bess that her companion is far more dangerous than she could have guessed.

These are just the POV characters at start of the book. A couple of more are added later.
The two other sentient races in this world are quite clearly not human. The aigamuxa (aiga) are very strong and they’ve been used as slaves before. Their eyes are on their heels and their heads are eyeless. They usually travel by swinging from trees, like apes. The lanyani are tree-like creatures which are used as servants by some richer people. We don’t get much info about the lanyani but the aiga don’t care for humans. However, the human nations have trampled their habitats so some of them no choice but to live in cities. They can be aggressive and use brute strength in combat. While I love weird creatures (Barsoom’s kaldane and rykors!), I’m afraid the aigas’ lack of sight made them some what ridiculous as a credible threat.

The story has lots of mysteries and some are left for the rest of the series. I liked the beginning and the atmosphere of the book a lot. Most of the characters are also interesting, but my favorite character disappears too quickly. Many fantasy books shy away from religion, so it was interesting to see it explored at length here. And I loved the revelations about Anselm and the Alchemist so I won’t spoil them here.

Still, the ending was a bit too predictable and I couldn’t take the aiga as a threat. Almost every time I kept wondering how can they see to do that. It seems to me that they must have some other way to either see or sense their surroundings pretty well.

Still, I enjoyed the book and intend to pick up the next in the series.

I won this book from Books, Bones, and Buffy blog some months back.

The prequel book to a steampunk fantasy series the Guild Chronicles.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Claymore Ulfberht & Xiphos LLC
Page count: 292 at GoodReads

Frederick “Dolly” Williamson is a detective at Scotland Yard, in Victorian London. When sir Francis Chilton, one of the senior partners in a highly influential bank, is found dried to a husk in his own house, Dolly is sent to investigate. He calls in Rose Caldwell, a former nun who has lots of skills and knowledge of the occult. Unfortunately, she’s also considered a witch by the public as well as Dolly’s colleagues and boss. However, Rose’s alchemical devices and magical talent turn out to be invaluable in the occult mystery. Another man is found similarly murdered, and the Home office hoists upon Dolly two French occultists who claim to know who is responsible and want to help in her capture. However, they have their own goals.

This story is set in quite a complex world with both steampunk devices and alchemical/magical devices. The occultists have variety of powers, able to take over another person’s mind, project themselves to astral plane, and even use devices to prolong their lives, but with the expense of another’s life essence. Rose can also summon angels to help her. But mostly she constructs and uses various magical devices. Some can see what magical events have happened in the past, others protect against spells.

While most people don’t know that magic really works, Dolly has had previous experience with them and knows that magic and magical threats are real. He works as best he can in the ordinary world and in the magical world. However, he’s not keeping the magic a secret nor is anyone expecting him to do so. Most people just don’t believe it. Dolly is a diligent detective and questions, as best he can, the wealthy and influential people affected by this case.

While Rose is a former nun, she didn’t quit because she lost faith. Quite the contrary: she was excommunicated because she dared to learn about the magic and use it. She’s very much out of her luck in this story, barely making enough money to rent a small apartment and drinking everything else. She has some quite interesting friends.

The cast is quite large. In addition to the people connected directly to the case such as the French Necronist guild members, we meet Chinese gangsters, Haitian Voodoo practitioners, London’s own occultists, and workers’ rights activists. The story has many POV characters, as well, even though Dolly and Rose are the main characters. A few characters aren’t directly related to the case, so I presume they play a large role in the series and so are introduced to us already.

While the main mystery is solved, this is obviously the first in series book. The ending opens up a couple of plot threads for the series.

This was an interesting read and a very imaginative setting. Rose was definitely my favorite character and the most distinct one, except for the murderer. I also really enjoyed the idea of the French necronists guild and that was expanded well near the end.

However, the book had a lot of minor errors with spelling, dialog tags, and more.

The first book in an alternate reality noir mystery series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Red Dog Press
Page count: 243 at GoodReads

In an alternate USA, four big families rule the city of Bridges. The city has been divided into four quadrants, each ruled by one family, and it’s very difficult to move from one quadrant to the other. The families are Spadros, Clubb, Hart, and Diamond.

Jacqueline was born in a whore house to the madam. She was also a member of a kid gang. When she was twelve her best friend, Air, was shot and she still has nightmares about it. She grew up not knowing who her father was, until one day he appeared. He had made a deal with the Spadros. Jacq was to be the bride of the Spadros heir. Despite being a “Pot rag”, as the very poorest are called, she was trained to be a lady and married Tony Spadros. Except that Jacq loved someone else and never saw him again after she was promised to Spadros. Roy Spadros, the head of the family, is a ruthless, cruel man who delights in torture and beating his wife. But Tony is different. He’s still a man who has spent his whole life in luxury, wanting for nothing. But he’s usually not cruel, only when it serves a purpose. He orders men killed when that’s required but not tortured. And he loves Jacq. Jacq has learned to pretend love but has never forgotten her only love, Joe. She also knows that if something would happen to Tony, she would be thrown back to the streets. So, in secret from Tony she has her own business as an investigator. It doesn’t make much money but she saves what she can.

The story starts when a woman calls Jacq for help. The woman is Air’s mother. Her youngest son is missing and nearby is the mark of the Red Dog Gang. Jacq refuses to help at first but the case won’t leave her alone: she can’t allow the little boy to just vanish. When the little boy’s older brother is found strangled in another quadrant, Jacq knows that she must investigate. But she has troubles of her own: she must support Tony or someone could murder him. She must keep her investigations a secret from him because it would ruin their delicate relationship. She must also keep her investigations a secret from everyone else who could ruin her life.

Jacq has a lot of contacts around the Spadros area, some of whom know who she is and others don’t. She uses a lot of disguises and lies. The story has a lot of characters, as well. Jacq herself is a tough and determined woman but she’s in a very vulnerable position and she also has hard time letting of the past, her childhood friend’s death and her first love. So, she’s also a vulnerable character.

The story is told from Jacq’s first person POV. Since she was born poor and then rose to the elite (although unwillingly) she has a different perspective than many of the other wealthy people. The story touches on the disenfranchisement of the poor, class struggles, and women’s rights, which are, sadly, still ongoing issues today.

The start of the story dropped us readers right in the middle of the story. Explanations came later mostly through Jacq’s thoughts. For the most part, this worked well and I enjoyed the story. Jacq is a very interesting character and her dilemma drew me in. The book is labeled as steampunk but there are very few steampunk elements in the story.

At the end, the current case is resolved (kind of) but the larger mysteries remain. We also get a timeline of this alternate history and a list of characters at the end.

A short story collection focusing on steampunk with magic through alchemy.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Publisher: WMG Publishing
Page count: 237

“The Rites of Zosimos” by Angela Penrose: the collection starts with a story set in a magic/alchemy school. The story has two such schools. A body is found, naked and boiled. Sir Peter Estridge, assistant to one of the deans, is pressured to investigate the murder together with Lady Catherine Morwood, the Grand Dame of the other school.

“Heart” by Leslie Claire Walker: Sebastian is a powerful necromancer who has an unhealthy obsession with Erynn. Sebastian has also murdered Erynn’s love. Erynn can think of only one way to escape.

“Pennies for Portents” by Diana Benedict: Francie’s brother can build really good mechanical machines. One of them is Madam LeGrue, the mechanical fortuneteller which is the only reason they’re allowed to travel with a carnival. Unfortunately, the fortuneteller has started to behave strangely.

“The Order of the Golden Grapefruit” by Sharon Joss: animated chocolate! Fritz’s father was an animator for the army. Unfortunately, the horrors of war have affected his mind and so he and Fritz are seeking employment from one of the best confectionary shops in Belgium. The shop needs are spectacular display of animated chocolates.

“The Perfect Perfume” by Anthea Sharp: Charlotte’s parents were the best perfumers in London. But when they died, Charlotte wanted to continue their legacy. She just needs something extraordinary as an ingredient to create a truly wonderful perfume for Queen Victoria II’s jubilee.

“The Grand Dangoolie” by Ron Collins: Set in WW2, the Grand Dangoolie is the stage name for August McDormand who claims that he knows real magic. The main character’s boss, Houdini, wants to prove that McDormand is a fraud.
“The Whirring Dreams of Aberrant Blood” by Cindie Geddes: In this world, girls with the correct type of blood, called aberrants, can bring mechanical wonders to life.

“St. Jean & The Dragon” by Brenda Carre: St. Jean is a jinni and his master is Jane Watson, who investigates paranormal happenings. Something is stealing people, and everything seems to be connected to the house of an old woman who herself hasn’t been seen in months.

“Weight in Gold” by Dory Crowe: McKenzie Ross is traveling on a steam ship to the US to study there. Her father is also onboard but in disguise because he’s smuggling gold and knowledge from out of Napoleon’s Empire.

“Heaven’s Flight” by Leigh Saunders: Paige wants nothing more than tinker with all things mechanical. This makes her parents cross because they want to see her married well. However, when one of Paige’s mechanical wonders records a mysterious and threatening conversation, she and her maid must do their best to avert disaster.

“Blood Moon Carnival” by Kim May: Fia is a phoenix, trapped in a half bird, half human form by the Ringmaster who uses alchemy to trap various mythological beings into his circus and display them.

“Makes the World Go ’Round” by Kelly Cairo: 10,000 years ago, two technicians were assigned to work on the pyramid at the same time. The pyramid is responsible for keeping the world turning. The technicians fell in love but now one of them has died and the other must find love again, or the world will stop turning.

“Myrtle’s Boxes” by Louisa Swann: The Philosopher’s Stone is in Myrtle Creek’s left eye socket. Unfortunately, the souls trapped in the stone are driving him crazy and he has to find a way to free them.

These were all delightful tales with various steampunk gadgets and alchemy. I highly recommend this collection if you like steampunk at all.

Only two of the stories were really dark, “Heart” and “The Whirring Dreams of Aberrant Blood” the others are mostly fun. As a chocolate lover, I especially liked “The Order of the Golden Grapefruit”.

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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