steampunk


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.

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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.

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.

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