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Bronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre
In a world where a great war devastated both human and Ferisher populations, the Ferisher Architect closed the paths between the mundane and fae worlds, stranding some Ferisher on the mundane, human side. Bloodlines mingled in a world changed by the Architects work, and humans with Ferisher blood, and Ferisher magic, exist alongside their mundane compatriots.
It is in this world that Mikani and Ritsuko work for the Criminal Investigations Department. Ritsuko is the first female in the department, and determined to both earn her keep and prove her ability. Mikani is rough around the edges, and in possession of (possessed by) a bit of a uncanny second sight with proves useful on the job.
A murder involving an obscene and intricate machine sets off an investigation that will turn the city Mikani and Ritsuko call home inside-out. From dance halls to criminal dens, they rush to solve the puzzle before the body count gets too high.
Bronze Gods is a fantastic bit of steampunk, flavored with noir, that flirts with just enough romance to be subtle. The world build is an interesting one- the split between the straight human-blooded and those with a bit (or more) Ferisher in their lineage makes things interesting and has shaped a fascinating sort of culture for Aguirre to work with. Crisp prose and an engaging, enthralling plot keeps this one moving. Recommended.
A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Halloway
“…this visit is clearly not being spent with finding a husband in mind.”
Eveline made a sound a protest. “There was only the one corpse” (A Study in Silks, Holloway).
Eveline is the niece of Sherlock Holmes, and appears to have inherited both his acute attentive curiosity as well as his inability to quite fit in with societies expectations of normal. While visiting her friend Imogen, right before the start of their Season, the body of a murdered servant girl is found in the house, and Evelina finds a letter thick with dark magic hidden on the body. Using that illicitly pilfered evidence, Evelina needs to solve the murder of the servant, lest Imogen’s brother be implicated in the crime.
Halloway has created a world that is a cunning mix of classic Sherlock Holmes and the modern steampunk movement, swirling in just enough magic to attract the attention of urban fantasy fans as well. It is a book that will read well across genres, appealing to a wide audience. Evelina is an enjoyable character, and the supporting cast all live strongly for the reader as well. Halloway has even tackled the great Holmes as well, and done him justice.
As a fan of just about every genre and style this book flirts with, I was quite the happy reader, and I look forward to more!
The Red Plague Affair by Lilith Saintcrow
It seemed an innocent enough charge, hunting down a missing fellow for the crown. But when it leads to a death close to Bannon a situation far more virulent than a simple retrieval rears its head. It will take all of Clare’s considerable faculties and Bannon’s power and ferocity to bring the situation to heel. Personal relations and loyalties are all in a turmoil as Bannon and Clare work to sort out the plague that has descended upon their city, and their world.
The second Bannon and Clare book lived up to my expectations, and then some. Ms. Saintcrow expands on the world and characters she introduced readers to in The Iron Wyrm Affair, keeping a lively pace and readers on their toes with a mix of glee and (sometimes less than innocent) anticipation.
Clare remains one of the most intriguing characters I have run into in quite some time. I find the idea of the mentaths, so different than anything I have stumbled across in the genre, to be utterly intriguing. Between him and Ludo, my interest is well and truly held and I will read for as long as Ms. Saintcrow is interested in writing.
Another fun, fast read.
A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz
Elle wants nothing more to be a simple pilot, flying her small air freighter Water Lily and ignoring social mores. But there is nothing simple about the package her French contact Patrice wants her to carry to London. Within minutes of taking possession of the small box, she is attacked and robbed, saved only by the intervention of Patrice’s associate Marsh. Simple is going to become a very rare word in Elle’s vocabulary as she is pulled deeper and deeper into Marsh’s world. In a world of divided Light and Shadow, where Absinthe faeries flit through bars and Alchemists move through the shadows, a deadly plan has been set in motion. And Elle may just be the key to it all.
If you think you might enjoy your steampunk with a dash of ancient Greek myth for spice, this is the book for you. Toss in enough romance to get my attention without any of the posturing and fussing that generally drives me to drink as a reader and the book, and its wonderfully well rounded characters, caught and held my attention.
A Conspiracy of Alchemists is a fantastic mix of steampunk and sleuthing. Ms. Schwarz has built a world that is rich with familiar fantasy denizens as well as some nightmares and magic that is purely her own and breathes new life into the genre. It will appeal to fans of Gail Carraiger. It is a fast read- mostly because I was unwilling to put the book down.
The Doomsday Vault by Steven Harper
The clockwork plague hits rich and poor alike, turning some into zombies covered in sores that hide from the sun and others into geniuses called Clockworkers before burning them out in fits of destructive madness. The balance of power between nations rests in the Clockworkers and the improbable and often deadly inventions they create before the plague finally takes them. Alice lost her mother and brother to the clockwork plague. Her father survived, but is an invalid. The daughter of a Baron, her chance at redeeming her family reputation was to marry into a good family- but her fiancee succumbed to the plague as well, thus securing her family’s fall from social grace. The debtors come calling, and still her father tries to establish a future for his daughter.
At a social gathering, her last hope, she catches the eye of a rich, unlanded man, and her title tempts him into courtship. Here, at last is all Alice could hope for.
At least in the mind of her failing father. But Alice is eccentric, having a brilliant mind for mechanics that she is trying to reconcile with the idea of being a traditional wife.
Gavin ruins it all- a young man from Boston with a daunting talent for music. He has survived air pirates and the streets of London only to be taken captive by a mysterious Lady in Red Velvet. Circumstance continues to throw Alice and Gavin together, and throw Alice’s attempt at a well ordered, traditional life into turmoil.
A fast paced mix of Victorian era romance and steampunk high adventure, The Doomsday Vault is a riot of zombies, secret organizations, sketchy politics, and mad scientists. I was utterly fascinated with the Clockwork Plague, even with my usual disdain for zombies. The zombies themselves were just different enough to keep them from being a tired rehash of old ideas, and were genuinely tragic entities. The Clockworkers though were the selling point of the book and the world. Mad scientists by disease, not natural inclination, creating things that were so improbable they were fascinating and enjoyable. They were forces of nature, more than anything else, and so wonderfully essential to the world build.
Alice was a fun take on the plucky urban fantasy heroine, and will appeal to fans of Gail Carriger’s Heartless books. I enjoy strong female characters so much more in the Victorian sort of setting- they come off as less abrasive, they tend to be avoid being written like they have something to prove. It is more of a sense that they are just trying to breathe around that damn corset, or to manage walking amidst all that cloth, and that is trouble enough, thank you.
All in all, a very enjoyable book and I look forward to the continuation of the series!
The Falling Machine by Andrew Mayer
Sarah Stanton is the daughter of the Industrialist, one of the founding members of the Society of Paragons- a group of gentlemen adventurers who police New York City. Having grown up surrounded by the exploits and inventions of the Paragons Sarah has the mind and motivation to be an adventurer herself, if it weren’t for her protective father. And the at times overwhelming obstacle of her gender. She is a strong, outgoing female without seeming out of place in her setting- an unconventional woman having grown up in a very unconventional household. Her mother died when she was very young, leaving her to be raised by her wealthy father (who was busy between running his business empire and moonlighting as the Industrialist). While Sarah and her father are often in conflict with each other, there are moments throughout the book where we see how much they love each other, and it keeps the relationship from settling into the designation of being just another plot device.
From the opening, it becomes apparent that there is a traitor within the Paragons. As the deaths and disasters start to pile up, Sarah joins forces with the fascinating mechanical man known as the Automaton in an attempt expose the conspiracy. The Automaton, once a Paragon himself, charged with murder and betrayal and considered nothing more than a rogue weapon to be destroyed, will be stretched thin as he tries to defend those who are intent on destroying him, and get revenge for the death of his creator.
The Falling Machine is set in a Victorian New York City, and between the Paragons and the villains that oppose them, is peopled with characters reminiscent of the Gold Age of Comics. It is a fast, fun read. I was very fond of the old themed style of villains and heroes, and the Automaton (or Tom, as his friends call him) is a fabulous character. I was also very fond of the Sleuth, one of the Paragons and ally to both Tom and Sarah, with his habit of endless inquiry and his ever-present notebook.
There are loose ends, and the book ends rather abruptly as it sets up for the second book in the series. I can understand why the book ended when it did, but there were enough questions still hanging in the air that I worry I will lose those threads by the time book two is released. That being said, I do look forward to reading more.
Ventriloquism by Catherynne M. Valente
“But I am telling this story, and the honor of refracting the angle of the reader’s vision is mine and mine alone.” –Secret History of Mirrors, from Ventriloquism by Catherynne M. Valente.
It is Valente’s unique perspective that makes this book stand out. Each story sings with startling individuality and makes the reader take notice and really read.
Ventriloquism is an eerie and beautiful read, an effortless melding of the familiar and the strange into something that is alluring and horrifying and impossible to put down. It is an exultation of words and images- weaving stories with sensation and emotion, raising goosebumps and heart rates.
It would be impossible to pick out favorites, but the strongest pieces were the ones that crept up on the reader, revealing something familiar from the core of something strange and catching the reader breathless and surprised. Valente has a way of taking rather worn out fairy tales and images and coaxing from them something so new that the original is made stronger as a result. There are beautiful and horrifying relatives to Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White… Valente touches upon some of the most beautiful and quiet mythologies and breathes life into them.
If you find yourself reveling in the way a story sounds, tastes, and feels as you read, this is most definitely the book for you. The words aren’t just written to form the stories, they are the integral pieces of the puzzle and every one of them is carefully chosen and important.
Blameless by Gail Carriger
Blameless will forever go down in infamy as the book that made me run to the store to buy some pesto.
Gail Carriger continues to amuse with cunningly crafted and original turns of phrase (my favorite from this one may be “pickled beyond the gherkin” to describe someone who was well and truly drunk). Much of my time reading was spent being thankful I was not on a plane, as my rather exuberant guffaws would most likely have troubled anyone sitting beside me.
Blameless finds Alexia dealing with being turned out of her husbands house (poorly), Lord Maccon dealing with having turned his wife out (poorly) and Professor Lyall and Foote dealing with their respective charges (very well, with a side of put upon resignation).
There are vampire plots, rove swarms, dashing werewolf heroics, and murderous ladybugs.
And pesto. Who knew Italy used pesto as vampire and werewolf deterrent. I thought it was innocently delicious.
For those following the series, this is another strong addition. Read on, my friends. Read on.
For everyone else, go grab a copy of Soulless, book one, and clear a good chunk of time. The books are more addictive than most controlled substances and you will not want to put it down once you have started it.
“Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings slouched reluctantly over to brace his pack leader from the other side, Together the Beta and the Gamma steered their Alpha down the hall to the central staircase, up several floors, over, and up the final steps to the earl’s tower sleeping chamber. They managed this with only three casualties: Lord Maccon’s dignity (which hadn’t very far to fall at that point), Major Channing’s elbow (which met a mahogany finial), and an innocent Etruscan vase (which died so that Lord Maccon could lurch with sufficient exaggeration).” Blameless, by Gail Carriger, page 29.
Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt
This is my favorite of the series so far. Most of the pacing issues I had with previous books, the sort of situation where everything goes to hell in such a rushed fashion the reader is almost left behind, are delightfully absent in this one. The Commodore drove me nuts, as usual, with his eternal put-upon misery, but even that had a fantastic pay off by the end. I think, after finishing the book, that Commodore Black was one of my favorite characters. His scene at the end is just so visceral. Not punches pulled. And I loved it.
Add in Jethro Daunt, the Circlist priest who was kicked out due do the fact he hears old gods (possessing an amazing talent for deductive reasoning), and his companion Boxiron, the head of a Steamman Knight inexpertly attached to the inferior man-made machine body (with an issue with aggression and stuck gears, not to mention a black market skill set) , and Fire Sea has a cast that not only grabs the readers attention but pulls them through each and every page. Every now and then Jethro appears to be a fantastic hat tilt to Sherlock Holmes, and on occasion made me chuckle with appreciation. His first scene in the book really drives that impression, and I was unable to get it out of my head whenever he was in a scene for the rest of the book.
The main protagonist is Hannah Conquest, ward of the church and math prodigy. She is interesting, but serves more as a reason to bring the rest of the cast together than anything else. Purity and Molly remain far more compelling heroines in my opinion.
The isle of Jago itself presents a creepy, hellish setting. From the corrupting domain of the valvemen to the beasts that roam the exterior of the city there is an omnipresent sense of danger and horror. The book itself is full of murder, conspiracy, and skulking Old Gods, which combined with the setting adds the twisted horror aspect I have come to love and expect from Hunt’s books.
The Ursine race added another interesting culture to the social menagerie that populates the world, and the fact the plot hinged on something more mundane than most of the other novels- race/culture conflict between the Humans and the Ursines- the book as a whole was a more intriguing read.
This is a wholly brilliant addition to the series. I highly recommend picking it up!
‘Rise of the Iron Moon’ by Stephen Hunt
If you have any interest in steampunk at all, this series should be at the top of your to read list. The world build is a perfect mix of industrial and fantastical. The society is delightfully skewed and often brutal, and horrifyingly believable.
This was a book bursting with pure, enjoyable high adventure. As a bonus, the two lead characters from Court of the Air made an appearance, and while they were not technically center stage for this adventure, they worked very well with those who were.
There is a new threat to the Kingdom of Jackals, and it comes in the form of the invading Army of Shadows. The Army leaves desolate wastelands in its wake as its bizarre creatures rape lands to supply the needs of the Masters. It is up to Molly, Oliver, the Commodore, Coppertracks, and young Purity Drake to somehow stop the Army, defeat the Masters, and save their world. There are hijinks and shenanigans aplenty, politics and dark magics.
We get to see more of the Steam Nation and its sentient race of steam men, which I always enjoy. A nice mix of technomancy and voodoo make the steam culture one of my favorites in the books.
As always, it is the tone of this series that brings me back again and again with such delight. High stakes mayhem and cunning social commentary work very well together and make for some amazing page turners.
Court of the Air is the first book in the series, followed by Kingdom Beyond the Waves. They are all brilliant reads, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. They are fun, pure and simple, and everything else ties into that sense of fun and excitement to make one of the most satisfying reads I have enjoyed in a long time.