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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.

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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.

PS Publishing

Subterranean Press