Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Steampunk Books

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was bedridden for a few weeks in the last month. So I didn't get a lot of steampunk crafting done. But I did get a lot of steampunk reading done. And I figured I would write up some reviews for various steampunk books I've read. This is definitely not a complete list, but these are the books I have been able to read so far.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist - This is actually the book that started my current obsession with Victoriana and eventually Steampunk. Perhaps I should say it reawakened my obsession with all things Victorian. I've heard people say that this book "isn't really steampunk," but I don't understand that statement. It is set in a Victorian world and the plot revolves around a new type of technology with lots of steampunk elements. A lot in this book feels like the supernatural, but it is, in fact, science, if a highly fictional science. There are three main characters and the POV of the novel shifts between them every few hundred pages. Miss Celeste Temple is one of my favorite female characters ever because she is the epitome of a proper weathly Victorian young lady at the start of the book, but proves to be incredibly tough and smart in the face of adversity when she stumbles on an the plot of evil cabal. Cardinal Chang is an underworld assassin who also discovers the plot and allies himself with Miss Temple. Dr. Abelard Svenson is the last of the protagonists, minder of a debaucherous foreign Prince. The style of the writing is pure Victorian, which may give some people problems. (My husband couldn't get more than 30 pages into it.) But rather than your typical 19th century novel, the book is all action, rushing from one danger to another with barely room for breath. It's an incredibly page-turning book and doesn't feel anything like 800 pages long. (If you're buying it in paperback, you'll have to buy it in two volumes.) On my second reading, I'll admit the book lost some of its suspense and excitement. But I will still recommend it without reservation to anyone looking for Victorian adventure and some of the most memorable characters ever.

Boneshaker and Dreadnought (aka The Clockwork Century series) by Cherie Priest - If I had to pick a favorite steampunk series, it would be this one. Ms. Priest beautifully combines steam technology, alternate 19th century American history, and zombie action. The idea is that thanks to improved steam technology such as airships, the Civil War is still going on in the mid 1870's. In Seattle, a mad inventor inadvertently releases a noxious vapour from underground that turns the population into zombies. So they build a huge wall around the city and leave it to rot. Boneshaker is the story of one woman who has to venture into this walled city to save her son. It's a great zombie story with fantastic characters. Dreadnought is set in the same universe, but the lead is a new character: Mercy Lynch, a nurse in a Confederate hospital. She is summoned to Seattle by her estranged father and has to travel alone across a war-torn country. This is a truly great rethinking of 19th century America that any steampunk should read for inspiration.

The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger - This book series are great fun. They take place in an alternate Victorian England in which vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are out of the closet and part of society (generally aristocrats). The protagonist, Alexia Tarabotti, is a lady mostly past marrying age who has a secret: she has no soul. What this means in this universe is that she has the power to take away the abilities of vampires and werewolves (who have an excess of soul). She finds herself in the middles of a murder mystery and hi-jinks and romance ensue. She's a delightfully forceful and self-reliant female lead, with enough unlikable obnoxiousness to be realistic. The books are humorous and absurd, and make fantastic light reading. I recommend these as vacation books. The steampunk elements include some elaborate goggles, airships, and in a later book the most kick-ass parasol ever. I covet Alexia's parasol.

Avalon Revisited by O.M. Grey - I wanted to read this book because the author is going to be at All-Con in March and I thought I might want to meet her if her book was good. I didn't realize when I ordered it that it wasn't just a steampunk romance novel, but a vampire steampunk romance novel. Personally, I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed it more without the vampires. The narrator is Arthur, the older brother of Henry VIII, who became a vampire before he could become King of England. Three hundred plus years pass and it's now the Victorian period and there's new technology everywhere. Arthur spends his time seducing middle-aged women for sex and blood. Until he meets a young woman on board an airship who is more interested in machinery than in him. Coincidentally, she looks just like his lost love from hundreds of years ago. He sets out to seduce her. Unfortunately, he discovers she's a vampire hunter and to get close to her he joins her and her mentor in hunting down vampires. I have many conflicting feelings about this book. Avalon (yes, Avalon and Arthur!), is a great female character who kicks all kinds of ass. And it's fun to see an unrepentant vampire go undercover as a vampire hunter. But I really dislike the character of Arthur who uses others only for his own pleasure and convenience and kills women casually without a thought. I think we are meant to enjoy watching him come to genuinely care for other people as he falls for Avalon, but I couldn't get over my initial distaste. The beginning of the book features a few graphic sex scenes with muddy consent issues. They were graphic, but I didn't find them titillating at all. Once I started to like the book more, it was a bit of a shame there weren't any more sex scenes, since there is intriguing chemistry between the two leads. I would only recommend this book to someone who really enjoys paranormal romance and is looking for a book with a truly "bad" vampire character. If that's your thing, this is your book. It's only $2.99 on a Kindle, and it's probably worth about that amount.

The Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti -- To be honest, I didn't expect much from this book. It sounds like a romance novel, and I think that's to its detriment. What I discovered is that this book is fantastic. I was left with nothing at all negative to say about it. I'm sad to see it's out of print. But you must read it, so buy it used or get it from your library. First of all, I wouldn't really call this book steampunk, since it's not set in a Victorian world or society. It's first and foremost a fantasy, containing elements that steampunks will enjoy. Ondinium is a fantasy city with a rigid caste system and large analytical engines that perform calculations by which the city is run. The main character, Taya, is an icarus, a messenger who flies with mechanical metal wings. She, unlike most, can travel anywhere and is outside the caste system. After she rescues a member of the top class, an exalted, from an accident, she is introduced into the society of the exalted. And then lots of stuff happens and there are terrorist attacks and explosions, investigations, and romance and a climax that takes place in a huge difference engine. The romance is of the kind that just puts a big goofy grin on my face. The book is long enough and detailed enough that it feels like a full story, not the beginning of a series. I would love for there to be more, but it's not really necessary either. I inhaled this book and know I will enjoy rereading it again and again. Very highly recommended.

The Native Star by M.K. Hobson -- I was given this book as a Christmas gift and I'm so glad. This was another fantastically enjoyable read. Although it certainly has steampunk elements, I'm not sure it should be called steampunk either. (I seem to be saying that a lot. Most of these could be argued either way.) One of the cover blurbs calls it "witchpunk." Set in 1876 in California, a mountain Witch named Emily Edwards has a run-in with a mine full of zombies run amok and ends up with a magical stone embedded in her palm. Dreadnought Stanton, a big city Warlock from back East takes her to San Francisco to get her hand looked at. And chaos ensues, with multiple shadowy groups after them and the stone as they flee across the country. Extremely page-turning, I finished it in a day and a half. The book reminds me a lot of Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century books mixed with the witchcraft novels of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. There are steampunk elements to this world, though they are always mixed with magic. Imagine flying machines made of aluminum and living tissue, wood and brass machines that keep zombies calm enough to work in mines. But the best part of the book isn't the rollicking adventure or truly frightening bad guys. It's the two main characters, Emily and Dreadnought. They both slowly grew on me as the book went on, until I was so incredibly fond of them that the book brought me to tears at multiple points towards the end. And there is almost certainly going to be a sequel, although the author does a great (and rare) job of wrapping up a complete story while still leaving hints of more to come.

Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Foglio -- This is a novelization of the first three volumes of the webcomic Girl Genius. If you are interested in steampunk and you haven't read that, just go now. The comic is wonderfully funny and engaging. My only problem with the webcomic format is that I hate reading stories in little bits and pieces. In fact, I hadn't read any GG for the last year and then just went and read a whole year's worth at one sitting because I like my stories in big chunks. So I enjoyed this novel because I could take in the beginning of the story all at once. I'm not sure how the book would be for someone who hasn't read the comic. It's certainly helpful to have the visuals in the back of your head to clarify what everyone's talking about. But I might recommend this to someone who didn't want to read it in webcomic form or who just prefers the convenience of a book. And then they will probably go back and read the comic anyway. The other reason I bought this is because I can't afford to buy all the graphic novels and this is much more affordable for the amount of story it covers.

There are a bunch of new steampunk books out there and I'm excited to get my hands on them, but it's going to be awhile before my bank account let's me.  But if you have any particular recommendations, leave them here and I'll add them to my wishlist.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! I'm so glad you liked it. Especially since I didn't actually read it before giving it to you... :-)