Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: Mirrors and Magic: A Steampunk Fairy Tale

Mirrors and Magic: A Steampunk Fairy Tale

This is the third book in the Clockwork Republic series of (unconnected?) Steampunk retellings of classic fairy tales.  I haven't read either of the other books in the series, but I believe they are all stand alone stories set in the same world.

This book is a steampunk retelling of Snow White.  I always approach "steampunk retellings" with a bit of skepticism because sometimes it's a sign of laziness on the author's behalf.  It doesn't take much imagination to retell a classic story and put a steampunk outfit on the heroine and a brass raygun in the hand of the hero and call it a day.

Luckily, Katina French doesn't seem to suffer from a lack of imagination.  In fact, if I hadn't been told this was a version of Snow White before I started reading it would have taken me a really long time to figure it out.  The story is set in a traveling circus in an alternate steampunk America that seems to consist of small independent republics.  This story takes place in the republic of New Africa, although the nature of the circus means not many of the characters are from there.

The heroine is Neve Bianchi, orphan daughter of the circus' star magician.  The story of the book involves Neve's coming of age within the circus as she seeks to take her father's place.  The role of Evil Queen is played by the current star performer, the aerialist Bella Venezia who jealously guards her position.

I quite enjoyed the beginning of this book as the world of the circus and its characters are introduced to the reader.  But eventually I felt the book started to drag as I waited for something of significance to really happen.  There's so much time spent on seeing the circus from the point of view of all the different characters and catching up on all the events of the last 20 years that it feels like forever before the plot actually starts.

I do wonder if my impressions of the novel are negatively influenced by the fact that I didn't actually read the book myself but listened to the audio version.  When the author offered the audiobook to me I jumped at it because I enjoy listening to audiobooks while I sew.  And while the reader did a serviceable job, I found the pace of the narration to be really slow, which only increased my desire for the plot to get a move on already.   According to Amazon the book is only 180 pages long, which I would have read really quickly, but it felt a LOT longer than that to me.

I would recommend this book primarily to younger readers or adults looking for something to read to their kids.  I felt it was a bit light on plot to really satisfy an adult audience.  It's also fairly light on steampunk elements, although I'm really intrigued by the world Ms. French has created.  The primary focus is on the magical, alchemical elements of the world rather than the technological ones, but I do feel like there's a very interesting steampunk world JUST around the corner from this story.  To be perfectly honest I think I would prefer a non-fairytale story that allowed the reader to see more of the world.  At times this story felt like it was a bit forced into the mold of Snow White and I'm curious what it would have been if it hadn't followed a pre-ordained path.

At any rate, I think the right reader will have a good time with this book, and it shows a lot of promise for the author and the universe.

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