Ticker by Lisa Mantchev
I got this book a couple of months ago but it took me this long to get around to reading it. I often get burnt out on steampunk books and it makes me hesitate to read a new, unknown book because I'm afraid it will be just like every other steampunk book.
That's the biggest flaw with the genre, IMO, actually, that so often steampunk novels all feel the same to the point where I, who read a lot of them, get really confused about what happened in which book.
Thankfully, once I actually started reading Ticker, I didn't have that problem. While her protagonist may be a bit similar to other spunky, rebellious, trouble-making steampunk heroines, and the romantic lead isn't that distinctive, the world the story is set in feels original and different.
Creating a steampunk world is a balancing act between recreating Victorian England and creating a new sci-fi world. I find most books end up going too far in one direction or another. This book doesn't spend much time at all on world-building, and yet the setting feels cohesive. It's not Victorian England, but there are similarities. It feels like a world that is similar to Victorian England except in all the places where that would be annoying or get in the way of the story. It feels like the author is having genuine fun creating the world without worrying about rules, which makes the book itself fun.
The world is filled with steampunk inventions and contraptions. Steam and clockwork powered vehicles, horses, and gadgets abound everywhere. Many of them really feel original as well, such as a device that taps out Morse code text messages to the characters.
Which brings us to the main plot. Penny Farthing (yes, really) is the heroine. She was born with a heart defect which took the lives of two of her sisters. When she nearly died her heart was replaced with a clockwork alternative, sparking protest in society against human augmentation. Unfortunately the doctor who installed her heart has gone on a killing spree experimenting on his victims to improve his ability to cure Penny.
Most of the book's action is of the breathless running and fighting kind that is very common in the modern steampunk novel. It remains light and fun for the most part, although some of the content is quite dark, since it deals with forced medical experimentation.
There's also a romance, naturally, between Penny and the head of the investigatory agency. This is actually what I felt was the weakest aspect of the novel. We are told about how incredibly attracted these two characters are from the very first moment they meet, but it feels like telling instead of showing, and I never really FELT their attraction. Marcus (the romantic lead) never fully came into focus for me as a character and felt fairly one-dimensional.
Overall, though, this is a fun and imaginative steampunk world to visit. The real strength is in the little steampunk details and aesthetics. I'd love to see illustrations or other visual renditions of this book!