Another thing about my “read 3 books with a theme” is simply this: I have books on my shelf I haven’t gotten around to reading, and I want to make a dent in that pile. Beyond the fact that NPR non-fiction was 2/3 pretty heavy, I wanted to lighten it up a bit. (And BTW, putting NPR in your blog title spikes up people visiting your site. I don’t like that! I just want a quiet corner of the web!) So, I went steampunk.
And… it turns out, a good steampunk novel is hard to find. Then again, a good steampunk DEFINITION is hard to find. For the time being, I will say MOSTLY it’s an alternate version of Victorian England, with a bit more technology and automatons.
Take it from here, Steampunk.com:
It’s “a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, reimagining of, or rebellion against parts of it (the punk). Unfortunately, it is a poorly defined subgenre, with plenty of disagreement about what is and is not included. For example, steampunk stories may:
- Take place in the Victorian era but include advanced machines based on 19th century technology (e.g. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling);
- Include the supernatural as well (e.g. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger);
- Include the supernatural and forego the technology (e.g. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, one of the works that inspired the term ‘steampunk’);
- Include the advanced machines, but take place later than the Victorian period, thereby assuming that the predomination by electricity and petroleum never happens (e.g. The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling); or
- Take place in an another world altogether, but featuring Victorian-like technology (e.g. Mainspring by Jay Lake).”
Well, now I feel better. Check out the Saturday Steam feature on Epbot.com for the aesthetic look of steampunk.
Now, why did I say, “A good steampunk novel is hard to find?” I haven’t had much good luck this month. One was from an author I knew and liked (Gail Carriger, see below). I read a freebie novella, and it was crap. (Basically, it was a supernatural mystery that had the mystery part wrapped up in five pages. BUT IT HAD A DIRIGIBLE!) I had one from the book fair but got bored seven chapters in, so we’ll see if I finish that. I did read Cinder and Scarlet by Meyer, but it’s borderline steampunk and doesn’t quite fit the descriptions above. Oh, I tried to read one book where they ended up on a pirate ship, but I gave up on that pretty quickly. I did find two more that were worthy to be blogged, even if it was B-B+ work.
First up, one of my favorite steampunk writers (because so far she’s been the best steampunk writer I’ve read so far) Gail Carriger, who wrote The Parasol Protectorate series (Soulless, etc), has wandered into YA fiction. Etiquette and Espionage takes place in the same world as Parasol Protectorate. However, this is in a floating finishing school for young ladies/spies. Sophrona was recruited (without really knowing what the school is about) and on her way to school, her carriage is attacked by flywaymen looking for a prototype. The recruiter faints and Sophrona has to save the day. Much of the book’s plot is about finding out where the prototype is and how to survive school.
This was a fun book, and it has potential. Is it the same level as Protectorate? Maybe not. Part of the appeal of the Protectorate was the supernatural emphasis and the romance. I’m an adult that was reading about a world I previously visited (ya know, I went on a word journey).
My next book was slow-going at first, but came together by the end. The Affinity Bridge by George Mann has a Sherlock Holmes feel to it, which, hey, alternate Victorian universe, why not have an alternate Sherlock? Anyway, Sir Maurice Newbury and his new assistant Veronica Hobbes are helping Scotland Yard on a bizarre case where a phantom constable has been seeking revenge on those who killed him. They are distracted by an airship crash, which Queen Victoria prioritized after her Dutch cousin was on the ship. When the automaton piloting the ship is missing from the wreckage, they question whether the automatons are at fault. Big ol’ mystery.
Reading other reviews, I discovered a few other people thought it was uneven. Normally, I have to be forced to put a book down. It felt like it took a while to get into, and to establish three different mysteries was a hard way to start the book. Yes, they weaved together after a while, but it took a long while. Good little story, but debatable whether I’ll re-read it or go into more books in this series.
Magic under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore WAS one I read in one sitting. AND it wasn’t a mystery (although it was mysterious). AND it didn’t take place in London, but a rather imaginary place. So, Nimira is hired by a rich sorcerer, Hollin Parry, to sing with his piano-playing automaton. (Automatons seem to be the biggest steampunk theme, as far as I can tell.) When she winds the automaton, she discovers that it has a soul and needs to communicate with her. There’s a lot of dark magic going on, and only she can stop it.
Overall, cool book. Unpredictable and had a lot going for it.
I haven’t done the grading thing in a while. I’m just going to give these books the same general grade because they’re about on the same level.
Grades: MAYBE high 7th and up for all of these books.
Grade: Solid B’s. I’m punked out for the moment.