Selkie Cove

Author: Kara Jorgensen
Release: July, 2017
Series: Ingenious Mechanical Devices
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Lovecraftian | Mystery
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 317
Publisher: Fox Collie Publishing

Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

Immanuel never liked being the museum’s resident seal expert, until a strange specimen arrived: part human, part seal, and a murder victim. He knows the only people who will believe him are the supernatural agents of Her Majesty’s Interceptors.

But all help comes with a price. To become a member of the Interceptors, Immanuel must first convince his lover, Adam, to help him find the culprit. They have a week to uncover the killer or Immanuel will lose the only chance he has to learn about his own arcane abilities.
Upon arriving at Seolh-wiga Island, Adam and Immanuel quickly discover that what the island lacks in size, it makes up for in mysteries. At the heart of it all is a series of disappearances, murders, and devices connected to the island’s sordid history.

Will Adam and Immanuel earn a place with the Interceptors? Or will they become the island’s next victims?

Selkie Cove is Book Five of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. The other books do not need to be read in order to enjoy this novel. Feel free to jump right in!

Review (Spoilers Ahead)

“Magic is more of an art than a science” Judith Elliott tells Immanuel Winter as he struggles to learn to use magic in a world more suited to technology. Judith, a member of Her Majesty’s Interceptors, is helping Immanuel develop his abilities. And he needs those abilities as Judith involves him in investigating a rather unusual specimen that appears at the museum where he works.

Staring back at him from beneath the bath of embalming liquid was a seal with a not quite human face. For a moment he merely stared at it, unable to grasp how the mismatched pieces fit together so seamlessly. While the body retained the shape and grey spotted fur of a seal, the creature’s face appeared out of place with its sharp cheekbones and Cupid’s bow lips, but what held him wholly were the creature’s eyes. They were wide and
round like the seals he had studied, yet they retained the colored iris of a human.

As Jorgensen mentions in the text, so-called mermaids were popular display items in the Victorian era. Fishermen in Japan and the East Indies had long constructed “hybrids” by stitching the upper bodies of apes onto the bodies of fish. P.T. Barnum obtained one of these creations for one of his exhibits and caused quite a stir when publicizing the item. But Jorgensen’s novels are filled with magic as well as science/technology, and the mermaid, also known as a selkie, Immanuel examines is real.

The Interceptors offer Immanuel a challenge—find out what is happening to the selkies for a chance to join the organization. It is an opportunity that Immanuel cannot pass up as it would not only give him the opportunity to use his education and magical abilities, but also provide a way to support both himself and his lover, Adam Fenice.

Adam has been facing challenges of his own because of their relationship. He was fired from his job as a bookkeeper because of social prejudice over his relationship with Immanuel. This sends him down a path of despair. The trip to Seolh-wiga Island in order to help investigate the death of the selkie is a way for him to regroup and come up with a plan for the future.

But a trip becomes more dangerous when Adam and Immanuel try to join up with a Metropolitan Policeman who is investigating multiple disappearances among the human population of the island. There is more danger than meets the eye in the seemingly idyllic setting. And the two young men may end up becoming the next victims in an ongoing war that lies just beneath the surface of the sea.

I received this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review, but I also purchased it from Amazon because I believe in supporting indy authors. I recommend Selkie Cove to anyone who enjoys neo-Victorian novels, steampunk, magic, Lovecraft, and a good mystery. The other four books in Jorgensen’s series are available and I highly recommend them as well.

About the Author

6Chris Pavesic lives in the Midwestern United States and loves Kona coffee, steampunk, and writing speculative fiction. Between writing projects, Chris can most often be found reading, gaming, gardening, working on an endless list of DIY household projects, or hanging out with friends.  She also blogs intermittently at www.chrispavesic.com and tweets @chrispavesic. She became a Steampunk Cavalier thanks to her involvement in The Darkside Codex blog.

 

A Steampunk Writer’s Resource: The Victorian City

  • Authors: Judith Flanders
  • Release: July 15, 2014
  • Genre: History
  • Edition: Kindle
  • Pages: 544
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

BLURB

The 19th century was a time of unprecedented change, and nowhere was this more apparent than London. In only a few decades, the capital grew from a compact Regency town into a sprawling metropolis of six-and-a-half million inhabitants, the largest city the world had ever seen. Technology – railways, street-lighting, and sewers – transformed both the city and the experience of city living, as London expanded in every direction.

Now, Judith Flanders, one of Britain’s foremost social historians, explores the world portrayed so vividly in Dickens’ novels, showing life on the streets of London in colorful, fascinating detail. From the moment Charles Dickens, the century’s best-loved English novelist and London’s greatest observer, arrived in the city in 1822, he obsessively walked its streets, recording its pleasures, curiosities, and cruelties.

Now, with him, Flanders leads us through the markets, transport systems, sewers, rivers, slums, alleys, cemeteries, gin palaces, chop-houses, and entertainment emporia of Dickens’ London, to reveal the Victorian capital in all its variety, vibrancy, and squalor.

SPOILERS AHEAD

It is not necessary to know about the Victorian Era in order to enjoy the steampunk genre. However, authors of steampunk novels, short stories, or other works of fiction should have a familiarity with the norms and conventions of the culture. This is especially true if their works are set in an alternate version of the 19th Century. The historical details—both large and small—which help bring the story to life for their readers. Having a grasp of the basics of the era will also help a writer create a sharper contrast when he/she develops a story world that differs from the historical record.

For instance, dirigibles/airships are common elements in modern steampunk novels. Such modes of transport went out of favor after the spectacular explosion of the Hindenberg. Yet steampunk novels rarely refer explicitly to the potential of these ships to explode. More often than not, the ship is depicted in everyday use. Steampunk authors domesticate a technology that has proven devastating to human life, and in doing so establish a firm contrast between the real world and their story worlds. Without knowing the history of airships, though, would their incorporation into the steampunk world be considered so subversive?

Flanders’s novel provides intricate detail about life in Victorian England during the span of Charles Dickens’s life. It addresses many of the aspects that modern people take for granted. For example, how did people manage to wake up on time without the benefit of an alarm clock? How did the poor and middle-class citizens navigate the city of London? Which city professions were effected by harsh weather? How and why did the slums flourish? How was the grass cut in the city squares? What did farmers do when they wanted to sell fresh milk in town without any type of refrigeration? What happened to all of the human waste created by the inhabitants? This is a smattering of the type of questions Flanders addresses in her work.

The Victorian City delves into the history of the era and provides a good base for any writer interested in creating a steampunk novel with Victorian undertones. I recommend it as a great place to start your research. Flanders provides a thorough snapshot. Whether discussing the daily life of a laborer, explaining the science behind the poor air/water quality, or presenting the causes and effects of violence/protests in the streets, the author uses enough details to bring the subject to life. The book is available in print, ebook, and audio versions.

Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales

Review PhotoGaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales

Release: May 29, 2016
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Humor
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 356
Publisher: eSpec Books

Buy it here: AMAZON

Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 4.44.12 PMBlurb

Once Upon a Time, ageless tales were told from one generation to the next, filled with both wonders and warnings. Tales of handsome princes and wicked queens, of good-hearted folk and evil stepmothers. Tales of danger and caution and magic…classics that still echo in our hearts and memories even to this day, told from old, cherished books or from memory at Grandma’s knee.

Oh yes, tales have been told…but never quite like these. Journey with us through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam.

With tales by James Chambers, Christine Norris, Bernie Mojzes, Danny Birt, Jean Marie Ward, Jeff Young, Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin, Elaine Corvidae, David Lee Summers, Kelly A. Harmon, Jonah Knight, Diana Bastine, and Jody Lynn Nye.

Review

As a fan of fairy tales, fantasy, and steampunk, this collection grabbed my attention immediately. The first story, “In Wolf’s Clothing,” is a perfect play on the words in the title and reimagines the “Little Red Riding Hood” story. “When Pigs Fly” is the story of the “Three Little Pigs,” only now the “pigs” are captains of airships and the “wolves” are pirate vessels attacking the fleet. There are steampunk versions of “Jack the Giant Killer,” “Rapunzel,” and even “Puss in Boots” with clever steampunk inspired titles. “The Steamy Tale of Cinderella” might sound like an adults-only version of the tale until you remember the theme of the collection.

Since space is limited, I have decided to review only one short story in the collection. For a spoiler-free review—if you love any of these three genres, log on to your favorite bookstore and emulate Philip J. Fry from episode 3, season 6 of Futurama. *

Spoiler’s Ahead

It was hard to choose a favorite story in this collection, but I have enjoyed Jody Lynn Nye’s novels for years, so her story “The Perfect Shoes” narrowly edged out the others for the review. I also happen to feel that it is a good representation of the mixture of genres in the collection.

Jody Lynn Nye has written many humorous fantasy series, and has collaborated with Robert Asprin and Piers Anthony, so I started reading “The Perfect Shoes” expecting something clever and light, with perhaps a few puns thrown in for good measure. What I found was something clever and dark, sobering and uplifting, and all-together unsettling. It is a short story that I found myself thinking about long after I read it during quiet, reflective moments. It made an impact.

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From Wikipedia Commons

The story is not a take on “Cinderella,” as one might think from the reference to shoes, but to “The Red Shoes,” a much darker tale originally published by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845. The original tale is based on the idea of temptation and material desire; of being cursed and finding redemption through humility.

“The Perfect Shoes” follows this formula, but with exquisite steampunk details. The shoes, for example, are the creation of a master clockwork maker, M. de Raymond. Instead of being simple adornments, they are fashioned to help the heroine, Monique, fulfill her dream of being the prima ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet:

At her ankles, knees, and hips, there were clockwork joints, gears, and flywheels, but as tiny as those in a fine watch. They would be invisible under her tights. Strangely, the shoes and their attendant gadgetry felt perfectly comfortable, as though they were a part of her body (Nye, 2016).

The shoes allow her to dance beyond her natural ability and she quickly rises to the position of prima ballerina. Monique is willing to trade her soul for her dreams, but M. de Raymond asks for much less. Still, Monique is not willing to keep the bargain she struck. But M. de Raymond does not hold this against her and allows her to keep the shoes and pursue her dreams. Instead, it is her own cruelty to the rest of the dancers and her own pride that bring about her downfall.

Does Monique find redemption at the end of the tale? That would be giving too much away. I recommend reading the tale, and the rest of the collection, for yourself.

*Fry yells: “Shut up and take my money!”
(This, of course, assumes you talk to your computer. Which I do when shopping. Frequently.)

The Mechanicals

Review Photo Author: Nix Whittaker
Release: September 26, 2016
Series: Wyvern Chronicles
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Young Adult
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 152
Publisher: Reshwity
Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

Hara and Gideon are on a mission for the Emperor of the Wyvern Empire. They are to rescue a reluctant bride who has fallen into the clutches of an ambitious Duke. The Duke has plans to start a civil war and commit genocide of the dragons.

Spoilers Ahead

The Mechanicals is Nix Whittaker’s second book in the Wyvern Series. The first, Blazing Blunderbuss, was published early in 2016. It is not necessary to read the first book in the series to enjoy the novel, but knowledge about the characters and the story world can add a depth to the story, particularly at the start of the novel.

The novel is a unique blend of high fantasy and steampunk adventure. There are dragon/human hybrids, pirates, airships, clockwork dragons, and mechanicals/automata. Hara, the heroine of Blazing Blunderbuss, is a tough, intelligent survivor who has difficulty trusting men because of events that happened during her childhood. She and her airship crew were forced into piracy and now, in The Mechanicals, have to face the repercussions of that choice. The Emperor offers her a way out for the entire crew; help rescue his wife’s niece and avert another war.

Gideon, a dragon/human mix, bonded with Hara in Blazing Blunderbuss to save her life. In effect they are married, but Hara’s lack of trust of any man means their relationship has moved very slowly and has not been consummated. Gideon is also the uncle of the Emperor, but not considered part of the royal family because he never entered into his brother’s collection—an additional grouping that dragons join that further establishes kinship.

The thoughtfulness that Whittaker puts into creating each of her characters is evident in the complexity of their interactions and growth. When they arrive at the Emperor’s court, for example, Hara learns more about Gideon and his relationship with his family. Gideon likes being a “rogue” royal and generally avoids the Emperor’s court; he does not like the fact that many of the courtiers would play up to him simply because he is a human/dragon. And the members of the court would prize Hara’s clockwork dragon, Angel. Still, he does want Hara and her crew to be pardoned, so they answer the Emperor’s call.

“The women will try to steal Gideon and the men will try to steal your other dragon.”

For the first time Hara looked at the women whispering in the corridors as they passed. She looked at Gideon and the look in her eye said one thing. Mine. It warmed him deep in his soul and he offered his arm and she took it.

Gideon said, “You make sure the women don’t steal me and I’ll make sure the men stay away from Angel.”

Hara nodded her head sharply, “You have a deal, dragon.”
(Whittaker, 2016).

Screen Shot 2017-01-01 at 3.08.08 PMReview

I recommend Nix Whittaker’s series to anyone who likes YA fantasy/steampunk adventures. I received an advanced reader’s copy of this work, but (as always) I purchased the e-book to write the review. I liked it enough to purchase the first book in the series, so . . . I read them in reverse order. I like to support independent authors whenever possible and whenever I decide that I like a book enough to review it, I put my money behind it. You can read both novels for free if you have Kindle Unlimited, which I received as a gift for Christmas. (My friends and family know me so well!)

 

The Tinkerer’s Daughter

Review PhotoAuthor: Jamie Sedgwick
Release: 2011
Series: The Tinkerer’s Daughter trilogy
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | YA
Edition: Kindle and Paperback
Pages: 290
Publisher: Timber Hill Press
Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

Breeze is an outcast, a half-breed orphan born into a world torn apart by a thousand years of war. Breeze never knew her elven mother, and when her human father is recalled to the war, he leaves her in the safest place he knows: in the care of a reclusive tinker.

The Tinkerman’s inventions are frightening at first -noisy, smelly, dangerous machines with no practical use- but when the war comes home, Breeze sees an opportunity. If she can pull it off, she’ll change the world forever. If she fails, she’ll be considered a traitor by both lands and will be hunted to her death.

Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 3.13.33 PMReview

I purchased this novel through a free offer in Bookbub and I have subsequently purchased the other two novels in the series. I am looking forward to reading them over the holidays—preferably curled up on the couch with a cup of eggnog-flavored latte by my side. This series is a mixture of the fantasy and steampunk genres. It is appropriate for YA readers.

Spoilers Ahead

As a child of four, Breeze’s father leaves her with the Tinkerman. He has been called to fight in a war with the Tal’mar—elf-like creatures that live in the neighboring realm. Breeze is half human and half Tal’mar and is an outcast in both worlds; although she has the build and coloring of a human, she has the ears of a Tal’mar and would be shunned in either kingdom.

Although leery at first when meeting him, there were new and exciting things for Breeze to discover at the Tinkerman’s cottage. This is where the steampunk elements start to come into the storyline.

It was dark inside, until Tinker pulled a metal switch on the wall. A shower of sparks rained down from the ceiling, and a dim light flooded the room. I glanced up at the odd device and saw a glowing coil of metal attached to two thick wires. My father paid little attention to this gadget, but to me it may as well have been magic. I had never seen anything like it. Our small cabin had always been lit by candles and oil-burning lanterns. This was something new, something exciting!
(Sedgwick, 2011).

I enjoyed the description of the Tinkerman’s cottage and barn. There were mazes of books, piles of gadgets, strange devices, and stacks of wood and metal parts scattered everywhere. While Breeze is getting used to these items and learning how to “tinker” and invent from the Tinkerman, she also develops magical abilities from the Tal’mar side of her heritage. She has the ability to connect with the trees, for example, and they communicate with her and help her to travel.

This is an enjoyable story with a positive, upbeat heroine. It is a first person narration that develops as Breeze ages and grows in knowledge and understanding. Yes—bad things happen in the novel, but Breeze focuses on using her natural gifts to improve the situation. For example—after Breeze learns that both humans and Tal’mar would hate and distrust her because of the war, she considers the situation:

How could I have been born into a world so cruel? I’d started out knowing nothing about the world, and had found that the more I knew, the more I hated it. I didn’t like feeling that way. I didn’t like the hopelessness that was gripping me,
the promise of a future full of loneliness and rejection. Then something happened. It was like a switch got flipped in my mind. I’m going to change things, I decided. I’m going to find a way to make them like me. I’m not going to live my whole life like a hermit in the mountains, even if Tinker says I will. Someday I’ll be able to go to town, maybe even live there…
(Sedgwick, 2011).

This is a child’s thought after experiencing the hateful prejudice of the human townspeople, but the core idea never leaves her mind. As she ages, Breeze focuses on ways to change the situation and bring about an end to the war.

Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 6.25.03 PM Breeze was not willing to give up on living in society. After reading a lot of novels with angst-filled heroes/heroines, this was a pleasant departure for me. It reinforced the idea that a person does not have to fundamentally change who he/she is to find a place in society. It is, essentially, a story about staying true to your ideals and beliefs.

The Tinkerer’s Daughter is an enjoyable YA novel. Sedgwick has created an interesting story world that contains an equal amount of steampunk and fantasy aspects. I am anxiously waiting for the holidays so that I have enough time to finish the series.

Steamborn by Eric R. Asher

SteambornSteambornPerm is an incredibly fun steampunk novel with an adventurous tinker’s apprentice at the lead. Within the first chapter I was entranced by a world that reminded me of many of my favourite anime settings, a city with massive walls to keep out terrifying deadly bugs. Bugs who are often at least as big as the main character and who have fun names like Red Death and Widow Maker.

You’ll also find Spider Knights in the book, trained warriors who ride giant spiders. Which, as someone who used to have arachnophobia, was simultaneously awesome and terrifying to read about. The spiders–along with all the other bugs–are described with details so realistic it actually made my skin crawl.

Anyway, enough about the bugs. Steamborn is about much more than bugs. It’s a book with many layers and many questions, including deeply unsettling questions about the nature of history and humanity. Or, put another way: you know a book asks some heavy questions when you’re reading it and you start to wonder how Hitler would have written the history books if he won.

When I post this review on Goodreads I will definitely be giving this book four out of five stars.

Want to know more? Here’s the full blurb:

Jacob, a tinker’s apprentice and sometime thief, has lived his entire life in the mountain city of Ancora, protected by the city walls. These towering barriers keep the Deadlands creatures at bay, but the monsters move higher into the peaks every year. More and more, they breach the defenses of the Lowlands while the Highlands rest easy.

A swarm overruns the walls and wreaks utter devastation on the Lowlands. Charles, the old tinker, suspects the attack may not be natural. With help from Jacob’s closest friend, Alice, and Samuel, one of the city’s elite spider knights, Jacob and Charles will uncover a terrible darkness at the heart of their city.

Does that sound awesome to you? Purchase Steamborn here. 

Author Bio

Eric R Asher ProfileEric is a former bookseller, cellist, and comic seller currently living in Saint Louis, Missouri. A lifelong enthusiast of books, music, toys, and games, he discovered a love for the written word after being dragged to the library by his parents at a young age. When he is not writing, you can usually find him reading, gaming, or buried beneath a small avalanche of Transformers.

The City of Blind Delight

Review PhotoAuthor: Catherynne M Valente
Release: 2012
Anthology: Other Worlds Than These
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Sci-Fi
Edition: Kindle
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

What if you could not only travel any location in the world, but to any possible world?

A train exists that passes through every city—and every possible city—in the world. Gris, a businessman in the Windy City, unknowingly steps aboard and enters the station for the City of Blind Delight where everyone has what they need to survive, but not necessarily what they want . . .

Major Spoiler’s Ahead

“The City of Blind Delight” is a short story in Other Worlds Than These, an anthology that explores the theme of other worlds and the road not taken. Valente’s story is a wonderful example of the genre. It is one of those stories where there are touches of steampunk, of fantasy, and of sci-fi. Some readers may not feel that it is “strictly” steampunk because it lacks certain elements, such as a setting inspired by Victorian England or the American West. However, I would argue that Valente creates a blended genre that simply has a little more “punk” than “steam.” And really, aren’t both of those words important to the genre?

As an additional warning—there is no way I could review this story without spoilers and do it justice. If you want to be surprised at the ending, skip this until you read the short story.

There is a train which passes through every possible city. It folds the world like an accordioned map, and speeds through the folds like a long white cry, piercing black dots and capital-stars and vast blue bays. Its tracks bound the firmament like bones: wet, humming iron with wriggling runnels of quicksilver slowly replacing the old ash wood planks, and the occasional golden bar to mark a historic intersection, so long past the plaque has weathered to blank (Valente, 2012).

The story begins with a missed connection that almost mirrors a romantic plot: an unnamed woman in black glasses stands on the platform waiting for the train to Blind Delight. But she did not know what she was waiting for or how to recognize the correct train from all the other graffiti-barnacled leviathans. Gris brushes her elbow as he hurries through the doors. She longs to follow him even though it is too late, and wonders why she feels this way.

Gris falls asleep on the train and does not hear the station call, but the train waits for him to wake. He enters Blind Delight, “where the station arches and vestibules are formed by acrobatic dancers, their bodies locked together with laced fingers and toes, stretching in shifts over the glistening track, their faces impassive as angels” (Valente, 2012).
In the city everyone either works for the line, usually as a Station Dancer (a member of the human ceiling) or as a prostitute: As he wanders through the station, Otthild, a woman who works both professions, picks up Gris.

The edges of the railroad curl out into the valley, and drag up a town from the earth, whatever town the Conductor dreams of that day, whatever city the tracks long to see. And so there is a river of brandy, and the lime-tart trees, and roads of bread. The Line brought folk, and they stayed (Valente, 2012).

Blind Delight is a city without need. Cattle that have been roasted brown and glistening wander through the city with knives in their flanks. They contentedly offer their flesh to those who are hungry. The river is filled with a rich brandy. The houses are made of brown cake. The streets are paved in bread. Yet, as Gris jokes about how he would pay for Otthild’s services in “a city without want,” she responds, “no one is without want.” There is a difference between “want” and “need” that he has yet to comprehend.

Otthild tells Gris that her mother was a ticket-taker for the line who went down to the edges of the railroad to find the gold spike laid there at the beginning of time. Her mother laid next to the golden spike and cried for the man who lost his life when laying the gold spike; it was there Otthild was conceived—part human, part clockwork, and part gold:

Her skin opens, soft as cloth, and her bones, and her lungs, peeling back like gift-box tissue. Beneath all this is her heart, and it is golden, gleaming, bright at the bottom of her body. A good part of her blood is gold, too, flowing out from the metallic ventricles. She is terrible, and crisp, and clear, a Jacobean diagram of womanhood, her heart burning, burning, burning golden as God (Valente, 2012).

The people of Blind Delight are collectors, she informs Gris. Since food and shelter are completely fulfilled, what people want is refined. Otthild’s mother wanted to see the gold spike. She wanted a child. When Otthild was born, she polished her daughter’s heart every night before bed. Another woman collects calf’s tails. Otthild collects return train tickets.

Gris gives her his ticket, even though he has no reassurance that he can return home. Otthild tells him:

Maybe they would sell you a new one. Maybe they would let you inside. Maybe not. We are often perverse. Maybe the Station is full of Midwesterners trying to buy a ticket home with everything they own, even flesh, even bone.

Back in Chicago the woman in black glasses steps onto the train . . .

Review

“The City of Blind Delight” is a short story that I highly recommend. It has a unique mixture of steampunk, fantasy, and sci-fi; it is not easy to plug it into a particular genre. It leaves a reader guessing—is Gris dead? Is he in heaven or in hell? Does he sell his chance at redemption (to leave on the train) for one night with Otthild? Or is he making a conscious choice to stay and enjoy what the world has to offer? It is up to the reader to decide.

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The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall

Review Photo

Author: Chris Dolley
Release: 2016
Series: Reeves & Worcester
Genre: Steampunk | Mystery | Humor
Edition: Ebook
Pages: 246
Publisher: Book View Cafe
Buy it here: Book View Cafe

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 11.29.18 PMBlurb

Wodehouse steampunk version of The Hound of the Baskervilles!

An escaped cannibal, a family curse … and Reginald Worcester turning up on the doorstep. Could things get any worse for the Baskerville-Smythe family?

As the bodies pile up, only a detective with a rare brain – and Reggie’s is so rare it’s positively endangered – can even hope to solve the case.

But… there is the small matter that most of the guests aren’t who they say they are, the main suspect has cloven feet, and a strange mist hangs over great Grimdark Mire.

Luckily the young master has Reeves, his automaton valet, and Emmeline, his suffragette fiancée, on hand to assist.

This novel is the fifth Reeves & Worcester Steampunk mystery and is set a few months after The Aunt Paradox. The first two stories were published in the ebook, What Ho, Automaton! And the first four stories were published in the trade paperback, What Ho, Automata.

 

 Spoiler’s Ahead

The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall begins when Reggie decides to visit his fiancé, Emmeline, who has been shipped off to Baskerville Hall. Her relatives do not approve of their engagement and hope that she will forget about him and agree to marry the heir to the Baskervill-Smythe title. Reggie concocts a plan to visit Baskerville Hall by posing as a long-lost relative named Roderick and convinces Reeves, his steam-powered automaton valet, to go along with the plot.

The family accepts Reggie as one of their own, although the matriarch of the family, Lady Julia, declares him to be an idiot at first sight. It is not long after he arrives that the murders start to occur and Henry, the heir, agrees to let Reggie and Reeves investigate.

This is where the steampunk elements of the story really come into play. The first “murder” at the household concerns an automaton gardener. The family does not consider this to be a “real” crime, and even Reggie has his doubts:

“Is this even a murder?” I asked. “Can a machine be murdered?”

“If that was Reeves under the log pile, you’d call it murder,” said Emmeline.

“That goes without saying,” I said. “No log would go unturned. But, philosophically, would it be murder? Automata can be repaired.”

Reeves coughed. It wasn’t a philosophical cough. “If I may contribute to your musings, sir, I would point out that humans can be reanimated.”

“I don’t think that’s quite the same, Reeves,” I said.

Reeves expression turned distinctly sniffy. I wouldn’t have liked to have met either of his eyebrows in a dark alleyway.

“Would that be because automata are not regarded as having souls, sir?”
(pp. 48-49).

Is it right to treat sentient machines as mere tools? Should reanimated humans have the same rights as those who have not yet died? Who can say for certain whether someone, or some thing, has a soul? Moments of grave, philosophical discussion are interspersed throughout the story, but never become overwhelming. They add a layer of complexity that makes the storyworld interesting.

Although The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall is part of a series, it can easily be read as a solo novel. The influence of P.G. Wodehouse (an English humorist) can be seen in the characters of Reggie and Reeves (akin to Bertie and Jeeves). There are also obvious similarities between The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Fans of the mystery genre will recognize elements from other great mystery writers, like Agatha Christie. (Reggie’s mention of “little grey cells” calls to mind the character of Hercule Poirot). But few casual mystery readers will draw a parallel between the novel and the story that is recognized as the first modern detective story, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

For those who are only familiar with Poe as a writer of “spooky” poetry, it will come as a surprise to learn that he invented the conventions many readers equate with the modern detective story, such as a brilliant, though odd, detective, his/her personal friend who serves as narrator, and the final revelation (dénouement) being presented before the reasoning that leads up to it. The murderer in Poe’s story (MAJOR SPOILER) is an orangutan that has escaped from his owner. In a clear parallel, one of the chief suspects (at least in Reggie’s mind) in The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall is the household orangutan, Lupin: “Butlers and orangutans—it was usually one or the other that did it” (p. 48).

Did the orangutan commit the murders in Baskerville Hall, or is there something more nefarious afoot? Readers will have to pick up the novel to find out.

Review

The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall is the type of a novel where familiarity with the mystery genre and with the foibles of famous master detectives from other series helps a reader “get” the humor. This familiarity, however, will also make the mystery fairly obvious. This did not negatively affect my enjoyment; I was in the mood for something light and it did not bother me that I was able to guess the outcome based on my knowledge of The Hound of the Baskervilles and other Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot mysteries. In fact I would say this is a positive attribute, because it made me feel pleased with myself as a reader, and perhaps a bit smug.

Still, like watching an episode of Columbo, where the viewer “sees” the murder and then watches how the detective solves the case, it is important to remember that the reader has the advantage. In this case my advantage was in reading so many British murder mysteries over the years that I now expect someone to break into a dénouement at the end of every social gathering. (Hasn’t happened yet—more’s the pity.)

Humor is a genre I would love to see explored more in a steampunk world. Many of the works are serious and thought provoking; moments of laughter, especially slapstick, are few and far between. The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall makes for a fun summer read: the steampunk elements are essential to the story, the characters are engaging, and the dialogue is lively. In addition, fans of the mystery genre should have an enjoyable time seeing their favorite detectives parodied.

 

Clockwork Fairies: A Tor.Com Original

Review Photo
Author: Cat Rambo
Release: February 1, 2011
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 24
Publisher: Tor Books
Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

Desiree feels the most at home with her clockwork creations, but Claude worries about all this science and Darwinist nonsense—after all, where do clockwork fairies fall in the Great Chain of Being?

Review—with Spoilers

John Barth described Cat Rambo’s writings as “works of urban mythopoeia” — her stories take place in a universe where chickens aid the lovelorn, Death is just another face on the train, and Bigfoot gives interviews to the media on a daily basis. Clockwork Faeries is another entry into this type of world where steampunk and magic exist side-by-side.

Clockworks Faeries is the story of Desiree, a mulatto heiress who grew up in Rambo’s reimagined Victorian Era England ostracized from upper class London society simply because of the color of her skin. It is told through the point of view of Claude, her fiancé, who is a traditional English gentleman, Oxford Dean, and stout believer in the religious dictates of the Church of England.
What makes Rambo a masterful writer is her use of conversation, interior monologue, and immediate events to describe the world in which Desiree lives. There are no long passages of exposition; the readers see the world through the eyes of Claude, mostly at the same time that he experiences it. (Some immediate events and conversation will trigger a short reminiscence on his part that directly applies to the storyline.)

The story opens with Claude visiting Desiree’s house one Sunday evening and encountering her newest creations:

At first I thought them hummingbirds or large dragonflies. One hung poised before my eyes in a flutter of metallic skin and isinglass wings. Delicate gears spun in the wrist of a pinioned hand holding a needle-sharp sword. Desiree had created another marvel. Clockwork fairies, bee-winged, glittering like tinsel. Who would have dreamed such things, let alone made them real? Only Desiree.
(Rambo, 2011)

Throughout the story Desiree continues her work and builds even more complex creatures. While he marvels at them, Claude also disapproves. He is very much concerned with appearances and the ways that society views both himself and his fiancé. The members of the upper class will not care about her inventions; they will only care about how she dresses, speaks, and behaves at social functions. Throughout the story Claude gives the impression of a weak man who almost blindly follows the values of his society, except for his fascination with Desiree.

This is what makes their love story tragic. Desiree is attracted to Claude because of the way he looks and his position as a Dean at Oxford. Being accepted in a society that made her late mother a near shut-in is important to her, but it hurts when the color of her skin exposes her to stares and outright snubs by others of her class.

Claude finds her beautiful and enjoys her company, but believes she could be so much more: “Dressed properly,” he tells her “you would take the city by storm” (Rambo, 2011). In effect, he is sometimes blind to the reactions of others. “Did you not see Lady Worth turn away lest she contaminate herself by speaking to a Negro? Or perhaps you did not overhear the sporting gentleman laying bets on what I would be like between the sheets?” she asks him after a social gathering (Rambo, 2011). He is shocked that such words would come out of her mouth and does not think to comfort her over the insults she suffered.

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Clockwork Fairies: A Tor.Com Original

Desiree’s father, Lord Southland, actively discourages the marriage because he believes Claude is not intellectual enough for his daughter and believes too much in religion. Claude admits that he is interested in Desiree for her inheritance as well as her beauty, but that is not unusual in the Victorian Era where marriages were arranged more often than not among the upper class based on social position and wealth. Lord Southland does everything in his power to entice Desiree to reject Claude’s offer. But Claude has something his daughter wants: a place in society where she will be accepted. They both want what the other has to offer; even though it is not everything they would wish.

A twist of fate intervenes when Lord Tyndall, an Irish noble and landowner, takes an interest in Desiree’s clockwork designs. Tyndall invites Desiree, her father, and Claude to his estate for a shooting party. Desiree is delighted, for she had enjoyed speaking to Tyndall about her work and wants to see the countryside that inspired her design for the clockwork faeries. Although he feels that Tyndall might have ulterior motives for the invitation, for the man seems entranced by Desiree, Claude agrees to the journey. There, isolated from English society in a castle overlooking the Irish seaside, they are able to look at each other, and their own desire to pursue the marriage, clearly.

I enjoyed Clockwork Faeries a great deal.  Cat Rambo weaves a wonderful tale with settings and characters that I enjoyed.  The steampunk elements are essential to the story and the “touch” of magic in the Irish castle by the sea is not overdone; it adds a sparkle to a story and helps push Claude and Desiree toward a resolution that they may not have otherwise reached.

This is a “recommended read” for anyone who enjoys Neo-Victorian Era Steampunk and Fantasy.

 

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Review PhotoRelease: September 29, 2015
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: The Cinder Spires
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Adventure | Humor
Edition: Kindle and Audio
Pages: 640
Publisher: ROC
Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

Review

I am a fan of Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files, so I admit to being excited by the fact that he had plans for a new series set in a steampunk world. These last two months have been a busy time for me professionally, so I purchased both the Kindle and the Audible editions of the novel hoping to save a bit of time with the Whispersync function. (When I review a book I generally read it two times and take notes. This is a bit longer time commitment than simply reading a novel for pleasure.) Unfortunately I have Apple products (iMac and iPad) and Whispersync does not work with them. The iMac and iPad Audible versions did not sync with each other either. Ah well—the best laid plans of mice and men! I am glad, though, that I purchased both: Euan Morton narrates the Audible version and he is such a versatile actor it is almost impossible to believe one person is voicing each character. This is a book I will listen to again.

Spoilers Ahead

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a wonderful addition to the steampunk genre. It is not set in Victorian England or the American West, although these time periods do serve as touchstones of inspiration. It is set in its own world and it incorporates unique aesthetic touches.

The world-building in this series is incredibly detailed, yet is not intrusive to the narrative. It takes a deft touch for a writer to include so much information without it bogging down the story, but Butcher is able to achieve this. I believe that Butcher succeeds because of his experience as a writer—because of his years of honing his craft. If you are interested in a “behind-the-scenes” type view of writing, visit Jim Butcher’s Live Journal. It contains detailed, step-by-step posts on how to write a novel.

The steampunk elements are essential to the story. Airships, spire cities at war, and almost magical seeming gauntlets that shoot out beams of light are part-and-parcel of life for the characters. The society is structured and multi-leveled.

One interesting aspect of the society is the (mostly) mandatory military service for the children of the wealthier/aristocratic houses. Families who have only one child do not have to send their heir into service, but most of them do so despite the danger. It is a particular badge of honor to serve. The tradition in the novel reminds me of the real-life service that Great Britain’s royal family has partaken in over the last few generations. Prince Harry, the second child of Prince Charles, even served in active duty in Afghanistan.

Although there is a heavy focus on aristocratic members of society in the first novel of the series, the characters run the gamut of society: Bridget, scion of a once-prominent noble house on the verge of ruin and her talking cat, Rowl, Highborn Gwendolyn Lancaster, her “warrior born” cousin, Benedict; the disgraced Captain Grimm; and master etherealist Ferus and his assistant, Folly, are a motley group of grizzled veterans and novices that are sent off to stop the mysterious force behind a very coordinated and deadly series of attacks on Spire Albion by its rival, Spire Aurora.

The chapters are narrated by different points of view. The character location is presented in a sub-heading at the start of each chapter and the voice of each is unique. It is not difficult to determine who is speaking simply by the diction each one uses. This is particularly effective with Euan Morton’s narration in the Audible book where he does an excellent job portraying the diversity of each character’s manner of speech.

The battle scenes, both on the ground and between the airships, are thrilling. It has elements of the swashbuckling adventures of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brien and just a touch of Joss Whedon’s Firefly:

“Evasive action!” Grimm ordered. The distant screaming roars of the Itasca’s guns continued, and he heard the hungry hissing of blasts streaking through the mists around them, making them glow with hellish light. They had been lucky to survive a single glancing hit. Thirty guns raked the mist, and Grimm knew the enemy ship would be rolling onto her starboard side, giving the
gunners a chance to track their approximate line of descent. If the same gunner or one of his fellows got lucky again, Predator would not be returning home to Spire Albion.

Jim ButcherThe action rarely stops in this novel and the world is a steampunk-themed playground waiting for Butcher to explore in future novels. What lies on the surface of the world? What created the mists? And what game is Albion, ruler of Spire Albion, playing? Readers will have to wait for those answers as the series develops.