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.

 

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!)

 

Dead Magic

Review PhotoAuthor: Kara Jorgensen
Release: November 1, 2016
Series:Ingenious Mechanical Devices
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Mystery
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 306
Publisher: Fox Collie Publishing
Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

Immanuel wants nothing more than a peaceful life as a scientist, but his happiness is short-lived when his past demons refuse to go quietly. As body-snatching spirits attack and creatures rise from the dead, he fears his sanity is slipping. Burdened with strange new powers, he struggles to hide them from his lover for fear of losing the only person he trusts. But the woman who shares his soul has a secret of her own. Disillusioned with her life, Emmeline turns to a handsome suitor who offers her a world of limitless possibilities at an exclusive club. Rumors swirl of occult rituals and magic, and Emmeline soon fears he wants more than just her love.

Something wicked is heading for London that threatens to destroy everything Emmeline and Immanuel hold dear. And it wants more than secrets . .

Screen Shot 2016-12-02 at 11.51.18 PM

Review

Dead Magic is the fourth novel in Jorgensen’s Ingenious Mechanical Devices series and is the second novel to feature the characters of Emmeline and Immanuel. Although Dead Magic is a sequel, it is not necessary to read The Winter Garden first. (Although you absolutely should read all of the novels in this series! They are excellent.) Jorgensen provides enough details in the narrative to catch a reader up to the plot line of the new novel.

In fact, I did not follow my usual practice of rereading the prior book in the series before reviewing (mainly because, like most people, I am pressed for time during November and December), but I was swept up in the story without any difficulty. I gave a copy of this novel to a friend who had not read the prior novel and he was able to enter and enjoy the story world as well. The novel can certainly stand on its own.

Spoiler’s Ahead

For readers who enjoy steampunk and neo-Victorian fiction, there is a lot to appreciate in this novel. Set in an alternate version of Victorian Era England, Jorgensen demonstrates her expansive knowledge of the time period. Indeed, by combining the themes of science and fantasy, the author is reflecting the dominant cultural beliefs of the historical culture.

While many who lived during the 1800’s were obsessed with the developing fields of science and technology, a large number were also obsessed with mysticism and “unseen world” that supposedly existed next to our own. The practice of spiritualism was popular at all levels of society. There was widespread interest despite Christian piety in psychic phenomena and the occult. Spiritualist societies sponsored lecture tours, opened reading rooms, and published newspapers where photographic evidence of spirits were presented as proof that contact with the unseen world could be documented on film.

Many of the historical spiritualists were revealed as “fakes,” like Madame Nostra in Dead Magic. They used tricks, and even played with the new technology, to convince the gullible public in their powers.

Emmeline rolled her eyes as the others tittered for her to tell them more. One day back on English soil and they were already falling over themselves to be in Madame Nostra’s good graces. Did they not realize she couldn’t actually communicate with spirits? All it took was one reading with her for Emmeline to discover that Madame Nostra’s spirits spoke in knocks that came from her left foot. It didn’t seem right for her of all people to rise to the top, but with Lord Rose dead, Madame Nostra had the biggest name and the loudest mouth (Jorgensen, 2016).

Emmeline and Immanuel actually have abilities beyond the norm. This adds a nice touch to the story world; although based in history, it is indeed “punked” with actual magic.

The main characters develop further in the newest edition to the series. At the start of The Winter Garden, Emmeline is a young, spoiled aristocrat whose main concern is her place in society. Immanuel is a poor, foreign-exchange student at Oxford University who has to face prejudice due to both his nationality and his sexuality. After Immanuel saves her life with magic, he and Emmeline and bound by their souls.

At the start of Dead Magic, Emmeline behaves rather wantonly (for a Victorian Era lady) by encouraging the attentions of Lord Hale, a fellow spiritualist. She is also bemoaning the loss of her position as temporary head of the London Spiritualist Society. Immanuel has obtained a job as a junior curator at the Natural History Museum and lives with his lover, Adam Fenice. He still suffers bouts of post-traumatic disorder from his torture at the hands of Lord Rose, but is improving.

Once again Immanuel is the character that resonates with me the most; he is intelligent and gifted, but an outcast all the same. His romance with Adam is a secret that should not have to be kept and it offers them as much pain as it does solace. When reading this it is not hard to imagine having to live a double-life where you have to censor everything you say because society would object to your relationship.

Emmeline is growing on me, though. I think it is because she is maturing in the story and looks at the world from an adult perspective. She is headstrong, even when it gets her into trouble. She is determined and does not give up, even in the face of danger. And she is loyal to her friends.

Throughout the novel the characters develop as they face and overcome a multitude of obstacles, including those in the magical and the social realms. The pacing of the story is fast, the detail makes it easy to envision the story world, and the steampunk and fantasy elements are interwoven seamlessly.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys steampunk, fantasy, and/or mystery novels.

Other Books in the Series
Other Books in the Series

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.