Unquiet Dead

This month I would like to share something a bit different: my own steampunk novel. I hope you enjoy.–Chris

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Unquiet Dead

Chris Pavesic

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About the Unquiet Dead:

When the Temples north of Chiaroscuro are burned and followers of the Sun Goddess are murdered, Catherine, a bard of the Ealdoth Temple, sets out to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. With only the help of a traveling group of minstrels and a retired fae investigator, Catherine must solve the mystery before more people are killed.

So saddle up your clockwork mount, buckle on your electro-dagger, and join Catherine as she finds herself pitted against members of her own Temple, rogues members of the Seelie Court, and a seemingly unstoppable army of undead.

  • Genres: Steampunk/Mystery/Dark Fantasy
  • Length: 140 pages.
  • Available in Print and E-Book
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Excerpt

Services were scheduled to commence in an hour, and Ernest needed to be ready. He struck a match and lit the first gaslight, watching the flame take hold and flare up. The light pushed back the shadows so parishioners were able to find their way to the pews without stumbling. He would extinguish the artificial lights right before the service so the effect of the sunlight illuminating the darkness hit with maximum impact as it flooded through the skylights.

The parishioners would marvel at how the Temple filled with the Goddess’s Holy Light just in time for the service. Ernest would marvel at the fact that none of them were smart enough to realize he flipped a switch on back of the altar to swing open mechanical shutters.

There was a religious stirring in Grand Marsh more powerful than anything Ernest had experienced in his ten years as a Sacerd. The services at dawn, noon, and sundown were packed. Few of the farmers went out to the fields. They worked in town on community projects or sat drinking at the tavern. Their wives remained in the town square, full of chatter, instead of staying on their farmsteads. Their thin voices filled the air. The youngest children were kept close while the teens clustered in protective packs far enough away to keep their discussions out of reach of their parents’ ears. But close enough to be in sight at all times. None of them wandered off.

Three times a day they filled the Temple, ready to hear his words. Faces tilted up to him. Man and woman, young and old. And none of his parishioners would confess why they were so filled with the Holy Spirit that they were neglecting their farms. They were afraid of speaking blasphemy. But he knew the reason, and it caused a lift in his heart that was not due to religious inspiration. They were scared, plain and simple, and it gave him hope.

Since being assigned to the far parish almost five years ago, a posting he saw as an end to the upward progress of his career in the Temple, he struggled daily to swallow his disappointment. It wouldn’t leave, and it was bitter. Bitter.

In this remote village, far from the bustle and industry of Chiaroscuro, the quality of his life, the texture of his life, changed. He longed for life in the city. The world seemed to have shifted into two zones. The pace of life for the city dwellers increased while people living in the countryside were being left behind.

Time’s arrow struck fastest through the densest populations. Sacerds assigned to any of the major cities made more connections and accumulated more power in a single week than he did in a year. Exerting influence was impossible when the spheres of power were spinning outside of his reach, moving too fast for him to see, let alone have an impact.

The wound to his pride stung the most. The elders had hurt his feelings. To be dismissed so easily, passed along so casually—it was like the swatting of an annoying insect. The Temple elders did not treat him as if he mattered, as if his family ties were consequential. True he was a third son, but of a noble line. And they assigned him to a rustic Temple to attend to common folk far below his station.

Very little was required of him here. Or, more precisely, very little of what he did here interested him. He burned to return to the central Temple and to be part of the intrigues and power shifts. This attracted him more than caring for the simple souls of farmers and shopkeepers. Power was why he joined the Temple, and what he was now denied.

But not for long. The thought clanged in his mind with undeniable rightness. Not righteousness. It was an important distinction. Would the Goddess sanction his actions? Probably not, but he was past caring about her approval. During all of the ceremonies, all of the prayer and introspection, he had never felt any divine presence. He had never witnessed any miracles, and doubted their existence.

But power, oh he had seen the existence of power. Political. Social. Religious. Whatever you called it really didn’t matter. Get enough people to follow you. Enough people to believe in what you were selling. This was the belief that could move the world.

There was only one woman in his life he needed to please now, and she held no divinity. Merci had offered him a way out of this rural purgatory, and he had accepted. Truth be told, he had grabbed at it like a castaway might grab at a line from a passing airship. If the price were the damnation of his soul, so be it.

He glanced out the window at the transport coming down the lane. A high quality clockwork carriage with the Temple’s Crest stamped on the doors rattled over the boards strewn across the irrigation ditch and stopped, parking in the speckled light cast by the ornament trees planted along the lane. The carriage blocked traffic, but the driver did not seem to care. Elder members of the clergy, Hlytere, and above, felt they had the right of way. Others had to go around.

A pale, dark-haired woman emerged and stood for a moment looking around. She pulled the hood of her dark cloak over her hair and walked through the yard toward the Temple. Ernest’s gaze followed her, trying to imagine who this stranger was.

Her footsteps sounded in the aisle and, when he turned from window, she was almost upon him. Her speed startled him. When he saw her face to face he realized she was younger than he had supposed. Too young to be a Hlytere, but her use of the carriage meant she was favored by the Temple elders. The seed of jealousy radiated through him. He felt it in his chest and the pit of his stomach. He struggled to keep the emotion off his face.

“Greetings.” He shook her hand with a firm grasp. Her hands were small and smooth and white. “Will you come in for a moment?” He led her to the small reception room off the main area that contained a round table and several wooden chairs. He lit a cheroot, offered her one, which she declined, and they sat down.

“Please forgive me for calling on you so close to mid-day Services, Sacerd Ernest.” She paused. “You are Sacerd Ernest, correct? It’s not like me to presume.”

“Of course. I’m glad you came. I watched you drive up, you know, and I wondered who you were. We don’t get many visitors from the Temple here.”

“I’m surprised you don’t recognize me, cousin. Of course, I didn’t recognize you. So perhaps it’s not so surprising.”

“I’m sorry. I …”

“I’m from the cadet line of our family tree. My father is the elder son of the younger son of our line.”

His brow creased in thought. “Grace?”

“Yes,” she said with a smile, reaching out to touch his hand. Her fingers rested there for a moment too long. Lingered. And then she leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs, which were slim and bare beneath her robe.

Sacerd Ernest regarded his guest, wondering that her physical presence should suddenly dawn upon him so. She was more beautiful than he had thought at first. Her skin was clear and lovely, and her eyes and mouth were made up carefully and well.

What’s her game? He licked at the perspiration that appeared upon his upper lip.

“I would like your help in a small matter. And of course I wanted to meet you.”

“You did?”

“Our sponsor has spoken of you with such affection.”

“Our superior?” He used the wrong word to see if she would correct him.

“Technically, I suppose, she may be yours. I’ve never thought much of the rules of hierarchy in the Temple.” She cocked her head, listening to noises from the other room. Some of his parishioners had started to file in for the service. “It’s such a mercy, isn’t it?’

Ah, code words.

She must think she’s being clever, although he had no idea who could possibly overhear their conversation. It was only just dawning on him why she must be here. In his town. In his Temple. But he didn’t care. All he wanted to do was get out of Grand Marsh. Get back to Chiaroscuro. It didn’t bother him that people, his parishioners, may die, or suffer a fate worse than death. He just wanted to get out.

It’s not my fault if I’m following orders.

But that was a poor excuse, wasn’t it? Guilt flared, hot and strong.

Do you want to stay in Grand Marsh forever? Ministering to the townsfolk? Do you?

No … but he didn’t want to hurt people. Those conflicting thoughts pulled at him. There was the question of right and wrong. What was right for him might go wrong for others. But that was the way it had to be.

Thus he banished the guilt. When something inside of him tried to protest again, tried to tell him to think before he did this, he smothered it.

“When?” He didn’t have any time for nonsense. The quicker it occurred, the quicker he resumed his rightful place.

“In two days. I have some items in my transport that need to be set up in the Temple, but kept out of view.” She smiled and spoke a little louder so that the earliest arrivals overheard her. “I wish I could stay to help with the Mass, but I am needed back in Chiaroscuro.” She lowered her voice. “Officially I never left the city.”

“Of course.” He guessed that she had no desire to partake in the service. “I will help you with whatever you need.” Whatever may come of it, he had gone too far to stop now.

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Meet the Author:

Chris Pavesic lives in the Midwestern United States and loves Kona coffee, fairy tales, and all types of 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.
Find Chris Pavesic Online:

 

Clockwork Fairies: A Tor.Com Original

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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.