Heir of Thunder

  •  Author: Karissa Laurel

Release: 2016

Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy

Series: Stormbourne Chronicles

Edition: Kindle

Publisher: Evolved Publishing, LLC

Blurb

The Lord of Thunder has passed, leaving daughter Evelyn Stormbourne to overcome her kingdom’s greatest enemies, but first she must embrace her dominion over the sky.

The Lord of Thunder’s sudden death leaves his daughter, Evelyn Stormbourne, unprepared to rule Inselgrau in his place. Weeks before Evie’s ascension to the throne, revolutionaries attack and destroy her home. She conceals her identity and escapes under the protection of her father’s young horse master, Gideon Faust. Together they flee Inselgrau and set sail for the Continent, but they’re separated when a brutal storm washes Evie overboard.

In her efforts to reunite with her protector and reach allies on the Continent, Evie befriends a band of nomads who roam the world in airships fueled by lightning. She also confronts a cabal of dark Magicians plotting to use her powers to create a new divine being, and she clashes with an ancient family who insists her birthright belongs to them.

If she’s to prevail and defeat her enemies, Evie must claim her heritage, embrace her dominion over the sky, and define what it means to be Heir of Thunder.

REVIEW: SPOILERS AHEAD

Evie Stormbourne is the last in a long line of rulers who can control the weather, especially thunder and lightning, to a devastating effect. Throughout the generations the power has weakened, though, and when the story begins Evie’s powers are only a pale shadow of her ancestor’s abilities.

When her father is killed Evie manages to escape with the help of her father’s master of the horse, a young man named Gideon. Although Evie travels incognito, she is in constant danger of discovery because she is being hunted. There are multiple forces at play, and there are those who want to steal her birthright.

Complications arise and Evie is separated from her protector. She is forced to face certain truths about her situation. Why was her father overthrown? Will she avoid the fate others have plotted for her? Does she want to conquer the land her family ruled for centuries? Will she take control of her own destiny?

Evie is an easy character to like. She starts as a very pampered, innocent young woman who has never ventured far beyond the bounds of her father’s estate. She has no idea why her father has been killed and her family home is under siege. She has limited basic survival skills. But she cannot remain in the role of “damsel in distress” and hope to survive. She learns about life iduring her travels, she experiences the world, and she becomes a force to be reckoned with by the end of the novel. (Although, as Laurel hints in the narrative, Evie has a long way to go before developing her full Stormbourne potential.)

The world contains a mixture of historically accurate devices and steampunk inventions. The amount of technology available seems to depend upon a character’s station in life. For instance, most of the characters travel by horse or sailing ships, but more fortunate others travel in dirigibles. It is a distinctive way to divide the classes.

When Fallstaff, the traditional seat of power for the Stormbourne rulers, is under attack, the steam-driven machines are protected by regular army troops:

One of my father’s war manuals showed illustrations of that vicious machine, but I had never seen one in reality. Someone with a brain for engineering had rigged this one with a system of levers, pulleys, and gears. A steam engine automated its processes, and every few seconds a conveyer belt fed another iron missile into a waiting bucket attached to a long wooden arm. From this distance, the trebuchet looked like an assemblage of toothpicks and hungry metal teeth, yet its ammunition tore holes through Fallstaff’s stone and mortar like a moth devours a wool sweater. A group of men stood around its base, guarding the machine with rifles and crossbows.

This genre mixture can be seen throughout the novel and adds just the right touch of reality. Infantry soldiers protect the high-tech steam mechanism that is needed to tear down the fortress. The machine is costly; the men are cheaply armed and more easily replaceable.

Another divide occurs with magic. Very few have access to the forces and knowledge to work spells and only the Stormbourne line can control lightning and thunder. That level of magical ability is priceless and guarantees Evie will have a price on her head unless she overcomes her enemies.

This is a wonderful steampunk/fantasy series. It creates a very in-depth story world and a cast of compelling characters. I highly recommend the novel.

Breaking News: The second novel in the series, Quest of Thunder, has just been released!

Evie must restore her divine abilities, or be enslaved by her enemy’s dark Magic.

Evelyn Stormbourne has overcome revolutionaries, pirates, devious relatives, and powerful Magicians to claim her birthright as Lady of Thunder, but before she can embrace her dominion over the skies, her powers falter, leaving her impotent and adrift. Under the protection of her stalwart companion, Gideon Faust, Evie hides in anonymity and searches for news of the Fantazikes who had once promised to help her master her divine abilities.

Without her capacity to control the storms, Evie wonders how she’ll ever reclaim her throne—a legacy she’s not convinced she deserves. But when a fearsome nemesis from her past reemerges, she embarks on desperate quest to find the Fantazikes and restore her powers. If she fails, her enemy’s dark Magic will enslave her, forcing her to destroy everything and everyone she loves.

 

 

Viriconium

 

  • Author: M. John Harrison
  • Release: December 18, 2007
  • Genre: Steampunk | Cyberpunk | Fantasy | Dark Fantasy | Sci-Fi
  • Edition: Kindle
  • Publisher: Random House LLC

 

Blurb

A magnificent city existing on the ringes of the past, and on the brink of destruction, Viriconium • With a foreword by Neil Gaiman

Available to American readers for the first time, this landmark collection gathers four groundbreaking fantasy classics from the acclaimed author of Light. Set in the imagined city of Viriconium, here are the masterworks that revolutionized a genre and enthralled a generation of readers: The Pastel City, A Storm of Wings, In Viriconium, and Viriconium Nights. Back in print after a long absence, these singular tales of a timeless realm and its enigmatic inhabitants are now reborn and compiled to captivate a whole new generation.

Review (Spoiler Free)

I would like to start with the recommendation, which I usually place at the end of the review. I enjoy this work, which is actually a collection of novels and short stories, and would recommend it for anyone who enjoys steampunk, cyberpunk, fantasy, sci-fi, and dark fantasy blended together in a unique genre of its own. Viriconium collects Harrison’s stories about the great city Viriconium, the empire that rose to prominence after the fall of the Afternoon Cultures. In the Kindle edition, Neil Gaiman writes the forward, which is a selling-point all on its own.

This is not a typical series. In fact, the only element that binds the stories together is the city/empire. The collection starts with two queens, Methvet Nian and Canna Moidart, battling to rule the empire; Lord Tegeus-Cromis and the last survivors of his order fight for Methvet Nian against the rapacious Northerners and the frightening Geteit Chemosit, leftovers from the Afternoon Empires. Airman Benedict Paucemanly returns from the moon followed by an invasion of locust-like creatures who come from the stars and threaten to destroy humanity. And finally, Viriconium connects to our world through mirrors. These portals allow people to travel between the realms and their adventures are told through a collection of loosely related short stories.

The writing style is vivid. For example, near the start of the collection Harrison describes the crash of an airship:

When it came close enough to make out detail, Cromis saw that its faceted crystal hull had been blackened by fire, and that a great rift ran the full length of its starboard side. Its power plant (the secret of which, like many other things, had been lost a thousand years before the rise of Viriconium, so that Cromis and his contemporaries lived on the corpse of an ancient science, dependent on the enduring relics of a dead race) ran with a dreary insectile humming where it should have been silent. A pale halo of St. Elmo’s fire crackled from its bow to its stern, coruscating. Behind the shattered glass of its canopy, Cromis could see no pilot, and its flight was erratic: it yawed and pitched aimlessly, like a waterbird on a quiet current.

Cromis’s knuckles stood out white against the sweat-darkened leather of his sword hilt as the vehicle dived, spun wildly, and lost a hundred feet in less than a second. It scraped the tops of the rowans, shuddered like a dying animal, gained a few precious, hopeless feet. It ploughed into the wood, discharging enormous sparks, its motors wailing. A smell of ozone was in the air.

The air ships, as well as many of the other inventions, fall under the genre of steampunk. The people who live in the current era, though, have little understanding of how the inventions work. Their society is more feudal, or high fantasy, in nature like the worlds created by George R.R. Martin. There are blends of sci fi, reminiscent of H.G. Wells, fairy-tale tropes, and so much more. This collection really seems determined to invent its own genre!

I found it very helpful to read Gaiman’s forward. Please do not skip this if you pick up the collection. Otherwise a person could get lost looking for a common thread or repeating characters in the novels. But the connection is not through the characters, or even in the style of writing. The relationship is with the world that Harrison creates. And the world is as vivid as other fantasy creations, like Discworld, Middle-Earth, or Pern. Again–I highly recommend it as long as you are not looking for “pure” steampunk but are willing to go along for the ride.

Sneak Peek at Sunless Skies: A LitRPG Victorian Steampunk Game

cover-imageAfter playing and reviewing Fallen London (read the review here) I eagerly awaited the next Steampunk LitRPG game from Failbetter Games. Sunless Skies launched on Steam Early Access on August 30, 2017. Until September 8th the game will be available for 10% off its full price of £18.99 / $24.99, so act soon if you want to grab it at a discount.

Sunless Skies is a top-down literary RPG set amongst the stars. Explore a universe steeped in celestial horror and ravaged by Victorian ambition in this game of exploration, corruption and jeopardy for PC, Mac and Linux.

Players will initially be able to explore one of the four regions of the High Wilderness—the Reach. “We chose the Reach specifically because it’s the region players start in when they begin the game. It’s also more user-friendly than some of the later regions, which get properly strange,” says producer Lottie Bevan.

avidhorizonOn the 30th, players can expect to explore the Reach in their locomotive, scout for nearby ports, dock at any of the 11 diverse ports available, interact with stories, engage in combat and of course, experience Terror and Hunger.

“The current state of the Reach is set up to give players a small taste of what the final game will be like rather than a big taste of an emptier, less representational world,” says CEO and Art Director Paul Arendt, “We wanted to focus on a more contained area, a space where we can test mood, story and mechanics.”

windwardcompanyThe feedback Failbetter received in Early Access for Sunless Sea was absolutely essential to its development, and the team are eager to see what fans think of Sunless Skies. “Early Access provides us with that pivotal indication on whether the direction we’ve set for the game is the right one. It gives us early warning on what people don’t like, what people would like to see more of, and what could use further development,” explains Director of Development, Liam Welton.

Over the past three months 900 alpha testers have been pioneering Sunless Skies to catch the first bugs and help Failbetter prepare the game for Early Access. “Perhaps our Kickstarter should have given us a sign, but we were totally floored when nearly 10,000 people signed up to our alpha list!” says Marketing Manager Haley Uyrus, “We had very specific aims for the alpha so we kept the number of participants low, but it’s going to be exhilarating to open the gates for Early Access.”

giant-space-monster“We’re excited to open the heavens to the first major wave of explorers. Player feedback is crucial to us, and we’ll be watching, learning, and amending our own course accordingly. Because there’s much more to come,” alludes Narrative Director Chris Gardiner, “As Early Access progresses we’ll be adding more regions, more ports, more discoveries, more stories, more secrets, more nightmares, and more unwise decisions that sensible captains will avoid at all costs.”

In celebration of the Early Access launch, Sunless Sea for iPad will also be on sale for $6.99 from 30th August – 3rd September. The game will also be available to play at this year’s EGX in the Rezzed section.

Here is a sneak peek at their trailer:


Who are Failbetter Games?
Failbetter Games are an independent games studio based in London, UK, who specialise in narrative-driven, darkly funny 2D and text-based games. Any allegations of cannibalism remain unsubstantiated.

What is Sunless Skies?
Sunless Skies is a top-down literary RPG set amongst the stars. Explore a universe steeped in celestial horror and ravaged by Victorian ambition in Failbetter’s spiritual sequel to Sunless Sea.

It is the dawn of the 20th century, and London has taken to the stars! As the captain of a spacefaring locomotive you’ll behold wonders and battle cosmic abominations in the furthest heavens. Stake your claim. Fight to survive. Speak to storms. Murder a sun. Face judgement.

The Sunless Skies Kickstarter raised £377,952 of its funding £100,000 goal – the goal itself having been raised in the first four hours of the Kickstarter.

What is Sunless Sea?
Sunless Sea was released in 2015, receiving an Essential rating from Eurogamer, and went on to sell over 200,000 copies in its first year. It was named among the best games of 2015 by the New Yorker, the Onion AV Club, Vice, Kotaku, PCGamesN, The Mirror, Forbes, Develop Online and Killscreen.

Sunless Sea is available for Mac, Linux and Windows, and will be released for iPad in spring 2018.

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.

Monstress: Awakening

Authors: Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Release: July 16, 2016
Series: Monstress
Genre: Steampunk | Horror | Dark Fantasy
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 192
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

I picked up a copy of Monstress because I liked the look of the artwork—a mixture of art-deco-influenced steampunk and manga—and I was intrigued by the storyline. It’s set in an alternate version of Asia in the 1900s where humans, animal-hybrids called Arcancs, and other magical races, inhabit the world. And Neil Gaiman calls it “a beautifully told story of magic and fear”. This was enough to convince me to give it a try.
The writer, Marjorie Liu, is the author of several comics, including X-23, Black Widow, Dark Wolverine, and Astonishing X-Men. She has been nominated for a GLADD Media Award for outstanding media images of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The illustrator, Sana Takeda, worked on X-23 and Ms. Marvel for Marvel Comics.

SPOILERS AHEAD
In a post-war society, Arcanics are hunted and sold into slavery by the Federation of Man. The Cumaea, powerful witch-like humans, dissect the Arcanics for a lillum, a substance that is only produced in their bodies. Maika Halfwolf, a 17 year old Arcanic, survived the war and found that she possessed a powerful magical ability that she does not understand—one that only comes out when she is in mortal danger. She chooses to sell herself into slavery in order to infiltrate a Cumean stronghold, free the other slaves, and gain a measure of revenge against the witches. While enacting her plan, Maika encounters fragments of an ancient and powerful mask that even the witches fear. The mask, it seems, is part of her history and her second contact with it radically changes her life. Now she is on the run from her own people as well as the Cumaea and does not know who to trust, or how to control the power growing inside of her.

Providing everything from the pencil sketches to the colors, Takeda’s artwork is stunning. The mise-en-scène on each page is an absolute marvel. A reader could get lost simply gazing at the intricate backgrounds. It provides a good grounding for the story world that Liu has created.

And the world is complicated. It would be easy to get lost in the story-threads. But Liu does not lead the readers through the story by the hand, although the lectures at the end of certain chapters by Professor Tam Tam, former First Record-Keeper of the Is’Hami Temple and Learned Contemporary of Namron BlackClaw, help to fill in any gaps. (Yes—he’s a magical talking kitty with four tails. Don’t let that throw you.) Instead there is a deliberate progression through scenes and situations that let the story (and the world) unfold slowly. This helps present the world more as a living mythology rather than a cardboard setting where events simply take place. There is a nuance to each scene that leads readers deeper into the mythology and creates a sense that this is a real place with a definite history.

Monstress has a unique structure, epic battles, and an intriguing storyline. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys steampunk, horror, and dark fantasy. Some of the artwork is graphic in nature, so I would recommend caution for the younger crowd. This comic is definitely meant for adults.

Fallen London: A Neo-Victorian Steampunk LitRPG

Review by Chris Pavesic

Fallen London
Producer: Failbetter Games
Genre: Steampunk | LitRPG | Lovecraftian | Gothic
Edition: IOS Platform
Download for Free Here: Fallen London

Blurb

“Thirty years ago, London was stolen by bats. Now, Hell is close and immortality is cheap, but the screaming has largely stopped…”
Fallen London, acclaimed literary RPG and winner of The Escapist’s Best Browser Game 2009, has been reimagined for iPhone!

Welcome to a dark and hilarious Victorian-Gothic underworld, where every choice has a consequence from the style of your hat to the price of your soul.

For those who love to read and for those who love to play, Fallen London offers you a unique narrative that evolves with every choice you make. Define your destiny through the stories you embark on and the character you cultivate.

There’s a whole world of opportunity waiting for you beyond the iron bars of New Newgate Prison. Who are you going to be?
Spoilers Ahead

Welcome Delicious Friend!

For me, it is hard not to like a game whose interface (a sort of shadowy top hat-like creature with squinty eyes and fangs) implies it wants to eat you from the first moments in the game.

The story world is a nightmare version of Victorian London, where Lovecraftian-like creatures roam the streets along with urchins, thieves, aristocrats, and other gothic monstrosities. After choosing your character, you begin in New Newgate Prison with rather sparse furnishings—basically a straw mattress–and stone walls dripping with moisture. The quest name—Unjustly Imprisoned!—sets up the fact that you are innocent of the charges that landed you in the cell—or are you? This is Hell, after all. Is anyone located here really innocent?

Not surprisingly, one of the first quests a player needs to complete involves escaping from the prison cell. You then need to find new lodgings, and quickly, because without an address, your character can be arrested and taken back to prison. (This never happened to me, but it is a warning in the game.)

As a player levels up, the type of lodging offering improves. And the types of quests, and NPCs (non-player characters), your character can interact with differs with each choice you make. The top-tier housing reminds me the most of steampunk living, especially the unusual steam-driven gadgets that fill the Brass Embassy (the place where all the best demons vacation). Something has to keep the brass ballroom floor in molten form, after all. But there are steampunk-style lodgings in most levels, including a decommissioned steamer and a cottage near a strange inventor’s observatory.

The lodgings reflect all of the literary genres reflected in the game. Lovecraft’s influence can be found in the Marsh Lair, the Once-Great Marsh House, the Deep Cellars of Old Newgate, and the Dripstone-Snared Third City Sub-Temple. The Abandoned Family Crypt, Attic Room, and Half-Abandoned Mansion are straight out of Gothic-style novels.

The characters that a player interacts with in this world also will seem familiar to those who enjoy steampunk, Lovecraft, and neo-Victorian novels. Depending upon what path a character follows, you will run into versions of Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Sigmund Freud. Jack the Ripper has a new moniker in hell—Jack of Smiles—and there are a few Egyptian Pharaohs and Queen Consorts added into the mix. My favorite so far is a Sherlock Holmes character—who has been driven mad by honey (yes—honey) and sends you on quests to locate kidnapped demons.

The quests are interesting and a player’s choices determine what path his/her character takes. It is a wonderful story that unfolds one segment at a time, and not quite in order. You will not know if a segment you completed a week ago is important to the overall story or not, although the game interface offers tantalizing clues.

Review

Over the last few months there has been a discussion amongst The Steampunk Cavaliers about wanting to see more “punk” in the steampunk aesthetic. In fact, fellow site author Dianna Gunn commented:

“What [steampunk authors] forget are all the other things that make the Victorian era such a fascinating one. They skip the political intrigue and religious conflicts inherent in the time. Their characters create inventions and go on grand adventures that change their lives but rarely seem to impact the world around them.” Click here  to read the rest of the article.

Fallen London’s style of gameplay includes the “punk” elements that some steampunk creations seem to miss. Yes—there are the neo-Victorian era conventions that so many of us enjoy, and yet those are tempered with the facts of living in a society that has literally gone to Hell.

Actual Victorian Era London was an unhealthy place. There were outbreaks of cholera. Ten percent of the population lived below subsistence level and about twenty percent had just enough money to survive, provided that they worked every day with no days off. Homes were overcrowded and heated with coal fires, which destroyed the quality of the air.

Fallen London does not gloss over these issues. A character moves through all levels of society, does quests and learns secrets, and interacts with NPCs in a world that, for all of the fantasy elements, seems very realistic. And the characters can make a real impact on their world; it is not just a simple adventure story. It has depth and hidden levels that continue to grow each time you play. The designers put an impressive amount of detail into the game on all levels and it is one that I recommend playing.

 

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).

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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 . .

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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