The Cover Made Me Read It: Dogwood Sprocket by Bokerah Brumley

It’s been a while since I’ve read steampunk. The historical aspect of the genre usually keeps me away. But when I saw Dogwood Sprocket’s pretty cover, I couldn’t say no.

The Story I Ended Up Reading. Cuz Cover.

Just look at the shiny silvery stuff. Just look at that top hat.

The Plot:

It’s the year 2287, and Grace York makes a living hand-crafting clever mechanical collectibles in an age of fast flying cars and soaring skyscrapers. Her life is interrupted when she is sucked through a mysterious portal created by Hugh Hawthorne, a clever inventor from a different time and a different, parallel universe. As Grace tries to adjust to the new, mechanical, steam-powered world, she finds herself falling for Hugh, a man who might be lying about whether he can get Grace home again.

Impressions:

Some stories make me angry. Some make me want to call all my friends to rave in delight. And some – the hardest to talk about – land somewhere in the lukewarm middle. This is that kind of story. Dogwood Sprocket is like curling up with a mug of tea on a comfy. It’s pleasant, cozy and sweet. It doesn’t thrill, but neither does it disappoint. It’s nice.

It’s a neat mix of time travel and romance. The first sparkle of romantic connection is instantaneous when the characters meet, but Grace and Hugh slowly and tentatively build their rapport over the full course of the story.

Luckily for Grace, her futurist career as a toy-maker and artisan is probably the only job whose skills transferred perfectly and immediately to a steampunk world. Grace’s independence is a lovely foil for Hugh’s cautious courtship as they navigate tricky issues like Victorian Era dress codes, a formal outing, how to get Grace home again…and what to do once she gets there.

Oh, and there’s a cute cat.

All and all, the short story is a nicely-crafted ode to the steampunk genre.

Canary verdict:

(A pleasant read.)

I received a free copy of the story for review.

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[Book Review] Magic and intrigue in Victorian Londinium.

I have been wanting to read more by Lilith Saintcrow ever since I blazed through her Urban Fantasy series about necromancer Dante Valentine – quick, fun reads full of over-the-top romantic angst and creative world-building of the best sort. So when I saw Saintcrow had a historical fantasy, I was intrigued.

The Red Plague Affair (Bannon & Clare, #2)Sorceress Emma Bannon has a mission to defend Queen and country and to stop an evil doctor with a gaseous weapon of war that has to be contained before it can cause all sorts of deadly mischief. It’s up to Bannon and her friend Archibald Clare to save Londinium before it’s too late.

My first problem with the book is at least 70% my fault – the book I grabbed is second in the Bannon & Clare series. But I’ve started plenty of stories mid-series and loved them, so I decided to march on, power through a crazy action opening and all the names, and then see what happens. And that’s when I realized it wasn’t going to be that easy.

Written as alternative history where magic, Victorian sensibilities, and clockwork-technology exists side by side, it has all the ingredients for success. There are gryphons and clockwork horses, and an exciting system of magic. And then there’s the writing:

“And Clare was congenitally unable to cease pursuing trouble of the most exotic sort. He was not engaged in a life that would permit much rest, and the wear and tear on his physicality was marked.” (page 12)

“A rolling sonorous roil, the entire house suddenly alive with rushing crackles, its population of indentured servants so used to the feel of tremendous sorcery running through its halls they hardly paused in their appointed duties.” Page 13)

“She had the dubious honour of addressing a Spaniard, moustachioed and of small stature to inspire a touch of ridicule of pity, his right arm twisted behind him in an exceedingly brutal fashion by a silent and immaculate Mikal, who twisted his lean face and spat at her.” (page 15)

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[Book Review] Steampunk!

Steampunk Girl by Zoe Stead

One of my reading resolutions this year was to branch out into unfamiliar territory, so I decided it was high time I checked out that steampunk thing all the kids are talking about these days. Steampunk, in case the only thing that comes to mind when you hear that term is clunky brass aviator goggles, is a subgenre of fantasy that celebrates unconventional inventors and their gadgets, and is usually set in the not-too-distant-past. Robots and flying machines are staples, and the most common setting is Victorian London, a flavor which permeates the story’s sense of fashion, art, and culture.

The name of the subgenre, for instance, comes from the idea that much of technology was still powered via steam. The result is something that straddles fantasy and science fiction. The machines aren’t powered by magic (except for sometimes, when they are), but the authors also don’t take time to break down into explanations of the circuitry and fiddly workings of their gadgets (except for sometimes, when they do).

Steampunk Floral Watch by Vasiliki Aranwen

Victorian London aside, it makes a lot of sense that our generation would turn to steampunk. We grew up with the Internet morphing from a nerdy project at tech-heavy colleges to something most of us can’t function without, and new releases in phones, music players, and computers make news.

Why shouldn’t writers treat technology with the same enthusiasm and wonder that we associate with magic?

Look at the recent resurgence of Dr. Who. A brilliant, charismatic outsider using a flying time travel machine and a few well-chosen gadgets to fight evil? Sounds like the definition of steampunk to me.

By using an anachronistic setting, steampunk heightens this sense of wonder, as well as tunes us in to a world many writers associate with genius (Sherlock Holmes and The Time Machine both date to the Victorian era, after all). In a world where the death of an inventor is mourned worldwide via the machines he created, it’s making less and less sense to turn to quasi-medieval settings for our fantasy literature.

So put down The Hobbit (at least until the refresher reread before the movie) and let’s get excited about automatons! Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories is a great place to start. The book both serves as a lively introduction to steampunk and a reminder that there is more to the genre than Queen Victoria and brass goggles. The editors note in their introduction, in fact, that they deliberately excluded Victorian London as a setting for the stories. The result is steampunk in the near future and ancient Rome, Ireland and the American South, and stories that range from tongue-in-cheek to adventurous to romantic to eerie.

An early favorite of mine was “Clockwork Fagin,” a playful retelling of Oliver Twist in which the orphaned boys hatch a plan to subdue their villainous master and live in style. “Some Fortunate Future Day,” a post-apocalyptic story of a girl living alone in an automated house who finds a wounded soldier in the backyard, reminds me a little of Ray Bradbury’s work. It’s short, tight, foreboding with a touch of sweetness mixed in at the same time.

Steampunk by Alexander Iglesias

It may not have Bradbury’s poetry in the writing, but I could see him writing something similar (and coming from me, this is high praise indeed!). The closing story, “The Oracle Machine,” takes the biggest leap of all back to ancient Rome, and mixes legend, history, and the eponymous invention into a story of fate and revenge.

Steampunk! accomplishes a lot in its 400-some pages: it will introduce and excite newcomers to the genre, while keeping plenty of new twists for established steampunk fans. I’m not saying every reader will enjoy every story—that’s not the point of an anthology—but you are bound to come away with a generous helping of what you like. And for those interested in trying different things this year, welcome to the steampunk genre!

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