I’ve a real soft spot for steampunk and Himself had downloaded this book onto his Kindle a while back, and reported enthusiastically on it after he’d finished it. In fact, I think he went out and bought the rest of the series…
London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up.
I’m not including the rest of the blurb on the grounds that it contains far too much of the story arc. But if you dip into the first couple of chapters and get the impression that this is a period romance with steampowered gismos lurking in the background, then grit your teeth and keep going… Of course, like me, you might have been completely snagged by Claire’s feisty personality since the first page. But if not, keep going – really. It’s worth it. Oh – and avoid the blurting blurb at all costs, or your pleasure will be significantly spoilt.
This incarnation of Victorian society has the upper classes divided into Bloods and Wits, where nobility whose lineage have entitled them to their lands and riches don’t mix socially with the Wits – those whose intellect and entrepreneurship have provided them with wealth, but not necessarily a position in the Best Society. Claire’s mother is a crushing snob, who refuses to have Peony Churchill to the house unless she is related to the correct branch of the family.
I skimmed some of the reviews on Amazon and was slightly taken aback to find so much critical head-shaking over terms like fall instead of autumn, accusing Adina for being sloppy in muddling her Victorian English with American English. Um… my reading of this book is that it is an alternate version of Victorian England – which is what steampunk does. I don’t think Adina has made a mistake – she several times refers to the Colonial Territories, meaning the Americas, which means that in her timeline they haven’t declared Independence from Britain. Therefore words and phrases from the Colonies would be far more likely to mix with UK English – she has the best ball gowns designed in America, for instance. Neither do I think Adina slipped up in having Prince Albert around when she sets her steampunk adventure – I think she has chosen to keep him alive in her world. However it would have been helpful if she’d actually flagged where she tinkered with historical fact in an appendix, as does C.J. Sansom in his alternate history Dominion.
So, having established that Adina is obeying the best conventions of steampunk, rather than being a sloppy writer – does she go on to produce a story sufficiently filled with the magnificent devices promised in the series title? Oh yes, she certainly does. I love the scene where Claire finds herself at the Great Exhibition, looking at some of the cutting edge technologies of the time and discussing whether electronick weapons will work. The other defining genre convention is pace – steampunk tends to bounce along with the throttle fully open, with all sorts of madcap OTT adventures along the way. Adina also provides these in spades – in fact the only grizzle I have is that the book ended far too soon, by dint of being only fifty-something thousand words long. But, as I picked it up on Kindle for less than a pound, it still provided me with excellent value – and a determination to get hold of the second book in the series.