Tag Archives: steampunk

Friday Faceoff – Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week the theme to feature on any of our covers is steampunk. I’ve selected The Affinity Bridge – Book 1 of the Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann, a cracking whodunit set in an alternate Victorian London…

 

This edition was produced by Snow Books in 2008 and is my favourite. I love all the detail and the bright colours. It’s beautiful, full of lovely little touches, like the London cityscape, the little steampunk flourishes and that fabulous airship, which is the template for nearly all the other versions of this book’s covers. While I’ll accept that it probably doesn’t stand out when in thumbnail, I’ll forgive that – who wouldn’t want to expand this cover into glorious full size to capture the full effect?

 

Published in April 2010 by Tor Books, this is another attractive, well-designed offering. The airship is now grungier and less shiny, though every bit as eye-catching. I love the border and the attention to detail, again. I just wish there was less chatter across the cover.

 

This edition, published by Titan Books in July 2015, is certainly bright. The airship is still there and this cover provides lots of detail, but in silhouette. I think the overall effect is successful and eye-catching and I’d probably love it more if I hadn’t already given my heart to the Snow Books effort.

 

This edition, produced by Piper in 2011, takes the original design and makes it their own. It is far more stripped back and I think it is extremely effective – I love the background colour and clever use of the clouds to provide a suitably dramatic backdrop for that magnificent airship. The border is also nicely handled and in thumbnail, this one really pops. This is my second favourite, mostly because I just love that colour…

 

This French cover, published in June 2011, takes a completely different approach. This is the foggy London where Jack the Ripper lurks along with other desperate villains and only the likes of Newbury and Hobbes can get justice done… We see the two protagonists featured on the cover. I do like this effort, though not as much as the others. What about you – which is your favourite?

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Teaser Tuesday – 27th March, 2018

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Children of the Shaman – Book 1 of the Children of the Shaman series by Jessica Rydill

94% The two men clashed like a hammer striking an anvil, and sparks and shards of ice flew from their blades. Yuda knew his own strength and his weakness; he did not stay locked with Sarl, but darted back, mocking him with speed and lightness of foot. When Sarl strode after him, he returned to the attack, searing the icy armour with tongues of fire.
Sarl spun, cursing like a man plagued with a gadfly, but Yuda was always just out of reach of his whirling swords.

BLURB: When their aunt is taken ill, thirteen-year old Annat and her brother are sent from their small coastal town to live with their unknown father. Like Annat, Yuda is a Shaman; a Wanderer with magical powers, able to enter other worlds. As Annat learns more about her powers, the children join their father on a remarkable train journey to the frozen north and find a land of mystery and intrigue, threatened by dark forces and beset by senseless murders that have halted construction of a new tunnel.

This is one I’ve had on my Kindle for far too long – so I decided to tuck into it. It has proved to be a marvellously engrossing read with lots of unexpected twists in a vividly depicted world. I will definitely be getting hold of the others in the series.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

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I wanted to read and review more YA and children’s books this year, so when this one caught my eye due to the interesting premise, I requested it and couldn’t be more pleased. It’s a delight…

When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, things don’t go as planned…

This steampunk adventure is huge fun that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the end. Emmeline is brought up a solitary child in a creepy house infested with all sorts of dangerous creatures and is more or less left to get on with it as her scientist parents have to do a lot of travelling. Until a fateful day when everything goes wrong… Do try to avoid reading the blurb which is far too chatty and gives away more of the plot than is necessary. That said, there is plenty of plot in this action-packed story brimful of interesting, likeable characters. Generally I am not a huge fan of stories where yet another set of new characters pop up in each scene, but somehow O’Hart manages to pull it off. Other than Emmeline, whose gritty self-assurance gets her through all sorts of tight spots, my favourite character has to be Thing, the vagabond boy she encounters on the liner. But there are plenty of other enjoyable, strong-minded characters to choose from as steampunk tends to roll along with lots of action and relatively little angst. It was when Thing had a wobble about his grim childhood that I bonded with him and felt that vulnerability gave him more reader-appeal.

There is also a pleasing number of unpleasant villains ranged against Emmeline and the people trying to prevent the impending apocalypse – my favourite is Doctor Siegfried Bauer as he is so magnificently horrible, especially to poor Emmeline. But the North Witch is also a thoroughly nasty character who poses all sorts of problems. Once the action really takes off, we have the two main protagonists, Emmeline and Thing alternating in telling the story, occasionally interspersed by other members of the supporting cast. O’Hart’s strong writing and deft handling of the rising tension makes this a really gripping read that didn’t want to let me go when I should have been up and about instead of finishing the book.

The denouement has to deliver after so much energy and tension has been expended during the rising action and in this case, it does, while all the dangling plotpoints are satisfactorily tidied up. I’m very much hoping that this book does well, because although I cannot see any sign of this being the first in a series, I’d love to read more about Emmeline and her family in another madcap adventure. Recommended for precocious readers from 10/11 years old onwards.
9/10

Series I Have Continued or Completed in 2017 – Part 1

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Over the past year, I’ve becoming increasingly conscious that I’ve getting into the habit of plunging into a series with a book that has caught my eye and simply not getting any further. Given my go-to genres heavily feature series books, which are always part of a longer narrative, this is a habit I’d like to break. So this year, I’ve decided to make myself more accountable by recording my progress with series that I have either completed, or brought right up to date – hence this post now that we’re more than halfway through this year.

The Tide Dragons duology by Sarah Ash
The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice and Emperor of the Fireflies
This delightful fantasy series is strongly influenced by Japanese mythology and culture, so as well as the wonderful dragons of the title, there are kitsume and demons, emperors and generals and a formidable goddess all weaving through this richly textured world. I loved it and Emperor of the Fireflies is one of my outstanding books of the year so far.

 

The Wayfarers by Becky Chambers
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit
This science fiction space opera series made a big impact with the hit debut book which had a real vibe of the hit TV show Firefly as an ensemble piece, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The second book featured one of the ship’s crew and a waif who needed refuge and while it is set in the same world as the first book, you don’t need to have read it to appreciate what is going on. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these two books and am keen to discover where Chambers next takes this series.

 

The Witchlands by Susan Dennard
Truthwitch and Windwitch
This epic fantasy initially features two young witches, Safi and Iseult, who manage to get themselves into an almighty scrape at the start of the first book, entangling them in a major plot. I like the fact that their friendship is one of the main emotional drivers throughout the story so far and that the magical system is structured with clear rules and involves a high price from magic-users. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the third book, Bloodwitch, due to come out next year.

 

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne
I love this sand and sorcery adventure! Hamilton’s punchy writing style and vivid scene setting means both of these books have stayed with me as memorably enjoyable, exciting reads and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, which will hopefully arrive next year.

 

 

Echoes of the Fall by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Tiger and the Wolf and The Bear and the Serpent
This epic fantasy adventure takes place in a pre-agrarian world where clans divide depending on what animal they shape-shift into. Both books are full of incident and tension, along with splashes of humour as Tchaikovsky’s vivid, three-dimensional characters leapt off the page and into my heart. I’m very much hoping there is going to be more of this amazing story…

 

The Falconer trilogy by Elizabeth May
The Falconer; The Vanishing Throne and The Fallen Kingdom
This riveting series features a young, well-bred woman, Lady Aileana, who leads a double life – by day she is the wealthy heiress in an alternate Victorian society, while by night she hunts and kills the fae after witnessing her mother’s brutal murder. Violent and enthralling, this trilogy is one of the reading highlights of the year so far.

 

 

The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy is set in a brutal world ruled by twelve kings possessing great magical power – and the efforts of one lowly-born girl to overturn their stranglehold on the desert city-state. I loved the story so far and will be looking out for the third book, A Veil of Spears, due to be published next year.

 

Planetfall by Emma Newman
Planetfall and After Atlas
This dystopian science fiction series is amazing. Both books are set in the same world, but on different planets and can be read as standalones – I loved each one, though the tone and mood were quite different. After Atlas is my book of the year so far and I will be pouncing on the next book, Before Mars, just as soon as I can get my hands on it.

 

 

Luna by Ian McDonald
New Moon and Wolf Moon
This duology envisages that the industrialisation of the Moon has been divided between five families, all ruthless entrepreneurs who have taken capitalism to the extreme as they continue vying for yet more power – with shocking consequences. McDonald has called this series ‘a game of domes’. I loved the brutal, detailed world and the charismatic characters.

 

Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric and the Demon; Penric and the Shaman; Penric’s Mission; Mira’s Last Dance
This series is a joy. Each one of these engrossing, beautifully written stories gives us another slice of Penric’s adventures as he copes with the demon he accidentally acquired while helping an elderly woman at the side of the road. Fortunately, Himself is also a serious fan and immediately buys up these gems as soon as they published. Quite right, too.

 

 

Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
The Drafter and The Operator
Harrison explores a fascinating premise in this military science fiction thriller, where black ops agents are able to shift small amounts of time to kill or dodge attacks. The snag is that as they alter the timeline, they forget chunks of their lives with the aid of a drafter who helps them avoid a catastrophic neural overload that occurs if they remember more than one version of reality. This is really well done and I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining duology.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes
This lush, eastern-influenced classic fantasy duology is another one of those which is set in the same world with a few linking characters, but follows different storylines. Each one is a delight, full of incident and beautiful descriptions that pinged off the page and lit up cold rainy days as I read.

 

 

The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
An Accident of Stars and A Tyranny of Queens
This delightful portal worlds adventure is gritty, wise and astonishing. It is one of my favourite series with its emphasis on a number of nuanced, feisty female characters of all ages. This one has lodged in my head and won’t leave – particularly the poignant ending…

 

There are more to come – but I’ll be rounding up the others in another article.

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – June Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During June, I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to nineteen. They are:

River of Teeth – Book 1 of the River of Teeth novella series by Sarah Gailey
In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true. Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two. This was a terrible plan. Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.
This is a real roller-coaster ride with plenty of mayhem and violence along the way. That said, there is also a large dollop of humour amid the tension – think of The Magnificent Seven set in a swamp with hippos. See my review here.

Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon
Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business? Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter’s wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named ‘Sherlock Mars’.
This is basically a cosy mystery set in space. It has the classic ingredients – a victim that no one seems to care all that much about; a quirky, successful restaurant owner who inexplicably has sufficient time to shoot off here, there and everywhere to run down a number of clues; a friendly law enforcement officer who is happy to let Molly have crucial details of the ongoing case; lots of foodie details along the way. See my review here.

The Invisible Library – Book 1 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Gogman
Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book. Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own. Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.
I really enjoyed Irene’s character – brought up knowing that she would eventually always work for the Library as her parents were both Librarians, she is slightly apart from many of her colleagues. She is also cool-headed and used to keeping her own counsel – quite different from many of the rather emotional protagonists we are used to seeing in fantasy adventure. Review to follow.

I also managed to clear two books from my TBR pile. They are:

The Dog Walker – Book 5 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson
January, 1987. In the depths of winter, only joggers and dog walkers brave the Thames towpath after dark. Helen Honeysett, a young newlywed, sets off for an evening run from her riverside cottage and disappears. Twenty-nine years later, Helen’s body has never been found. Her husband has asked Stella Darnell, a private detective, and her side-kick Jack Harmon, to find out what happened all those years ago. But when the five households on that desolate stretch of towpath refuse to give up their secrets, Stella and Jack find themselves hunting a killer whose trail has long gone cold.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Thomson’s atmospheric writing this time around has taken us to another obscure corner of London – she seems to specialise in those – where a crime was committed that shatters one family and blights the lives of others, including the husband of the victim. See my review here.

The Invisible Library – Book 1 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
See above

This means I’ve managed to clear thirty-two books from my teetering TBR pile so far this year – a lot better than last year so far. Have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Fallen Kingdom – Book 3 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May

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I was delighted when I got notification from the local library that this book had come in. Having read the first two books in the trilogy – read my review of The Falconer here – I was more than keen to see where May would take this exciting story to its conclusion.

Aileana Kameron, resurrected by ancient fae magic, returns to the world she once knew with no memory of her past and with dangerous powers she struggles to control. Desperate to break the curse that pits two factions of the fae against each other in a struggle that will decide the fate of the human and fae worlds, her only hope is hidden in an ancient book guarded by the legendary Morrigan, a faery of immense power and cruelty. To save the world and the people she loves, Aileana must learn to harness her dark new powers even as they are slowly destroying her.

Firstly, my firm advice would be not to open this one if you have not yet had the pleasure of reading the previous two books, The Falconer and The Vanishing Throne. While you may well be able to pick up what is going on, there is so much backstory you’ll have missed, you will not be getting the best out of this climactic instalment if you do not know what has preceded this final adventure.

After all Aileana has been through during the first two books, we first meet up with her as she newly emerges after her death. She has no idea who she is or what has happened to her. This is more difficult to pull off than May makes it look. The concluding scene of the previous book, The Vanishing Throne, left our protagonist on a real cliffhanger – therefore, it would have been all too easy for the start of this one to have dropped the energy and tension so successfully built up. Fortunately, May is too canny for that to happen. Aileana’s plight immediately gripped me and despite several months elapsing since reading the previous book, I was at once transported back into this shattered, dying world.

As this is the last book, I am unable to comment much on the details of the storyline as I do not wish to provide any spoilers. However, readers who have already enjoyed this series so far, will be relieved to know that Aileana still possesses all her feisty aggression. One of the major causes of tension is the knowledge that her new formidable power comes at a very high price – every time she uses the deadly magic gifted to her, it continues to kill her. In short, she is little more than a primed weapon forged by one of the Fae desperate to avoid the inevitable apocalypse brought on by an ancient curse. May’s detailed world building and magical rules pass almost unnoticed as I grappled with Aileana’s impending doom. For nothing can be taken for granted as May has already shown us she is not afraid to kill off important characters.

The pages flew by as I followed Aileana’s desperate efforts to save the world. Indeed, it is such a struggle, she finds herself allied with characters I would have expected her to kill on sight. Would she prevail? Would she have to sacrifice those she loves most? And what would happen to her should she succeed? It is one thing to set up such a tense dynamic – it is something else to bring it to a fully satisfying conclusion. I can report that May triumphantly succeeds.
10/10

Review of The Executioner’s Heart – Book 4 of the Newbury and Hobbes Investigations by George Mann

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This is the fourth full-length novel in this entertaining series featuring the pair of Victorian sleuths battling all manner of evil-doers, with gothic overtones and all manner of intriguing steam-powered contraptions. I have really enjoyed the books up to now – see my reviews of The Osiris Ritual and The Immorality Engine – so will I enjoy this latest instalment?

theexecutionersheartWhen Charles Bainbridge, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, is called to the scene of the third murder in quick succession where the victim’s chest has been cracked open and their heart torn out, he sends for supernatural specialist Sir Maurice Newbury and his determined assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes. The two detectives discover that the killings may be the work of a mercenary known as the Executioner. French, uncannily beautiful, her flesh covered in tattoos and inlaid with precious metals, the Executioner is famed throughout Europe. But her heart is damaged, leaving her an emotionless shell, inexplicably driven to collect her victims’ hearts as trophies.

This book immediately plunges us into a tension-filled scene where we witness a terrible event overtaking one of the main protagonists – and then the narrative timeline jumps backwards to the events leading up to it… We regularly see this device in the CSI franchise, but it occurs less often in books. It certainly works here. The character in questions happens to be my favourite, so I was gripped by the need to discover exactly what went on and ensure that this major character emerges from her terrible experience unscathed.

I also liked the fact that we were taken into the world of this shadowy assailant, learning of her tragic past and how she turned into this merciless, brutal killer. It is always a bonus when the main antagonist has a convincing backstory which gives us an insight as to how she becomes a heartless murderer.

Alongside this ongoing investigation, is the ongoing tension from the overarching narrative arc and the continuing shockwaves from the shocking denouement from the previous book, The Immorality Engine. All series deserve to be read in the correct order, and while you could crash into the middle of this one (for once, something I didn’t do…) because of the characters’ journey and development, it really pays to read these in sequence.

I enjoy this world – steampunk at its best can be great fun, and Mann has Queen Victoria hooked up to a steam-powered life support machine, growing ever more paranoid and lethal. As those tasked with keeping law and order in her capital city, Newbury and Hobbes are unavoidably caught up in her machinations. But the newly emerging Secret Service is also causing concern – are they a nest of traitors, colluding with the German agents plotting for the Kaiser to overthrow Victoria? She certainly thinks so.

This could all collapse into a real mess if not handled with skill. It doesn’t. The climax is every bit as shocking as the explosive finish to The Immorality Engine and leaves the book on something of a cliffhanger. I’m not going to say more, but I’m certainly looking forward to the next instalment The Revenant Express, due out next year.

9/10

Review of Hive Monkey – Book 2 of the Ack-Ack Macaque series by Gareth L. Powell

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book Ack-Ack Macaque – see my review herehivemonkey – in which this bio-engineered gaming hero blasts out of his reality to find himself stranded in another timezone. Would this second book, which has been hanging around on my TBR pile far too long, be as entertaining?

In order to hide from his unwanted fame as the Spitfire-pilot-monkey who emerged from a computer game to defeat the nefarious corporation that engineered him, the charismatic and dangerous Ack-Ack Macaque is working as a pilot on a world-circling nuclear-powered Zeppelin. But when the cabin of one of his passengers is invaded by the passenger’s own doppelganger, our hirsute hero finds himself thrust into a race to save the world from an aggressive hive mind, time-hopping saboteurs, and an army of homicidal Neanderthal assassins!

This alternate world adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t let up as the action continues full-bore throughout this entertaining read. While I have read the first book, I think you could dive into this series with Hive Monkey, as Powell ensures new readers are fully briefed. Ack-Ack is a cigar-chomping, foul-mouthed, hard drinking character who is all too keen to get involved in bar brawls as his constant anger and loneliness finds an outlet in such behaviour. For all the chirpiness of the narrative, there is a poignant undertow as all the main characters grapple with life-altering loss. The monkey leaps off the page with splendid vividness, such that I’m very grateful I’ve only encountered him between the pages of a book – I certainly wouldn’t want to invite him to dinner…

The other main characters are similarly adrift – the airship captain Victoria Valois, whose brain is augmented by experimental gelware after suffering major brain damage; her hologram husband, Paul who is uploaded in the ship’s operating system. And K8, the young hacker who initially freed Ack-Ack from the corporation who had been exploiting him, before he burned out and died like all his predecessors, as well as struggling science fiction writer, William Cole. As Powell shifts between his main characters while the story hurtles forwards, we get to learn about the sorrows and losses that motivates each of these people.

What could so easily be a fairly downbeat read avoids being so because there is a bounce and relish to all the mayhem. I very much enjoyed the zaniness of the storyline and the twisting plot – chiefly because Powell writes with attention to detail and ensures there is rigour in his plotting and science, despite the oddness. There are a couple of nifty surprises that I really enjoyed and the antagonist was also all too believable, as well as creepily convincing.

All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read and provided a welcome break from the dreary rain that seems to be constantly falling this January – and if you are yearning for a similar escape, I can recommend this slice of mayhem.
9/10

Review of Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the successful Newbury and Hobbes series set in a version of Victorian London – see my reviews of The Immorality Engine here and The Osiris Ritual here. All very anarchic and entertaining stuff with plenty of action and the alternate, cool touches that defines steampunk. Would I enjoy this new genre mash-up series?

ghostsofmanhattan1926. New York City. It’s the Roaring Twenties but not as history remembers it. Coal-powered cars line the streets, while zeppelins and biplanes patrol the skies. The US is locked in a bitter cold war with a British Empire that still covers half the globe and the Lost Generation is drinking away the nightmares of the trenches. In Manhattan, a run-down police force is losing the fight against a tide of powerful mobsters and against one in particular: The Roman. His henchmen – not all of them human – with the streets and the body count is rising. It’s time in need of a hero. It’s a time in need of THE GHOST.

As you can immediately see from the blurb, steampunk has shifted from its more usual Victorian timescape, which was really successful in my opinion. There are some significant problems with the Victorian era – not least that many of the ingrained attitudes towards anyone not white, male and upper middle-class jar with modern tastes. Not that I’m holding up the 1920’s as any ideal of broad-mindedness – but attitudes and behaviour had been modulated by the Great War. Did Mann take account of that huge event? Absolutely. I have read books set in the 1920’s that completely ignore the Great War, while Mann effectively depicts the damage wrought upon his protagonist, who is still haunted by the carnage experienced in the trenches.

There is a gothic-noir feel to this book that puts me in mind of the Batman films. Not that I have a particular problem with that – Mann knows how to tell an entertaining tale. His characters are reasonably convincing and I’m guessing that there are untold layers about the Ghost we will uncover in subsequent books.

The baddies are satisfyingly nasty – in fact my chief grizzle is that I would have liked to learn more about The Roman who appeared to have really fascinating backstory. I will be looking out for the next in the series – I generally enjoy Mann’s work and I’d like to see where he takes the Ghost in future instalments.
7/10

Review of The Iron Wyrm Affair – Book 1 of Bannon & Clare by Lilith Saintcrow

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Steampunk is maturing into a thoroughly established sub-genre with genuine strength and depth – and the proof of that is the appearance last year of this offering.

iron wyrmLondon’s geniuses are being picked off by a vicious killer, and Emma Bannon, a sorceress in the service of the Empire, must protect the next target, Archibald Clare. Unfortunately he’s more interested in solving the mystery of the murders than staying alive…  In a world where illogical magic has turned the industrial revolution on its head, Bannon and Clare will face dark sorcery, cannon fire, high treason and the vexing problem of reliably finding hansom cabs in the city.

This book hits the ground running. Emma Bannon has a dark, difficult past and Saintcrow doesn’t bother filling us in on all the high jinx she has previously got up to – just alludes to it from time to time. Which is fine by me. She is a sorceress at the top of the pile, wealthy and established, and very loyal to Queen Victrix, the young queen who also embodies the ancient force of Britannia. To have that much reach and become so powerful in such a world, she is bound to have trodden on feet and knocked about a bit. She is also a protagonist in – hopefully – a reasonably long-running series. Saintcrow can go one of two ways – start with her as a raw apprentice and take her on a journey of steadily growing in power (sound familiar?) – or she can drop us into her career at its zenith where she will be fighting big scary stuff and teetering constantly on the edge of burnout. Given the plethora of well-written series that have taken the former option, I am very comfortable that Saintcrow has chosen the other course. And that she doesn’t choose to chart Bannon’s previous intrigues with her readership – the slight mystery and threat surrounding her makes her all the more alluring.

Archibald Clare also has a murky past. As a mentath, he is borderline high-functioning autistic and leaves geniuses trailing in the dust. He is also allergic to magic on the grounds that it is entirely illogical. So the relationship between himself and Bannon is innately tense. Refreshingly, there is no romance between them. I’d like to think it stays that way – their professional relationship is interesting enough and Bannon has her own way of seeking comfort. Lucky girl!

The world is detailed and engrossing – I found some of her descriptions owed more than a touch to Dickens – but at no time did the backdrop impede the narrative pace that clipped along at the usual headlong charge that seems to be the default in steampunk. I loved it. Saintcrow brings to the genre the taut, coiled-spring tension I normally see in urban fantasy and as soon as I finished this book, I cast around for the sequel, The Red Plague Affair, which I shall add to my special Christmas stockingful of particular treats for the festive holiday.
9/10