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Battle of Blood and InkBattle of Blood and Ink by Jared Axelrod and Steve Walker.
The author’s note for this book says that the two guys were talking together about the craziest story they could come up with, and what they came up with was a floating city. The Floating City is a steampunky place, with distinct neighborhoods for different classes of people. Ashe, however, journalist and publisher of the insanely popular newspaper The Lurker’s Guide to the Floating City, goes wherever she wants. As the story opens, she has her friend and co-conspirator Tolban fly their little glider up close enough to catch the radio waves coming from a ship in distress. Not until the captain promises that he and his crew will go into slavery to the City are they allowed asylum. Once published, this secret is the one that finally determines the Provost of the City to stop the Lurker’s Guide. But Ashe is not without friends – she is not-so-secretly admired by Cardor, son of one of the richest citizens of the city. And for Ashe, being a target is only a reason to find more dark secrets to reveal and more ways to irritate those in power. The art is spare and angular black-and-white ink, which give it a modern feel despite the setting. The dark secrets were a little too dark to make this altogether light reading, and certainly make it most appropriate for adults or older teens, but this is a fun graphic adventure in a pseudo-Victorian, high-tech world.
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The Steampunk BibleThe Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer. I was at work looking through a list of upcoming nonfiction Steampunk titles, without any thought of being able to buy them for any of my library collections. Then I wondered where The Steampunk Bible would actually fall. And – score! 809.387, in the Dewey 800s (literature), one of the areas for which I do the purchasing. Even more exciting, it appeared on our weekly front-page of the Web site carousel of new purchases. That generated enough demand that I had to buy a second copy, a moment of geeky librarian happiness.

The Steampunk Bible is a book filled with contrasting pages of large and beautiful pictures opposite pages of dense text. It is a history of Steampunk movement from its early origins in the literature of Charles Verne and H.G. Wells, through to the first works to use the term Steampunk in the 1980s and today’s mushrooming Steampunk movement. In addition to literature, including graphic novels, film, art, music and costume all receive chapters with profiles of people and works. If you want to feel like an expert even without living Steampunk yourself, you can read through it all. And if you just want to see lots of beautiful and inspiring Steampunk imagery, you can just flip through and absorb the pictures. Since every chapter has lists of more things to explore, this could easily be the beginning of a new obsession.

Cross-posted to and .
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Clockwork AngelClockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare I pulled this off the returns cart, labeled new… and discovered only later that it’s a 2010 book that just gone out so much that no one here had a chance to take the New sticker off.

This is a prequel series to a series that I haven’t read, Mortal Instruments, and, as it’s described as horror, probably don’t want to. Also, the original series doesn’t seem to have the Victorian and mechanical elements that make this series Steampunk, the element that first attracted my attention.

It is the early 1870s. Our heroine, Tessa, sails from New York City to join her brother Nate in London after her aunt’s death. He’s sent the tickets and a letter in his hand inviting her, so when she is met by a pair of creepy women – the Dark Sisters, aka Mrs. Black and Mrs. Dark – she is shocked. They tell her that Nate is being held hostage based on her good behavior, and teach her to change shapes, mostly into recently murdered people. All of her attempts to escape are useless, however, until the night before she is scheduled to marry the otherwise undescribed but certainly evil and powerful Magister. Then, a handsome and roguish young man appears in her room and takes her away. Will is a Nephil, a Shadowhunter, whose work on earth is to keep it from being overrun with demons, vampires and the like. Here, unlike in Madeline L’Engle’s Many Waters, the Nephilim are not fallen angels, but angels who live on earth to carry out God’s work. Tess doesn’t necessarily trust the Shadowhunters at the London Institute, either, but she’s willing to work with them as long as they will help her find and rescue her brother.

The Institute is populated mostly with young people of about Tessa’s age. In addition to Will, a stereotypical cad if there ever was one, there’s sweet and open Jem and rebellious Jessamine, as well as two young serving people who are humans with a touch of Sight. Even the director, Charlotte, is only 23. (Her husband is officially co-director, but is a genius type who spends his time building clockwork devices of dubious reliability and is generally unaware of the real world.) There’s definitely a love triangle with Jem and Will both vying for Tessa’s attention in a way that was for me strongly reminiscent of Fruits Baskets – but really all the single young people have a tangled web of unrequited feelings for each other. Unlike Fruits Basket, though, (slight spoiler alert) there is actual kissing in this book. Tessa, a proper Victorian girl, then has to deal with her feelings of having done something so very inappropriate which she knows she doesn’t actually regret. In a modern novel, I’d find this inappropriate, but here, I found it appropriate to the time period, and Clare does a fantastic job with things like the tension of just sitting close to someone you’re attracted to. Despite not getting very far on an overall scale, those kissing and even not-quite kissing scenes were steamy hot. I am not prone to swooning over book boys, but I was here, both over the dark-haired poet boy and the half-Chinese violinist. There’s also politics – both between various factions of Shadowhunters and different types of magical beings – and lots of action, including battles with vampires and clockwork automatons. There were a few instances where the dialogue felt a bit anachronistic, and I wished that Will were not so very clearly pretending to be a bad boy, as usually one should believe people who say they can't be trusted.

Only after I gobbled the first and the second fat book in quick succession to each other (three days each, maybe?) did I notice that it’s on the children’s and YA’s Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists. The second book’s ending was decidedly bittersweet, and I find myself once again waiting anxiously for a sequel.
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I have always loved costumes. I wear them whenever reasonably possible, for Halloween, for Talk like a Pirate Day, and of course through the SCA when my schedule permits. Many of our SCA friends now seem to be doing Steampunk as well, and while I haven’t yet gone to an event or even put a costume together, I couldn’t resist checking out this book when I came across it at the library.

book coverSteampunk-style Jewelry by Jean Campbell Steampunk, for this purpose, is loosely defined as fantasy Victorian with an emphasis on the beauty of early mechanical pieces. The jewelry is projects intended for the reader to be able to reproduce and use as inspiration. There are necklaces, earrings and bracelets. They use bead or craft store bits and wire, often combined with gears and other parts from cannibalized antique watches or reproduced old photographs. There is a lengthy introduction on the techniques used. When hazardous materials are used, cautions are given both in the intro and in the individual projects. The instructions seem thorough, including lists of materials and which steps might need practicing on scrap materials first, which, as a novice would-be jewelry-maker, I appreciate. Campbell is the senior editor of Beadwork magazine, and though many designers are featured here, her experience shows. The designs are beautiful. I especially enjoy the numerous designs where the delicately balanced gears are designed to spin while being worn. The biggest caution that I have from just reading the book is that many of the designs use found materials that could be difficult or impossible to duplicate. One ring, for example, called for a 28mm men’s watch movement. Right. My love and my mother were both appalled at taking apart potentially fixable watches. I can’t say how steamers usually come by their gears, though I think reusing is vastly preferably to discarding them. I will note that we have since found new gears at JoAnn’s. They are really pretty in either case. Interspersed with the jewelry projects are multiple two-page spreads on various aspects of steampunk culture: the costumes; modifying other items to look Victorian (a computer and a motorcycle are featured); steampunk books, movies, and bands. There is a small gallery at the end of jewelry without instructions. All in all, this a very well done book, both for jewelry-makers and for steampunk aficionados.

Originally posted at .


Jul. 6th, 2011 02:33 pm
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book coverLeviathan by Scott Westerfeld Australian YA author Westerfeld of Uglies fame takes a turn toward a steampunk alternate history with this first in a trilogy. The year is 1914. Prince Alek, son of the Archduke Ferdinand, is woken in the middle of the night by his tutor, who takes him for what he thinks is a midnight training ride in one of the two-legged walkers that Austria-Hungary is becoming famous for. Except that it turns out not to be training. His parents have just been assasinated, his people have turned against him, and Alek must run for his life. Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp is posing as a boy so that she can join the British Air Service, where genetically engineered ecosystems of animals create large dirigible-like ships that float through the air. Unlike Jacky Faber, Deryn finds the constant jockeying for position among the midshipmen wearing, but she is already experienced in the air, brilliant and courageous. She ends up serving on the Leviathan, a very large airship that is carrying Dr. Nora Darwin Barlow and some precious cargo on an urgent diplomatic mission to the Ottoman Empire. The world is on the brink of war between the Darwinists and the Clankers – can two young people from opposite sides prevent it? The action is non-stop, the characters a delight, and the technology intriguing. We have it in teen, but so far I haven’t seen anything in to make it inappropriate for middle graders, while it’s deep enough to work for adults as well. I’ve already devoured the first two books and am now waiting for book three to come out in September.

Cold Magic

Apr. 18th, 2011 01:36 pm
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On a recent, rare library date with my love, I pulled this book off the shelf. I thought that maybe Colleen at Chasing Ray had mentioned it. It felt quite brazen, taking home a book I wasn’t sure I’d even heard of before.

I looked it up today, now that I’ve read the book. She did mention it very briefly, back in November. And she also linked to this fabulous post about racism by Kate Elliott, the author of this book, which I do remember reading. You should go read it, too. I had completely forgotten it when I picked up this book. I enjoyed the book as well, if in a quite different way.

book coverCold Magic by Kate Elliot Catherine, known as Cat, is a young woman of impoverished good blood attending University with her cousin Bee, with whom she has lived since her parents’ death when she was seven. It’s the Industrial Revolution (one could call it steampunk if one wished, though there is not so very much steam power in it); today’s lecture is on the science of air ships, one of which will be available for viewing that evening. That was the plan, anyway, until a cold mage arrives at their house with a claim on her, the oldest Hassi Barahal daughter. From there, things heat up, despite the cold surrounding cold mages. Cat is forced to leave her family and make several discoveries: family secrets that leave her wondering if she can trust anyone, the unpleasant plans the cold mages have for her, and previously unknown relations. It’s an alternate earth with a lovely deep culture. The cold mages are a union of Celtic and Mande African formed a few centuries back when the Mande nobility were forced to leave Africa because of a plague of ghouls, while Cat is of Phonecian heritage. Now the cold mages are the upholders of the current powers, opposed to science and industry and opposed by a growing populist movement. Cat is a delightful character, prickly enough not to set off goody-two-shoes alarms, yet not so headstrong as to make the reader want to bash heads against the wall in frustration. And the plot took enough twisty turns that I was frequently surprised at what happened next. As is typical for the genre, this is the first in a series, so you can choose to wait to read the book until the rest are out or be impatient with me.

Originally posted at .
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book coverThe Iron Duke by Meljean BrooksThis is going further into my exploration of the steampunk genre. Once again, we are in quasi-Victorian England. However, no Queen Victoria, but a young king. England (and the rest of Europe) was, some time ago, taken over by the Mongol Horde, who used radio-controlled nanoagents to control the population. England is now free, however, due to the actions of former pirate and now Duke Rhys Trahaern. In the present time, the nanoagents are necessary for survival, as they clean the pollutants from the lungs in the heavily coal-operated country. Society is now divided into “buggers” and “bounders” – those with nanoagents and those who fled during the occupation and returned afterwards, sans nanoagents. Once again, my explanation might make it seem as if there is no action, but anything but. Our heroine, Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth, is in a somewhat precarious position as the daughter of nobility, but obviously born of a Horde-induced Frenzy, and thus subject to open hostility in the streets. As the story opens, she is called away from a ball to investigate a frozen body that has landed seemingly from nowhere on the front steps of Duke Trahaern. There is of course instant attraction followed quite some time later by Hawt Sex and novel description of steampunk-style personal pleasure devices. There is action and adventure involving chasing down airships and escaping from zombies. There is political intrigue and some reflection on how mores and the roles of women would be changed by generations growing up under the Horde Occupation. It is a darker steampunk world than usual – certainly lacking the lightheartedness of Soulless - but still absorbing, with enough action to satisfy those frustrated by pure romance and enough romance for those looking for that.

Crossposted to and .


Jan. 30th, 2011 04:25 pm
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book coverSoulless by Gail Carriger Here is a nice genre-busting book, first in a series: in an alternate England, the success of the empire is due to their reliance on help from vampires and werewolves. Our heroine is Alexia Tarabotti, a soulless spinster, whose early quest for treacle tart at a ball is interrupted by the sad necessity of having to kill a very rude vampire. The BUR, the agency for the regulation of supernatural beings, of course investigates. This is headed by an irritating if attractive werewolf by the name of Lord Maccon. To the fantasy, we may add comedy of manners with romance a la Jane Austen (if a bit spicier). Miss Tarabotti’s spectacular parasol weapon and the overt presence of dirigibles add a steampunk twist. From a library reader’s advisory standpoint, this book has something for anyone willing to read speculative fiction: appealing characters, a fast-moving plot (where are all these uneducated and poorly dressed vampires coming from?), an intriguing and well-detailed setting, and witty writing. This comes recommended not only by me, but by my love and the famous Nancy Pearl. Do go read it, and let me know what you think.


May. 19th, 2010 10:40 am
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book coverSteamed by Katie MacAlister Jack is a computer-ish engineer in the modern era, at work a bit tired from going to a concert by the steampunk* band Airship Pirates the night before. His sister Hallie drops by to inform him that she’s auctioned off a date with him and manages to do something very bad with the materials in his lab. Shortly thereafter, Captain Octavia Pye is quite shocked when her first mate reports two apparently unconscious people in the hold of her airship. Naturally, there is instant attraction between Jack and Captain Pye. There is shock on her part and on that of her crew that he is wearing a shirt that proclaims him to be a pirate. There is disappointment on the part of Jack that, despite the beautifully tailored uniform, Captain Pye insists on wearing her corset underneath her blouse. There are a good number of explosions, chases and escapes relating to Octavia’s secret involvement in an organization trying to overthrow the Empire, all of which is somewhat trying to Jack’s Quaker beliefs. The point of view alternates between Jack and Octavia, Jack speaking in rather foul-mouthed modern vernacular and Octavia in formal Victorian-era language. This is a humorous and light, yet steamy romance, suitable for fans of steam of both the romantic and, um, punk variety.

*But why is it called steampunk? I have read a number of books now that could be classified as steampunk – Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn and Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series come to mind – but while the steam-operated machinery is obvious, I don’t see anything to make it punk in any way resembling that of, say, cyberpunk.


Apr. 6th, 2010 08:28 pm
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Many thanks to my love for discovering this book, which Lightning Bolt and I listened to in the car.

book coverLarklight by Phillip Reeve. Read by Greg Steinbruner. Larklight is set in an alternate Victorian world, where the British Empire spans the solar system. Our narrator, Art Mumby (eleven or so, I’d guess), and his proper teen-aged sister Myrtle live in an ancient and remote manor house, Larklight, that orbits the earth past the moon. When their home is attacked by giant white spiders, Art and Myrtle escape to the moon, where they are rescued from the fearsome wildlife there by the young pirate Jack Havock. Art, Myrtle, Jack Havock and his crew of aliens then embark on a quest to save the solar system. I found a whole lot to like about this book. There is the wonderful Victorian-flavored prose, with both the floweriness and schoolboy slang. As part of this, the wooden ether ships are powered by the alchemical wedding which naturally occurs not in an engine room but in a wedding chamber. Many of the characters are archetypes twisted just enough to be self-aware – the Plucky British Schoolboy, the Very Proper Young Lady in Search of Love, and the Pirate with the Heart of Gold. Despite the unreality of wildlife that can survive in the ether and on the moon, the vast distances of the solar system seem much more accurately represented here than in much of sci-fi: Mars is the farthest regular British outpost. There are aliens and a few humans on the moons of Jupiter, but Saturn is farther than humans have ever managed to go. I really enjoyed Steinbruner’s reading of the text, his British accents as Art appropriately youthful and plucky, but the print book is also lovingly illustrated, so you can take your pick. My library has this shelved in teen, but I can’t see why – it seems more appropriate for children’s fiction. If you love this (and why wouldn’t you?) there are two more books in the series.


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