Tag Archives: steampunk

Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger coverI’m going to begin simply by stating that this book has the cure to whatever ails you. Whether it be work-related blues or sheer tiredness, you’ll start feeling better once you’ve cracked the cover and read the first few pages. I wouldn’t quite suggest it as a prescription, but anything with the wicked kind of humour that Soulless contains is perfectly fine by me.

Meet Alexia Tarabotti, self-proclaimed spinster with a pronounced predilection towards books and a dangerous turn for wielding a parasol to fend off unwanted advances. She has what one might call a slight social impediment: she was born without a soul, and as a result is considered preternatural – between the natural and supernatural worlds. What is especially interesting about Alexia is that due to being soulless, she is able to neutralise any supernatural powers that she comes into direct contact with (such as those of vampires or werewolves, for example). This of course causes a problem when Alexia defends herself against the attack of a vampire, left to the point of starvation and completely uneducated as to how to properly behave.

Armed with her sharp tongue and assertive nature, Alexia must find out why the vampire was left in such a state. In the meantime, she becomes slowly and quietly tangled in a political mess of both supernatural and scientific origin. This necessitates the involvement of the messy and magnetic Lord Conall Maccon, the Earl of Woolsey and Alpha of the local werewolf pack, who is also Queen Victoria’s agent in the matter for the BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry, a division of Her Majesty’s Civil Service). Alexia faces adversity in the form of improper behaviour, family dramatics, attempted kidnapping and things of a far darker calibre. The result of all of the above combined is a fantastic romp through Victorian England, with elements of steampunk and history laced through it. Add to this witty dialogue and the downright brilliance of the unresolved romantic tension between Alexia and Lord Maccon, and you’ve got an incredibly entertaining read.

Amongst this book’s many delightful points, I first feel compelled to praise Gail Carriger for creating such a brilliant female protagonist. Alexia might be soulless, but that definitely doesn’t make her dull. Her verbal fencing with Lord Maccon is simply wonderful, and I was immensely pleased to find a vast amount of it throughout the entire book. Secondly, while Alexia’s nature of being soulless/preternatural is used as an important focal point in the book’s plot, it isn’t constantly thrown into the reader’s face at the expense of all other development. Carriger has woven it in with the complexity of werewolf society, the difficulty of Alexia having to submit to a social climate that doesn’t necessarily suit her assertiveness and the major plot of what is occurring amongst the vampire nests to produce roves (the book’s reference to solitary vampires). The layers make the plot much richer, something which I couldn’t help but appreciate. I also really enjoyed the unique approach to vampires: the idea that only a queen vampire can make more of their kind lends a different angle to the established conventions of vampire literature. I thought that in context of the story, it was very well thought out. In addition to her very nicely crafted protagonist, Carriger’s secondary characters are most definitely worthy of praise. Lord Maccon is simply delicious; rough manners and attractive appearance to boot. Professor Lyall, Lord Maccon’s Beta in the werewolf pack, has a wonderfully dry sense of humour and the kind of arresting politeness that characterises a true gentleman. And last, but certainly not least, there’s the utterly fabulous and absolutely outrageous vampire Lord Akeldama; stylish, loud and genuinely a lot of fun in every sense of the word.

Additionally, the dialogue. Oh my, the dialogue. How can I possibly begin to describe what I loved the most?

Here, perhaps?

Lord Maccon was ever more enraged. “Who bit you?” he roared.

Alexia tilted her head to one side in utter amazement. “You did.” She was then treated to the glorious spectacle of an Alpha werewolf looking downright hangdog.

That, right there, is just a single sample of the glorious play on words that Gail Carriger is capable of.  That is one snippet of what runs through this entire book and makes it one of the best reads I’ve had thus far in 2012. I started and finished the book in one night, and purchased the second book in the series today. Please, if you’re suffering from the blues? Go and pick up this book. You won’t regret it.


Review: Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare coverTo follow from Tori’s previous review of Clockwork Angel, I have decided to review Clockwork Prince. I enjoy Cassandra Clare’s books as a whole, but The Infernal Devices have captivated me in a way decidedly different to The Mortal Instruments series. In a lot of ways, I find The Infernal Devices easier to relate to. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s very loosely based off Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, or because of the amazing steampunk elements that Cassandra Clare has included, or the connections that her characters have with one another…but whatever it is, it’s brilliant.

In the second book of the trilogy, Tessa remains at the Institute in London in the aftermath of her last encounter with the Magister. The challenges up ahead don’t look promising, with Charlotte and Henry’s position at the Institute placed in jeopardy and someone betraying them from the inside to the Magister, putting Tessa and those that she has grown to care for in danger. A distance has forced itself between her and Will after the events of Clockwork Angel, and she has slowly but surely grown much closer to Jem. Jem, incidentally, already charming and a favourite of mine, is absolutely wonderful in Clockwork Prince. Cassandra Clare really explores the shades of his character well, and some of his interactions with Tessa are absolutely breath-taking.

Tessa herself is really coming into her own and becoming far more sure of herself in terms of what she can say and do, growing into what she’s become and what she may yet grow to be. She is learning to wield her ability to Change into another person (shape-shifting), and she is also displaying willingness to fight against adversity. Tessa has lost her family and even parts of her own identity to get to where she is in Clockwork Prince. To possess the desire to fight against what besets her; despite her own uncertainty about her past and her future, combined with the tangle of her feelings for two very different boys is no mean feat. It’s a pleasure to behold her growth and spell-binding to read. I think Tessa is one of my favourite heroines of recent YA literature; because she is very unique in that she manages to think about what’s happening around her, without being utterly self-centred and considering only how it impacts her. Her exchanges with Jem are lovely and show something wonderful developing between them. Her scenes with Will are incredibly emotionally charged, because everything that he has done previously lies between them and still doesn’t manage to change how they very obviously feel towards one another.

There are some brilliant one-liners from Cassandra Clare as always, but my particular favourite is this one:

“Trains are great dirty smoky things,” said Will. “You won’t like it.”
Tessa was unmoved. “I won’t know if I like it until I try it, will I?”
“I’ve never swum naked in the Thames before, but I know I wouldn’t like it.”
“But think how entertaining for sightseers,” said Tessa, and she saw Jem duck his head to hide the quick flash of his grin.”

That little moment between those three really sums up what I love about their interactions as a whole. However, even taking Tessa’s indomitable nature into account and little gems like the above, the real star of this book is the scenes between Will Herondale and Magnus Bane. Not only does the reader get to see another side to Will, one that is broken and desperate and afraid, we also begin to get to know Magnus on a deeper level. Bearing in mind that Magnus is also in The Mortal Instruments series a century later, you really begin to get a grasp of how much loss Magnus has had to witness and experience, due to being a warlock. Whether it’s personal or watching someone else suffer, it isn’t easy for Magnus to observe and do nothing. Even when told that he can’t save everything and everyone, he responds, “One will do.” That really says a lot about Magnus as a character, and it’s a reason that he’s become one of my favourites in both series. Since warlocks are immortal, Magnus’ experiences also really give you a feel for what Tessa might be up against in the future. Additionally, I really liked seeing a more human side of Will, and this book fully explains his motivations and a lot of his general behaviour up until this point. It was a relief as a reader to have the explanation for that at last. I won’t spoil that part for anyone who hasn’t read, but let’s just say that if you don’t heave the same sigh of relief and sympathy? I’ll be very surprised.

Right, this next bit will contain spoilers. I’m placing it under a more tag, but if you come to this post direct, here is your warning! For those of you who close here, I will be waiting with breathless expectation for Clockwork Princess, though it makes me very sad to think that it will be the last book in this series. I can’t recommend this or Clockwork Angel enough.  Continue reading

Review: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

This is less a review and more of an epic fangirl flail, because you guys, I have it bad. And not just for the snarky boy, Will, who is charming and beautiful but pushes everyone away. Of course, let’s face it, he had me at his line about how the person rescuing you is never wrong, “even if he says the sky is purple and made of hedgehogs”. HOLY BOOK CRUSH. But I love everyone, from Jem, to Jessie, from Henry to Tessa. 

Clockwork Angel is the first book in Clare’s Infernal Devices series, which takes place in the same Shadow Hunter world as her Mortal Instruments series. This is set a hundred or so years sooner and has some cool steampunk like elements, including an evil plot with clockwork automatons.

After Tessa Gray’s aunt dies, her brother sends her a steamer ship ticket across the Atlantic to join him in England. But when she arrives, she’s taken by two women called the Dark Sisters, who reveal to her that she has a very special power – she can shapeshift into anyone after holding something that belongs to them. Of course, they torture and abuse her and plan to marry her off to some mysterious Magister, at least until Will comes along to the rescue. Then she get caught up in the world of the Shadow Hunters, demon-fighters descended from angels, and a plot to destroy them.

The world building is immersive and vast, on par with people like Scott Lynch and Seanan McGuire. And that’s nothing compared to Clare’s detailed and incredible character creation. Everyone, even the minor characters, are fleshed out into real people, and it’s easy to imagine Clare could tell you their life stories if you asked. No one is one-dimensional. And even the most tragic of circumstances, like Jem’s, who is always sick, feel real and not forced.

Tessa herself is likable, smart, witty, and tough. She starts to rescue herself before Will interrupts and is perfectly capable of being clear-headed in sticky situations. And while she tries to determine her feelings for Will, who is hot and cold, she doesn’t spend pages and pages pining for him. It’s not annoying, is what I’m saying, when so often it can be in paranormal romance. Tessa is also fond of books but unlike, say, Bella Swan, she’s also constantly quoting from them, and trading snippets of poetry with Will, who pretends to think it’s all sentimental nonsense.

And let me declare right here, right now: Magnus Bane is basically amazing. He’s a flashy bastard but he rocks so hard.

Characters and world-building aside, the story is incredibly crafted. It barely has a dull moment. There’s action, mystery, and crazy plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I’ve already started the second book and I cannot get enough of it. So crap. I guess I’m a Shadow Hunter fan after all. My only complaint is that I wish I’d thought of it first.

Recommended for: People who like October Daye and Harry Dresden will find this similar but different enough that it’s still new.

Zombie Love!

I hated zombies as a kid because they genuinely scared me, and later because it felt like every zombie thing was exactly the same. The dead start walking around trying to eat the living, people do dumb things and die, and no one understands the simplicity of shooting the infected the minute the infection happens because they have, like, human emotions and compassion or whatever.

That has changed in recent years. I’ve grown to appreciate a lot of zombie things but more importantly, zombie things are getting better, smarter, and more genre-savvy. Since tonight is the Mid-Season Premiere* of The Walking Dead (which you bet your butt I’m jazzed for), I thought I’d post about some of the more awesome zombie things out in the world, in case you’ve been living in Dracula’s castle; everyone knows he only has dial-up and still thinks the rotary phone is new and progressive.

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

It’s superheroes and zombies. Superheroes fighting zombies with superpowers and trying to rebuild the world after the Zombie Apocalypse. Do you really need to know more?

Clines gives each hero a flashback chapter that shows the progression of the zombie outbreak and in the present, the heroes aren’t just fighting the undead (called Exes, as in ex-human, ex-living, etc.) but a Los Angeles gang that’s trying to claim the city.

Clines also does some serious virulogy to explain the zombie epidemic, which I appreciate. I like my zombies with a side of science. It’s a fast-paced read that’s part comic book and part classic good versus evil.

The Newsflesh Series by Mira Grant

I could rave and flail about these books til the end of time, and have done so until most of my friends have relented and read them, and in turn flailed and raved, making them sort of infectious. It’s just everything I love about zombies – virology that puts every other zombie series to shame, a well-worked history of the outbreak, and a world that has adapted to life with the undead. Plus sarcasm, puns, and bloggers.

The first book, Feed, takes place 25 or so years after the the Kellis-Amberlee virus began spreading (it’s a mutation of two viruses, one of which was released in experimental stages by terrorists who wanted the “cold cure” free for everyone). As the infection spread, the media downplayed it and ignored it, while bloggers said, “YO. The Dead are walking. Shoot them in the face before they eat you,” and thus bloggers are the new media. Everywhere requires blood tests to enter, buildings are built or adapted to keep people safe, and once you test positive for the virus, you’re considered legally dead (meaning you can and will be shot on site).

In this world, adopted siblings Georgia and Shaun Mason run their news site, After the End Times, and are picked to cover a Presidential campaign. They end up uncovering a huge conspiracy. So it’s smart and clever, and zombieland is merely the world they live in (albeit scary as hell). And the characters are awesomely genre-savvy, so there’s no frustrating arguments about the morality of killing the undead, and there aren’t many irritatingly stupid mistakes either.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

It’s zombies with steampunk. Again, what else do you really need to know? (Also Wil Wheaton reads half of the audiobook.)

Set in an alternative-history Seattle where the Civil War is still going, spurring inventions of war machines, the zombies here are caused by a mysterious gas that began seeping out of the ground. It’s dense, so people walled up Seattle, and live on its borders, but sometimes people go back inside. It’s an intense, fascinating novel, and the zombies are just a small part of it, but they’re scary and well done. Also they’re called “Rotters” which might be the best term for zombie I’ve seen.

Those are my three favorite zombie books ever. I highly recommend all of them.

*Is it just me or this “mid-season return” crap sort of new. Shows never used to pause for months at a time, did they?

Geek Girl Con Panels: Steampunk!

This panel was so popular, they actually had to switch rooms and put it in the larger space. The line wrapped all the way around the hallway. Steampunk is gaining popularity.

Our lovely panelists: Clarie Hummel, Belle Holder, Ericka Johnson, and Cherie Priest

Claire Hummel is a concept artist for Xbox and works for SteamCon. Belle Holder is a Steampunk enthusiast and buys lots of clothes. Ericka Johnson is steampunk – she works with the Seattle SteamRats and does work for SteamCon as well. Cherie Priest says that “whenever someone tells me they read my book, they mean Boneshaker,” which of course is the first in her steampunk Clockwork Century series.

So what is Steampunk? Priest has a standard definition that she uses because it’s something her grandparents can understand: Steampunk is a style that draws its inspiration from the 19th Century technology and is a form of retroactive futurism. Holder says it’s as if DaVinci and Jules Verne had gotten to know each other. It’s an alternative history that relies on crafted technology.

Continue reading

Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Sometimes I read a book and then I’m not sure how to talk about it. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is one of those. I enjoyed it immensely, but it’s so—well,  forgive the term, as I mean it in the best possible sense— weird. I find myself trying to explain too much about the plot and the world and not talking about my impressions of the book.

So let’s start with this: I hadn’t read Westerfeld before but after reading Leviathan, I can see why he’s so popular. He’s imaginative and wild, and good at writing action sequences that play vividly in a reader’s mind, as well as creating likable characters that one instinctively roots for.

This is a book about two young people: Prince Aleksander, displaced heir to the throne of Austria, and Deryn, a girl who hides her gender in order to join the British Air Service. They live in a fictionalized Europe right as WWI is breaking out, mostly due to the murder of Alek’s parents.

Deryn hates skirts and high teas and revels in being airborne on a ship. She’s remarkably good with animals, whom she refers to as “beasties.” Alek, meanwhile, is stuck up, as Princes are wont to be, proud and used to getting his own way. While Deryn struggles to keep up the act that she’s a boy, Alek struggles with keeping his attitude in check.

After a mishap during a freak storm, Deryn finds herself a crew member (albeit a lowly middle shipman) aboard Leviathan, a ship that is actually a form of sky whale, kept aloft and alive by an entire menagerie of birds, lizards, worms, bees, and bats. Basically a flying ecosystem.

In Westerfeld’s world, Darwin not only discovered natural selection and evolution, but decoded the secrets of DNA (“life threads”) which has allowed the Darwinists—nations that follow his ideals—to  breed animals in order to suit their needs, rather than advancing their technology. These creatures are called “fabrications.”

On the other side, countries like Germany and Austria are “Clankers,” and have developed comparable weapons (including Zeplins and Walking-Battled Units) that run on kerosene and oil. It’s an intriguing fictional arms race.

The protagonists, both about 15, act like young people, rather than grown ups. Sometimes they make bafflingly stupid mistakes, but it’s refreshing to see them act like the teenagers they are.

Westerfeld’s visions of fabricated creatures and clanker creations are exceptionally fanciful. His world-building, though fantastic, is believable on the page, from the British slang and swear words he invents (“bumrag,” “clout”*) to how a living airship could thrive on hydrogen. I also love that Alek is squicked out by the idea of being inside the creature’s gastric chamber as they move down the “hallway” of the ship (yes, really), beyond the man-made gondolas that are attached to the beast. Who wouldn’t be? Especially since it smells, as Deryn puts it, like “cow farts.” FUN!

The novel is quickly paced and action packed, with rare moments allowing the reader to catch their breath before things roar into action again. I was unable to put it down and will definitely be picking up the sequel.

Recommended if you like: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, or simply enjoy airships, weird science, and alternative historical steampunk fiction.

*Unless these are actual slang words. But I’ve never heard them.