Book Review: The Guns Above

the guns aboveThe Guns Above
by Robyn Bennis
Steampunk
351 pages
Published 2017

The Guns Above is what I’d call hard Steampunk. It’s about the mechanics of the airship, and the strategies of war, far more than about the characters. There’s little to no character development; Bernat, described as a “shameless flirt” in the cover blurb, really only flirts once, and that with Josette’s mother.

I confess to being disappointed with this book. I was expecting something more character driven, and instead what I got was Steampunk military fiction. There was a LOT of violence, injury, and death, as you’d expect in a real war, especially a war fought with rifles and sabers and cavalry. With the exception of the airships, this is a close-combat kind of war. Rifles are a new-fangled innovation; most people are still using muskets and bayonets. Pistols are rare. Airships are the best technological advancement either side has made, and they’re dependent on bladders of lighter-than-air gas and wooden frameworks. They’re fragile enough a single cannon blast, if aimed right, can take out the entire contraption.

The cover blurb makes it sound as if there could be a romance between Josette and Bernat – nope. Not in the least. Bernat is conscripted by his uncle (the General) to find some dirt on Josette that will let the General demote her without incurring the wrath of the people who view her as a war hero. Bernat’s entirely okay with doing this until some point in the  book where he changes his mind for no discernible reason. If he’s decided that Josette is a worthy Captain, I wish that had made it onto the page as a motivation.

And WHY were they at war? Even the characters struggle to explain it. They’re just perpetually at war for no good reason.

The action was good. The strategies were good. The characters and world-building fell very, very flat.

From the cover of The Guns Above:

THEY SAY IT’S NOT THE FALL THAT KILLS YOU.

For Josette Dupre, the Aerial Signal Corps’s first female airship captain, it might just be a bullet in the back.

On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested death trap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat, a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. Bernat’s own secret assignment is to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision.

So when the enemy makes an unprecedented move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself?

Book Review: Mortal Engines

mortal engines

Mortal Engines
by Philip Reeve
Post-Apocalyptic Steampunk
296 pages
Published 2002

Through this entire book, I kept thinking “this feels like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” It’s a completely different setting, and a different plot, but it had the same atmosphere. Rollicking action, fantastical premise, crazy setting, huge machines with entire worlds within them. I loved Valerian – it may not have been a critically great movie, and I don’t think the leads had much chemistry, but the movie was just FUN. And that’s how Mortal Engines is, too.

It’s a crazy world, where cities have become mobile – think Howl’s Moving Castle – and they chase each other across a barren world, devouring each other for resources in a social order they call Municipal Darwinism. Some cities, like London, are huge, with six main levels, not really counting the Gut, or the center of the machinery. Other towns are small, one or two levels crawling along trying to avoid the notice of the larger, faster cities. The peoples of the Traction Cities think people who live in statics (stationary cities, or, horror of horrors, right on the ground!) or people who are part of the Anti-Traction League, are crazy barbarians. And then there are the airship captains and crews, based out of the one floating city.

It is a crazy steampunk world, and Tom Natsworthy stumbles into a conspiracy plot by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as he travels with Hester across the wasteland, trying to survive their pursuers and avert catastrophe, he learns more about her, and more about how the world actually works.

I absolutely adore the last two sentences of the book, and I’m going to post those here because they aren’t terribly spoilery. And they’re fantastic.

“You aren’t a hero, and I’m not beautiful, and we probably won’t live happily ever after,” she said. “But we’re alive, and together, and we’re going to be all right.”

This book is the first of a quartet, and Reeve also wrote a prequel trilogy, so there’s actually three books before AND after this book. I’ll probably check my library for them, because I REALLY enjoyed this book.

Mortal Engines is also set to come out as a movie this December – I can’t tell from the teaser how closely it’s going to stick to the plot of the book, but the Traction Cities are well done!

This also fills the “Steampunk” prompt for Litsy’s Booked 2018 challenge.

From the cover of Mortal Engines:

Emerging from its hiding place in the hills, the great Traction City of London chases one terrified little town across the wastelands. If it cannot overpower smaller, slower prey, the city will come to a standstill and risk being taken over by another. In the attack, Tom Natsworthy, Apprentice Historian to the London Museum, is flung from its speeding superstructure into the barren wasteland of Out-Country. His only companion is Hester Shaw, a murderous, scar-faced girl who does not particularly want Tom’s company. But if they are to make it back to London, before Stalkers or hungry cities get them first, they will need to help each other, and fast. If Hester is to be believed, London is planning something atrocious, and the future of the world could be at stake. Can they get back to London before it’s too late?

Friday 56 – Mortal Engines

mortal enginesThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

Today’s quote is from Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve. It’s my Steampunk book for Litsy’s Booked 2018 Challenge, and my full review will be up tomorrow!

Dog went hurrying ahead to sniff at the stacks of crates and drums: tinned meat, lifting gas, medicines, airship-puncture repair kits, sun lotion, gas masks, flameproof suits, guns, rain-capes, cold-weather coats, mapmaking equipment, portable stoves, spare socks, plastic cups, three inflatable dinghies, and a carton labeled “Pink’s Patent Out-Country Mud-Shoes – Nobody Sinks with Pink’s!

I mentioned in Tuesday’s Top Ten post that I love the character names in this book, but the rest of it is pretty great too!

Book Review: London Steampunk series

kissofsteelKiss of Steel/Heart of Iron
Bec McMaster
Victorian Steampunk Urban Fantasy Romance
400ish pages
Published 2012/2013

Holy crap. I have only read the first two of this series – I have three more to read. (My Lady Quicksilver, Forged By Desire, and Of Silk and Steam, with a second series in the same universe called The Blue Blood Conspiracy.)

THESE ARE SO GOOD.

Victorian Steampunk in London with vampires, mechs, and werewolves (sort of) with romance, a political conspiracy plot, and plenty of action? YES PLEASE. These books are excellently written, with a hefty plot that moves at a perfect pace. Both romances have been very believable and intertwined seamlessly with the larger world’s plot. Each book is a hefty length, enough to really get absorbed in and flesh out everything that needs to be covered, without dragging on and getting old. The characters are fascinating – even the side characters are interesting enough that I really hope future books focus on them.

I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this series, and I can’t wait to read the next books. I am forcing myself to take a break from the series, even though I have the next two books, because I have library books that are due sooner that I need to read.

The first book, Kiss of Steel, is available on Kindle Unlimited, my library had #2 and #4, and #3 is also on Kindle Unlimited, so they’ve been very convenient to read. This series is definitely going on one my list of best reads for this year, it’s that good.

If you like Steampunk, READ THESE.

From the cover of Kiss of Steel:

Honoria Todd has more secrets than most people and she’s hiding them in Whitechapel. Blade is the master of the rookeries and agrees to protect her, but at what price?

Most people avoid the dreaded Whitechapel district. For Honoria Todd, it’s the last safe haven as she hides from the Blue Blood aristocracy that rules London through power and fear.

Blade rules the rookeries-no one dares cross him. It’s been said he faced down the Echelon’s army single–handedly, that ever since being infected by the blood–craving he’s been quicker, stronger, and almost immortal.

When Honoria shows up at his door, his tenuous control comes close to snapping. She’s so…innocent. He doesn’t see her backbone of steel-or that she could be the very salvation he’s been seeking.

From the cover of Heart of Iron:heartofiron

In Victorian London, if you’re not a blue blood of the Echelon then you’re nothing at all. The Great Houses rule the city with an iron fist, imposing their strict “blood taxes’ on the nation, and the Queen is merely a puppet on a string…

Lena Todd makes the perfect spy. Nobody suspects the flirtatious debutante could be a sympathizer for the humanist movement haunting London’s vicious blue blood elite. Not even the ruthless Will Carver, the one man she can’t twist around her little finger, and the one man whose kiss she can’t forget…

Stricken with the loupe and considered little more than a slave-without-a-collar to the blue bloods, Will wants nothing to do with the Echelon or the dangerous beauty who drives him to the very edge of control. But when he finds a coded letter on Lena-a code that matches one he saw on a fire-bombing suspect-he realizes she’s in trouble. To protect her, he must seduce the truth from her.

With London on the brink of revolution, Lena and Will must race against time-and an automaton army-to stop the humanist plot before it’s too late. But as they fight to save a city, the greatest danger might just be to their hearts…

Book Review: Quintessence by David Walton

quintQuintessence
by David Walton
320 pages
Published 2013
Historical/Steampunk Fantasy

With Thanksgiving over, I’ve finally had time to sit down with a book again, and WOW where do I start with this one?! Quintessence is a fantastical tale, set in an alternate Victorian Age England. In this reality, the world really IS flat, and the sun and stars are a half dome over the earth, meaning they’re much closer to the earth at the edges of the world. Our main characters are Dr. Parris and his daughter Catherine, part of an expedition to an island on the edge of the world, populated by fantastical creatures, where lines of magical “quintessence” power strange abilities.

This book was fantastic. I keep using that word – but it’s the perfect word for this book! There’s -just- enough romance to give it that happy-ever-after feeling at the end, but the romance was by no means integral to the plot. Walton wove together magical creatures, political intrigue, colonization issues, philosophy, and troubles with the natives into one coherent, magical tale. I LOVED it. I see on his Amazon page that there’s a sequel – Quintessence Sky – but I’m not sure I want to spoil the perfection that is the first book by taking the chance on the second!

I picked this book up largely because of the gorgeous cover art, but it does not disappoint. If you like steampunk, you should read this book.

From the back of Quintessence:

Five hundred years ago in an alternate age of exploration, the earth is flat. Alchemy is a true science, sea monsters menace the oceans, and Europe is embroiled in religious controversy. Here, the magic is thin, but at the edge of the world, where the stars reach down close to the earth, wonders abound. This drives the bravest explorers to the alluring Western Ocean, toward lands unknown. Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who cares about one thing: quintessence, a substance he believes will grant magical powers and immortality. And he has a ship.

Fleeing an inquisition, physician Stephen Parris follows Sinclair to an island that perches upon the farthest horizon, bringing his daughter Catherine with him. The island teems with fantastical animals and alluring mysteries . . . and may even harbor the greatest and most coveted secret of all.

Book Review: Debris

debrisDebris
by Jo Anderton
464 pages
Published 2011
Modern Fantasy

Debris is Jo Anderton’s debut novel, and while it at times feels like it, the story at its heart is a unique take on the genre. I hesitated on which genre to list it as; it’s modern-ish technology, not on Earth, and more advanced than Steampunk. But it has magic, which makes it not sci-fi. Ultimately, it’s just GOOD. There were some pacing issues and the heroine seemed a little bi-polar, going from “I’M GOING TO GET MY OLD LIFE BACK” to “I don’t want to disrupt my new life” but other reviewers say that those issues are smoothed out somewhat in the second book, which I haven’t read.

The story begins with Tanyana exhibiting her talent for manipulating pions – the molecules that make up everything. She’s building a giant sculpture with the help of her circle. But something goes wrong – whether it’s a simple accident or someone targeted her is a mystery – and she loses her ability to see pions, but gains the ability to see “debris” – magical garbage created by the manipulation of pions. At least, that’s what she and her fellow “Collectors” are told it is. There seems to be more to the principles behind debris than just “junk,” though, and answers are not very forthcoming in this book. (Though plenty more questions are raised!) Other reviewers have said their are more answers in Suited, the next book in the trilogy. The third book isn’t out yet, and I’ll probably wait for that before picking up Suited, unless I happen past it on a library shelf or something. (Edit: Guardian is now out.)

I am very excited to see how this new author shapes up, given the quality of Debris.

From the back of Debris:

Tanyana is among the highest ranking in her far-future society – a skilled pionner, able to use a mixture of ritual and innate talent to manipulate the particles that hold all matter together. But an accident brings her life crashing down around her ears. She is cast down amongst the lowest of the low, little more than a garbage collector. But who did this to her, and for what sinister purpose? Her quest to find out will take her to parts of the city she never knew existed, and open the door to a world she could never have imagined.