Mini Review: “Ironskin” by Tina Connolly

My review of “Ironskin” is a part of a mini-review series to write about books that I read while on blogging hiatus last fall.  I had originally planned to write about it during the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge.  I received an electronic copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tina Connolly’s Ironskin is a young adult re-imagining of the the story of Jane Eyre, but with angry fae.  Jane Eliot was wounded with fae shrapnel during the Great War, and now she must wear an iron mask over her face to keep the fae magic from leaking out.  Jane is stigmatized because of her condition, but is hired as a governess to help a child whom she is certain is cursed with a similar affliction.  Dorie’s powers have scared away other governesses, but Jane is determined to stay.  Meanwhile, she finds herself falling for Dorie’s father, the mysterious Edward Rochart.

This book had so much going for it.  There were a plethora of elements to love–Jane Eyre, the fae, the gothic atmosphere, the steampunk element.  At the same time, I felt underwhelmed by the book’s ability to live up to its own potential, even though I can’t point out any one specific thing that’s “wrong.”  It just didn’t come together as organically as I would have liked.  I’ll still give it props for creativity (especially the wife-in-the-attic twist, which is NOT a spoiler, because it isn’t a wife in the attic).

Good for a light read, but don’t expect a masterpiece.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Morlock Night” by K. W. Jeter

I received a copy of Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter from the fine folks at Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review.  Angry Robot puts out some awesome books, and if you haven’t already, you should definitely check them out.

Morlock Night is a steampunk novel that picks up where H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine leaves off.  The protagonist, Edwin Hocker, attended the dinner party in Wells’ story and heard the tale of the time machine, but thought that it was merely a fanciful story.  It turns out that the story was true, and now the Morlocks have possession of the machine and are poised to take over Victorian England.

Morlock Night is an ambitious novel, as it pairs the story of The Time Machine with the legend of King Arthur.  That’s right.  Who better to save England from her most dire hour than he reincarnated Hero of Britain?  Of course, that’s not as easy as it sounds, because Merlin’s archenemy, Merdenne, has joined forces with Morlocks.  He’s captured both Arthur and Excalibur, and so Hocker must suspend his rationality and disbelief, otherwise all is lost.

For such an enterprising and complex story, I felt that Morlock Night accomplished its goals well.  I’ve read other steampunk novels that feel cluttered, or that try to incorporate so many different elements that they don’t quite do any of them well.  I didn’t get that impression here.  Jeter was able to integrate several different mythologies, including King Arthur, The Time Machine, and the legend of Atlantis, and I was impressed that he was able to pull it off.  Jeter does take some liberties with the source material, but it’s for artistic reasons, and I’m okay with his interpretation of Wells’ vision.

Jeter incorporates the same tone as H.G. Wells as he tells his story, which makes the novel campy and fun.  This isn’t *serious* reading, and it’s not meant to be.  It’s a pulpy steampunk adventure, and I loved it.  One of the things that I enjoy about steampunk is its ability to incorporate strong female characters.  In this case, Hocker’s sidekick from the future is a woman named Tafe who fought in the resistance against the Morlocks.  She disguises as a man when she time travels to before the invasion, and Hocker wouldn’t have been able to succeed without her.

If you’ve read The Time Machine and are into steampunk, Morlock Night is an excellent adventure.  It’s a quick read and definitely worth giving a chance.

By the way, does anyone else adore this cover as much as I do?  I love the 1960s psychedelic feel that it has.  If it were a poster, I’d want it on my wall.  The creepy eyes and the submarine are awesome.


Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Conspiracy of Alchemists” by Liesel Schwarz

Good evening everyone!  Today is my stop on the TLC Book Tour of Liesel Schwarz’s debut novel, “A Conspiracy of Alchemists,” which is the first book in the Chronicles of Light and Shadow series.  I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

“A Conspiracy of Alchemists” is a steampunk paranormal adventure.  Our protagonist, a young pilot named Elle, agrees to deliver a rather unusual cargo, only to find herself caught up in a plot between the various supernatural forces that share the world.  After her father is kidnapped by Alchemists, Elle must take action, piloting an experimental steam-powered gyrocopter in hot pursuit.  Accompanied by a dangerous yet sexy Warlock named Mr. Marsh, as well as an absinthe fairy that stowed away in her bracelet, Elle begins a journey in which only she can save the world from dark forces grasping for power.

Elle made an excellent protagonist.  She’s an independent young woman in a world where that is unusual, and she is accustomed to having to fight for her freedom and her happiness.  This is countered by her very unique role as the next Oracle, one who is destined to channel the balance of power between worlds.  Elle’s coming-of-age is to learn to accept that she can be her own person, but still accept her gift and all its implications.

The love story between Elle and Mr. Marsh was mind-bogglingly cheesy, and I was completely okay with it.  I was happy to see that it was a love story (the guilty pleasure variety–the tall, dark, and brusque stranger meets a fiercely independent rebellious young woman, at which point they argue for half the book and then realize they are madly in love), and not a love triangle.

The idea of using an absinthe fairy as a major character was quite clever, even though I wish she would have been more developed, or would have at least had a bigger role in the plot.  I also wished that the fairy’s point-of-view hadn’t been signified by a different font, as it was a bit distracting.

I was pleased that the book had an ending, even though it’s the first in a series.  The story arc of this book is resolved, but then the final chapter is set up as a teaser for the next book.  This works rather well.  It makes you wonder what’s going to happen next, but at the same time, you’re not being tortured until the next book is finally written and released.

This is one of those times where I read a book at exactly the right time.  Between work and school, I’ve been pretty stressed out lately, and was in the mood for something light, fun, and not too serious.  “A Conspiracy of Alchemists” met those qualifications.  Absinthe fairies and gyrocopters are just awesome, and evil alchemists and warlocks with questionable intentions are great for brightening up a rough day.

Overall, not bad for a debut novel.  A bit rough around the edges, but still a fun read.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

“The Iron Wyrm Affair” by Lilith Saintcrow

I received a review copy of Lilith Saintcrow’s “The Iron Wyrm Affair” while I was at BEA earlier this summer.

“The Iron Wyrm Affair” is a delightful blend of steampunk and mystery set in an alternate version of Dickensian Britain.  Mr. Archibald Clare is a Mentath, which means that he has the superpower of deduction.  When the corpses of Mentaths (some of which have had certain body parts removed) begin turning up, Mr. Clare falls under the protection of the feisty sorceress Emma Bannon.  With the help of Miss Bannon’s Shield, Mikhal, they must uncover who is behind a plot which might threaten Brittania herself.

This is the first book in a series of adventures featuring Mr. Clare and Miss Bannon, but it can function as a standalone.  The mystery is essentially solved at the end of the book, but a couple loose ends could potentially segue into the next book.

Before I’d even gotten two chapters into “The Iron Wyrm Affair,” my first impression was, “Damn.  Lilith Saintcrow has a wonderful vocabulary.”  I read so much that it’s rare that I’ll come across new words and will wonder what something means, but it happened several times during this book.  I get excited when authors manage to challenge me like that.

I enjoyed Emma’s character tremendously.  She’s a Prime Sorceress of the Black, which means she’s uber-powerful and can talk to dead people.  People are innately distrustful of those who are a part of the Black, because the idea of control of life and death is rather unsettling.  Miss Bannon came from a humble background, and it shows.  While she has since moved into the upper class, she’s retained a few of her old habits which make her so much more fun than if she behaved properly.  She’s the type of woman who can out-curse a sailor, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.

Mr. Clare’s character is based directly upon Sherlock Holmes.  Bannon & Clare make great leads because their personalities and methods are so distinctly opposite of one another.  Mr. Clare lives in the world of logic and reason, whereas Miss Bannon works best through magic and hunches.  With their powers combined, they are Captain Planet.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)  Meanwhile, the minor characters in the book provided rather effective comic relief.

I like the way that Saintcrow handled the romance aspect of the book.  It’s treated almost an afterthought, and it doesn’t get in the way of the plot of the story.  It’s more like “Oh, Emma slept with someone (and I’m not saying with whom, cause spoilers and all…),” and that’s that.  There’s no relationship drama, love triangle, etc., but rather it just feels like a natural incident that happened during the course of her adventures.

My one wish is that I’d liked to have gotten a bit more detail about the world, but at the same time, not knowing every detail about the workings of an alternate Britain that contains clockwork horses, dragons, and sorcery made Mr. Archibald Clare’s deductions seemed that much more brilliant.

I’m a fan of the steampunk aesthetic, but up until this point I’ve found very little in the genre that works for me.  This one’s a winner.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , , | 18 Comments

“Red Seas Under Red Skies” by Scott Lynch

“Red Seas Under Red Skies” is the sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora and is the second book in the Gentleman Bastards series.  Even though it’s the second book in the series, it has its own story arc.  While it would have been helpful to read LoLL first, I don’t think that it is 100% necessary.

“Red Seas Under Red Skies” takes place in the kingdom of Tal Verrar.  Locke and Jean, whom we know from the first book, are two thieves who just want to be richer and better than everybody else.  They come up with a scheme to rob the head of the Sinspire, an infamous casino.  However, other forces within the city conspire to use Locke and Jean’s unique talents toward their own ends.  Oh, and the best thing about the book?  There are pirates.

Scott Lynch’s writing is a lot of fun.  He uses creative cursing and banter to create a lighthearted atmosphere, even as his characters are fighting for their lives.  Lynch also challenges traditional gender roles, treating his female and GLBT characters as completely normal.  For example, the captain of the pirate ship is the mother of two children, and another of the pirates is a lesbian.  Neither of these things are a big deal or are seen as terribly unusual.

I’m also a big fan of the world-building.  The first book in the series was set in Camorr, which was a vaguely medieval city with glass towers that were built by the long-departed Lovecraftian Eldren.  Hungry sharks lived in Venetian canals that criss-crossed the city.  Tal Verrar evokes a different atmosphere entirely and has recently developed clockwork technology, giving it a bit more of a steampunk vibe.  I like how each city-state seems to have its own distinct atmosphere while still forming an organic part of the larger world.

Overall, I’d highly recommend “Red Seas Under Red Skies,” especially if you enjoyed “The Lies of Locke Lamora.”


I read this book as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge and the Tea & Books Challenge.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

“The Court of the Air” by Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt’s “The Court of the Air” is a steampunk adventure in which the fate of the world hangs in the hands of two orphans on the run.  Molly is apprenticed to a brothel, but on her first day of work her first customer tries to kill her.  As it turns out, she’s got a huge bounty on her head and is completely baffled as to why.  Meanwhile, Oliver has spent his whole life secluded because he’s part fey and people are afraid of him.  When his Uncle is murdered, he finds himself in the company of the disreputable Harry Stave, a member of the shadowy Court of the Air.

This book has so many things going on at once.  There’s political intrigue, robots, airships, mutants, torture, Lovecraftian insects, human sacrifice, steam engines, and a frickin’ mushroom forest!  I’m a big fan of the mushroom forest.  At the same time, the author tries to cram too much action into one book, which means that if your mind wanders for thirty seconds and you glance down at the page, you’re completely lost.  There are scores of minor characters who only show up for a chapter or two and then are forgotten about for most of the book.  The author keeps introducing new characters up until the very end, and it’s difficult to keep track of all of them.

This is an adventure story, so there’s little to no character development.  At the same time, the worldbuilding in the kingdom of Jackals was phenomenal.  Jackals is governed by a Parliament, and political debates involve two opponents beating the crap out of each other with big sticks.  The monarchy still exists, but the king gets his arms chopped off so he can’t oppress the people and is mostly around so the people can throw rotten fruit at him if anything goes wrong.  The major villains are “communityists” who believe in enforcing equality by putting everyone into identical clunky cyborg bodies.

Hunt’s world is incredibly complex, to the point that I think that most readers will either love it or hate it.  I’m rather ambivalent about it; I think it had a lot of wasted potential and could have benefited from some expansion.  The book could have worked really well if there was a bit more explanation and we got to spend a bit more time getting to know each of the characters, but I felt like the story was too rushed to be fully enjoyed.  There were a lot of individual elements to the story that I loved, but the book didn’t work for me as a whole.

“The Court of the Air” is the first book of the Jackelian Saga, but it functions well as a standalone.  Because of the complexity of the story it takes a deceptively long time to read.  I’d suggest it only if you’re a big fan of steampunk and have the time to digest it slowly.


I read this book as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge and the Speculative Fiction Challenge.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Red Seas Under Red Skies Readalong, Part II

Welcome to the second week of the Red Seas Under Red Skies readalong hosted by The Little Red Reviewer.

The RSURS fan art to the left is Locke Lamora – colour by tenleftthumbs.  It seemed particularly fitting for this week’s section of the book.

It might take me a couple days to get around to visiting everyone’s posts; it’s finals time and I still have some work to finish up before the weekend’s over.

From this point onward there will be spoilers.

“And I meant it.  I’m not going to kill you, you cabbage-brained twit; I’m just going to kick you until it stops feeling good!”

Now that we know a little more about Selendri and Requin, what do you think of them? I worry Locke is suddenly realizing this con might be a bit tougher than he expected.

Scott Lynch doesn’t cease to amaze me with sheer number of ways that he can come up with to torture people.  Poor Selendri… My guess is that even though Selendri got her arm burned off she’s still working for the Archon.  I don’t think you can just stop being an Eye.  There’s a reason why she doesn’t like Locke, and I think she knows that Requin is being played.  If so, then why isn’t she telling on him?

What did you think of  Salon Corbeau and the goings on that occur there? A bit crueler than a Camorri crime boss, no?

To reiterate from the last question:  Scott Lynch doesn’t cease to amaze me with the sheer number of ways he can come up with to torture people.  Please oh please let Locke give them all a dose of their own medicine.  Lady Saljesca gets Falconer treatment though.  It’s very rare that I wish characters to die slowly and painfully, but torturing poor people for your own perverse amusement is WRONG.

The Archon might be a megalomaniacal military dictator, but he thinks he’s doing right by Tal Verrar: his ultimate goal seems to be to protect them.  What do you think he’s so afraid of?

The Bondsmagi are some pretty scary dudes.  I could see the Archon fearing their power, especially if it interferes with his own.  Honestly though I think he’s just afraid of losing his funding/navy.

And who the heck is trying to kill Locke and Jean every few days?  they just almost got poisoned (again!)!

I’m thinking Selendri.  She’s close enough to the Archon to know that Locke and Jean are up to something, but she’s not stupid and wants to clean things up herself.  Of course, I’m probably wrong, and it’s probably someone we haven’t even met yet.

Do you really think it’s possibly for a city rat like Locke to fake his way onto a Pirate ship?

Of course, and I can’t wait to see him try!

A couple random things bothered me in this section.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the book so far, but… the tipping scene seemed a bit anachronistic.  Tipping’s a pretty modern American concept, and it felt out of place.  Also, what’s up with the whole “larboard” thing?

I love how we’re seeing so much clockwork in RSURS so far.  It gives the book kind of a steampunk aesthetic, which is quite different from Camorr.

See everyone next week for chapters 7-10!


Edit as of 5/6/12:  I was wrong about the larboard and the tipping.  I’m learning a lot this week!

Also, I skipped a question because I wrote this up in a sleep-deprived haze at 2am after finishing up several papers.  Time to write down the answer!

Isn’t the Artificers’ Crescent just amazing?  If you could purchase anything there, what would it be?

I want a cute fluffy clockwork pet that I’m not allergic to!  I’m tired of being allergic to everything that’s adorable and fuzzy, and I think the Artificer’s could help me with that.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , | 24 Comments

“The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells

After reading “Before the Storm” by Marian Perera, I decided that I need more steampunk in my life.  After consulting a bunch of random lists on the internet, I came to the conclusion that I ought to read something by H. G. Wells before delving into modern steampunk, as his ideas provide an inspiration to many steampunk writers.

Before starting the book, I didn’t know much about it.  Yeah, I saw the “Wishbone” episode as a kid, but I don’t think that counts, as I’m pretty sure that I remember Weena being a love interest in that version.

I probably would have read “The Time Machine” a lot sooner if I’d have realized that it was so short.  Clocking in at only about 100 pages, it’s a rather quick read, as Elizabeth mentioned in her review.  Sometimes I think that a book’s status as a classic makes it more intimidating than it ought to be…

The narrator of the “The Time Machine” has an eccentric friend who attempts to convince his social circle that he has the ability to travel through time.  At first he sends a simple device, then finally tries out his own time machine.  The Time Traveler journeys to the distant future and finds, rather than a more intellectual and technological society,  a childlike race known as the Eloi.  The Eloi don’t read or write, and lead a blissful animal-like existence during daylight.  The Time Traveler tries to theorize why the Eloi exist, using his own social theories to try to comprehend the future.  What the Time Traveler doesn’t immediately realize is that the Eloi are terrorized at night by the Morlocks, a subterranean humanoid race that treat the Eloi as a food source.  When the Morlocks steal his time machine, the Time Traveler is forced to confront them in order to return to the past.

“The Time Machine” uses a science fiction story about time travel to illustrate a broader point about social class.  The Eloi and the Morlocks were both descendents of mankind, as the gulf between the workers and the wealthy became so great that they followed their own evolutionary directions.  As we’re in the middle of a major recession marked by growing income inequality, it’s a timely message.  It’s funny how little has changed since 1895!


This book counts for several of the challenges that I’m participating in.  I’m including it in the The 2012 Science Fiction Experience hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings and the Speculative Fiction Challenge 2012 hosted by Baffled Books.  It also counts toward the Vintage SciFi Not-a-Challenge hosted by The Little Red Reviewer.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , | 25 Comments

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