Tag: Steampunk

Review: Gaslight Hades by Grace Draven

Posted September 11, 2017 by Holly in Reviews | 1 Comment

Review: Gaslight Hades by Grace DravenReviewer: Holly
Gaslight Hades (The Bonekeeper Chronicles, #1) by Grace Draven
Series: The Bonekeeper Chronicles #1
Published by Self-Published
Publication Date: March 10, 2017
Genres: Steampunk
Pages: 117
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Goodreads
four-stars

Nathaniel Gordon walks two worlds—that of the living and the dead. Barely human, he's earned the reputation of a Bonekeeper, the scourge of grave robbers. He believes his old life over, until one dreary burial he meets the woman he once loved and almost married.

Lenore Kenward stands at her father’s grave, begging the protection of the mysterious guardian, not knowing he is her lost love. Resolved to keep his distance, Nathaniel is forced to abandon his plan and accompany Lenore on a journey into the mouth of Hell where sea meets sky, and the abominations that exist beyond its barrier wait to destroy them.

GASLIGHT HADES is a 39k-word novella-length gaslamp fantasy romance with a sprinkling of airships, monsters and ghosts.  This story may also be found in the duology, Beneath a Waning Moon, alongside an Elizabeth Hunter tale.

Gaslight Hades is a dark and gritty novella that introduces us to a new Steampunk series by Grace Draven.

Nathaniel Gordon used to be a gunner on an airship, until he fell into hell and was remade by a monster. Now he’s a Guardian; Able to walk between two worlds – the living and the dead – he’s a Bonekeeper, a protector of graveyards and those who reside in them from grave robbers, who steal dead bodies and deliver them to madmen to be experimented on and brought back to life in the worst imaginable way. Life as he knew it is over, he understands and accepts that…until his lost love, Lenore Kenward, turns up in his graveyard for her father’s funeral.

Lenore begs The Guardian to watch over her father’s grave, not realizing he’s what’s left of the man she was meant to marry. There’s something very familiar about him, and she finds herself drawn to him despite his appearance and the probably danger. But will she still be able to accept him once she finds out the truth?

This my first story by Draven. I really like Steampunk so I expected to enjoy it, but I was surprised by how much I liked it. I was very sad it ended when it did. I would have loved to have more: More of the world, more Lenore and definitely more Nathaniel. I’m really excited to see this is just the start of a series and I hope all 6 Guardians get their own books.

3.5 out of 5

four-stars


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Guest Review: The Kraken King by Meljean Brook

Posted January 21, 2015 by Jen in Reviews | 2 Comments

The Kraken King by Meljean BrookJen’s review of The Kraken King (Iron Seas #4) by Meljean Brook

A former smuggler and thief, Ariq—better known as the Kraken King—doesn’t know what to make of the clever, mysterious woman he rescues from an airship besieged by marauders. Unsure if she’s a spy or a pawn in someone else’s game, Ariq isn’t about to let her out of his sight until he finds out…

After escaping her fourth kidnapping attempt in a year, Zenobia Fox has learned to vigilantly guard her identity. While her brother Archimedes is notorious for his exploits, Zenobia has had no adventures to call her own—besides the stories she writes.

But when she jumps at the chance to escape to the wilds of Australia and acquire research for her next story, Zenobia quickly discovers that the voyage will be far more adventurous than any fiction she could put to paper…

Reading time has been painfully scarce for me the last few months. I don’t know about you, but when I have limited time to read, I really, really want to read something worthwhile. I was trying to decide what book would be a slam dunk for me when Rowena reviewed Here There Be Monsters, a novella in Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series. This reminded me I still hadn’t read The Kraken King (book 4 in the series), and I immediately knew where I’d find my slam dunk. Brook hasn’t failed me yet, and The Kraken King was no exception.

Zenobia Fox is the sister of Archimedes Fox, who we met previously in the series.  Zenobia writes adventure stories inspired by her brother’s exploits. Unlike her brother, Zenobia lives a decidedly non-adventurous life. The only excitement comes when she is repeatedly kidnapped and held for ransom by people trying to extract money from the wealthy Archimedes. The rest of the time, she lives in virtual isolation with body guards. When a childhood friend asks Zenobia to accompany her to Australia to rejoin her husband, Zenobia jumps at the chance. She gets more than she bargained for when their airship is attacked by marauders, and they end up stranded in an Australian village, Krakentown, run by Ariq, the Kraken King. Ariq is suspicious of Zenobia and wonders whether she was the marauders’ real target. He’s attracted to her, though, and sees no reason why he can’t share his bed with her while he works to protect her and his town. When his quest to stop the marauders and Zenobia’s efforts to help her friend coincide, they end up traveling together and both getting embroiled in political machinations they never expected.

I love so much about this book. The plot is exciting, and it provides more insight into the Iron Seas world. I don’t think you need to have read all the many books to enjoy this story. Brook provides enough explanation to bring newer readers up to date, though you’ll certainly get the most out of it if you have at least some background knowledge. One thing I really enjoy about this series is the way it exists in the same universe but explores many different perspectives, geographies, nationalities, objectives, etc. I love seeing the unique viewpoints and voices each book brings.

While the plot kept me interested, my favorite part of the book is the romance. Zenobia and Ariq are wonderfully matched and equally fascinating. I love that Zenobia is very, very clever, and while she hasn’t had much life experience she adapts easily and can take care of herself. Her life has not been easy, and there have been very few people worthy of her trust. It’s meant she needed high walls around herself just to survive, and it’s meant she’s spent much of her lifetime hiding her true self from everyone. Ariq recognizes this and is patient and understanding about why Zenobia wouldn’t trust him. He takes time to make her comfortable and make her feel safe. Ariq is an almost mythical hero; he’s physically huge and almost unnaturally strong. He is an exceptionally kind and conscientious leader, too. His primary goal is to protect those he loves, and he believes it is a leader’s duty to watch out for innocents.

Together, these two are magical. Ariq provides Zenobia the security and unconditional love she’s been craving so desperately. Zenobia helps Ariq learn to compromise and share burdens. Neither is accustomed to collaborating with anyone, but for each other they want to try. They negotiate disagreements, each presenting their side and each weighing the others’ opinion fairly. But that equality never felt forced or didactic–it felt natural and an outcome of their personalities, their strengths, and their love. Fairly early on Ariq realizes he wants Zenobia for more than just her body. I adore when the big, strong warrior falls first! Zenobia is much more realistic. She has trust issues, but more than that she’s immensely practical and I thought it was completely right for her character to want more time to get to know Ariq before committing. Once she does, though, she is all in, and that’s when the two are really unstoppable.

The characters and setting swept me up and carried me away on a tide of good sighs and squeals of joy, and as soon as I finished I was ready to assign a 5 and call it a day. Once I took a breath and looked back more critically, though, I had to acknowledge a few flaws. First, the misunderstandings and suspicions between Ariq and Zenobia felt like they were drawn out just a smidge too long. Not egregiously so, but given that Ariq and Zenobia are both practical people, I felt like they should have had a good heart to heart earlier on and cleared up the misunderstandings. There were also too many parts of the book that dragged. Honestly, I think much of this is due to the serial format. I wish my favorite authors would stop writing serials! I can’t stand reading installments, but once the series is finally published as a novel things often feel too far stretched. I also wanted to see a little more of Zenobia coming into her own. She can’t fight like Ariq, and she has no political standing so she can’t be involved in the negotiations and political process. She does have one moment where she sets about rescuing herself, but then Ariq shows up and finishes the job. I’m glad she wasn’t just sitting back waiting, but I was a little sorry we didn’t get to see her actually save herself. I wanted more of her participation in the plot. I am also sort of conflicted about Zenobia’s relationship with her friend, Helene. Helene seems to be kind of vapid and shallow at first. I appreciated that she does show more complexity than that, but I didn’t really like the way Zenobia treated her, and I didn’t enjoy the way things ended between the friends. I wanted the two to acknowledge each other’s shortcomings but still offer unconditional support. I felt like Zenobia needed another support outside of the men (her brother and later Ariq) in her life.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved this book. It is a fantastic story, with a lovely romance at it’s heart. Any Iron Seas fans should absolutely read it, and I think if you’re like me and don’t mind missing some back story you might even be able to jump into this book as a newbie. I don’t think it’s the pinnacle of the series, but it’s a fantastic universe in which to lose yourself for a while.

Grade: 4.5 out of 5

This book is available from Berkley. You can purchase it here or here in e-format.  This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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Guest Review: Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

Posted January 20, 2015 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie LinJen’s review of Gunpowder Alchemy (Gunpowder Chronicles #1) by Jeannie Lin

In 1842, the gunpowder might of China’s Qing Dynasty fell to Britain’s steam engines. Furious, the Emperor ordered the death of his engineers—and killed China’s best chance of fighting back…

Since her father’s execution eight years ago, Jin Soling kept her family from falling into poverty. But her meager savings are running out, leaving her with no choice but to sell the last of her father’s possessions—her last memento of him.

Only, while attempting to find a buyer, Soling is caught and brought before the Crown Prince. Unlike his father, the Emperor, the Prince knows that the only chance of expelling the English invaders is to once again unite China’s cleverest minds to create fantastic weapons. He also realizes that Soling is the one person who could convince her father’s former allies—many who have turned rebel—to once again work for the Empire. He promises to restore her family name if she’ll help him in his cause.

But after the betrayal of her family all those years ago, Soling is unsure if she can trust anyone in the Forbidden City—even if her heart is longing to believe in the engineer with a hidden past who was once meant to be her husband…

When I heard Lin had written an adventure set in an alternate history Chinese steampunk universe, my first thought was “OMG I’m in!” Luckily, Gunpowder Alchemy didn’t disappoint.

Jin Soling is struggling to support her family after her engineer father was executed by the Emperor. Desperate, she heads to the city to try and sell her last valuable from her father, but she ends up getting detained by the Emperor’s son. The Prince understands his father’s arrogance is preventing the Empire from effectively fighting the Westerners, and he wants to create the kind of technologies that would allow them to level the playing field. He demands Soling’s help to find one of her father’s old colleagues, a man that holds the key to a crucial invention. For her part, Soling doesn’t trust anyone from the Empire or frankly want anything to do with their struggles, but she does want to clear her family name and get some security for her mom, brother, and faithful servant, so she eventually agrees to help. Soling has to track down the needed information and then get back to her family, who are in danger because of a growing rebellion against the Empire.

There were a few things I wasn’t fond of in this book, but overall it worked for me. I loved the setting. I am always looking for books, especially quasi-historicals, set outside Europe and America. The book weaves genuine historical details and fantastical reimaginings in a way that’s engaging. Obvious care was taken to make things accurate while still creative, and the setting was a big part of what kept me reading. Lin’s writing is evocative, and Soling’s voice comes through strongly. (The book is told from Soling’s point of view.)

Plus, the plot is fascinating! Everyone Soling meets has differing, and sometimes conflicting, agendas. There are the rebels fighting against the Empire, often in a ruthless fashion. There are the Emperor’s people, who believe that he is a god and the Empire is infallible. There are those allied with the Crown Prince who support the Empire but believe that the Emperor is making a mistake. There are the British and their native allies who are occupying part of the Empire and focused on making money. And finally there are others who aren’t particularly allied with anyone other than themselves and just want to be left alone. In this book, Soling is trying to decide what side, if any, she should be on. Who is “right” here, and does it even matter? By extension, as readers we don’t know who to support either. Is the Empire tyrannical and evil, or a force for the preservation of (alternate history) China? Are the rebels violent and selfish, or is their cause just? Are the British the villains? I personally wasn’t left with any clear preference. I loved that Soling is really on her family’s side. She does what she does for the people she loves, not for any larger cause. I don’t really know whether Soling will choose a side more definitively in the next book, but I for one appreciated her ambiguity in this one.

Romance fans are probably wondering if there is a romance here. The answer is, yes, while not the driving conflict, there is a quiet love story here. At the start, it seems like there will be a bit of a love triangle, but it’s such a non-conflict that I had to stop for a second to wonder if I was reading something that wasn’t there. It’s certainly more subtle than love triangles we usually see. I had heard before I read the book that the romance was very G-rated and not a major part of the plot, so I knew what I was getting into. And yet…I found myself longing for more passion and focus on the relationship. Soling and the hero would be sharing a quiet moment, and I would think “Ah, perfect time for some sex!” They never share more than a kiss, and even that I felt was born more out of a dangerous moment they were facing and less from some sort of enduring passion. Despite my penchant for trying to insert (harhar) sex where none exists, though, I actually thought more focus on their romantic relationship would have enhanced Soling’s own story. We know most of her choices in the book are made for those she loves. I wanted to see how passion for a partner would impact her decisions. Then again, I’m a romance fan. It wasn’t anything that ruined my enjoyment of the story–it just made me consider alternate possibilities.

While I liked the story, it wasn’t perfect. Soling doesn’t have a ton of agency in this book. It’s not really her fault because she’s in a pretty powerless position in society, but it also made the story a little less satisfying. (This is only book 1, though. Hopefully Soling can reclaim some agency in the future.) I actually wasn’t in love with the hero, either. I didn’t dislike him, but I did prefer the other angle in that potential love triangle more. (I wish I could lay out my reasoning better for the triangle and why I liked the guy I did, but to do so would spoil things.) I felt like the steampunk elements could have been better explored. Perhaps technology will play a bigger role in the next book, but in this book I felt like the technology was important to the characters mostly off screen. I wanted to actually see more of it. I also felt like some portions of the book dragged a bit, such as part of the time Soling spends on the ship in the first section of the book.

Truly, I want everyone who is even remotely interested in this genre/setting/plot to give Gunpowder Alchemy a try. Don’t expect a true romance, but do expect a complex story with a remarkable setting and fresh perspective (with a little side dish of gentle romance). It is something different and fun, and I want to see more of this kind of book.

Grade: 4 out of 5

This book is available from InterMix. You can purchase it here or here in e-format.  This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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Review: Here There Be Monsters by Meljean Brook

Posted January 12, 2015 by Rowena in Reviews | 12 Comments

here there be monsters
Rowena’s review of Here there Be Monsters (Iron Seas #.5) by Meljean Brook.

Two years ago, blacksmith Ivy, desperate to flee London, purchased her overseas passage by agreeing to spend the voyage in the bed of the pirate captain, Mad Machen. Saved at the last minute by his rival, Ivy scraped out a new life in Fool’s Cove…until Mad Machen finds her, forces her to accept a job that will create a monster, and reminds her that she still owes him the price of a journey…

This companion novella is the introduction to the Iron Seas series and was previously published in the 2010 anthology, Burning Up.

I’m a huge chicken when it comes to trying things outside of my comfort zone. I’m more of the go with what you know you’ll like instead of trying something new. I’m a lover of contemporary romances and that’s what I read. I know that I’ll either love it or like it and if I hate it, I have go to authors that help me forget. But 2015 is the year that I’m trying to step out and try new sub-genres. It’s the year that I get those paranormals that everyone loves read. It’s the year that I branch out and see if I’ll like steampunk and urban fantasy. So when Holly told me to try this novella out, I was game to give it a try.

I’m so glad that I did.

This book follows Ivy Blacksmith and Eben, the guy known as Mad Machen. The story opens with Ivy, on the run to the only guy that she knows who has the power to help her in the world that they live in. That guy is Mad Machen. Her life is threatened and she needs to get out because she does not want to stick around so when she shows up at Eben’s room, he’s surprised. He’s going to help her, of course. But before they can take off, Ivy gets another offer to get away and she takes it, leaving Mad Machen behind.

Two years later, Mad Machen finds the girl that got away and Ivy is scared out of her pants but when Eben forces her to accept a job she doesn’t want, she forgets to be scared and she just gets pissed.

This was a really short story so it didn’t take much time to get it read. I won’t lie and say that it was an easy read for me because I’m new to all of the steampunk romance business so a lot of the kraken talk and the metal skin stuff took some getting used to but when I finished the story, I was glad to have read it. I liked it. I liked that Mad Machen had a thing for Ivy before she got to his room that night. I liked that he never gave up on looking for her and I really liked seeing him fumble his way through each and every single conversation they had on the ship. He was the captain of the ship but he kept slipping every time he talked to Ivy. I thought it was adorable.

I liked seeing Ivy and Eben grow closer and closer with each passing day. I liked seeing Ivy struggle with what she was feeling for Eben, her confusion and seeing her come into her feelings for him. What I didn’t like? How short it was. But, that’s just me being greedy.

Ivy was a good heroine though there were times when I wanted to give her a good shake but she was strong and I liked how she made a life for herself in the town that she settled in.

Eben was a great hero. I loved how patient he was with Ivy. He waited a long time to be with this woman and every time she bought her freedom from hooking up with him each night, I groaned because he just kept right on waiting to get his hands on her. Poor guy but he cracked me up when he told her, “If courting didn’t work, abduction was next.” LOL.

I thought this was the perfect introduction into the steampunk romance genre and I’m looking forward to digging into this series even further.

Grade: 4 out of 5

This book is available from Berkley. You can purchase it here or here in e-format.


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Guest Review: Gilded Lily by Delphine Dryden

Posted August 5, 2014 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Gilded LilyJen’s review of Gilded Lily (Steam and Seduction #3) by Delphine Dryden

HIDDEN IDENTITIES, SCANDALOUS SECRETS…
DEADLY ATTRACTION.

Frederique Murcheson’s introduction into society hasn’t gone smoothly—some would even call it a disaster. Only Freddie considers her debut a success. Her scheme to become a makesmith has gone off flawlessly. The only thing that could upset her plans now would be if someone discovered that brilliant tinker Fred Merchant is, in fact, a lady in disguise.

Wooing a spoiled heiress is not exactly Barnabas Smith-Grenville’s idea of high espionage. However, considering his brother disappeared on the job, supposedly into the most iniquitous of opium dens, he cannot expect much better. At least the assignment will afford him time to search for his brother, whom he suspects is in spy-related trouble rather than a drug-addled haze.

But when Freddie proves to be both irresistible and the key to the answers he seeks, Barnabas finds himself not only entwined in a scandalous mystery involving lethal submersibles and deranged dirigibles, but also in a dangerous game of the heart…

This is the third installment in Dryden’s Steam and Seduction steampunk romance series. (I reviewed #2 here.) While the first two books weren’t perfect, I enjoyed them because the characters were interesting and the plots unique. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy Gilded Lily as much.

The heroine is Frederique Murcheson. You may remember Mr. Murcheson from previous books as part of the English spy network, using his status as a successful merchant for cover. His daughter Freddie looks like a typical young society lady, except for her secret life dressing as a man and working as a tinker. The hero is Barnabus Smith-Grenville, who we first saw in the previous book when he entered the Sky and Steam Rally in order to find his missing brother. Barnabus has since joined the spy network, and his first assignment is to watch over Freddie. He discovers her secret life as a tinker, and then gets involved when Freddie starts investigating exactly what her father really does.

Freddie is a great character. She’s extremely intelligent and craves a challenge, but her father tries to restrict her activities and make her act as a proper lady. She chafes at these limits, which is why she starts sneaking out, with the help of some friends, to be Fred the tinker. I love Freddie’s spirit, and I love her curiosity about the world. It’s what drives her to start investigating what her dad is doing. She is definitely too impulsive for her own good sometimes, but to me that read as just a matter of inexperience. She has been young and sheltered, and at first she doesn’t understand how dangerous and complicated the world can be. She is a quick learner, however, and clearly would make an excellent spy, or most anything else she set her mind to, to be honest.

Freddie is about the only thing this book has going for it, though. The biggest stone dragging things down is Barnabus. He is completely and utterly boring. When Freddie first meets him she compares him to pudding–bland and unexciting. Later she revises her opinion, but I think her first impression was spot-on. Barnabus stumbles into the spy business mostly because he wants to search for his brother, who he suspects is also a spy. He has no particular aptitude for spying or even interest in it. He does manage to keep up with Freddie and discover her secret life, but that’s one of the few times he displays any cleverness. He is a total buzz kill, too. He’s doesn’t appreciate jokes, is always scolding Freddie for not doing what her dad wants, etc. He isn’t good at witty repartee, nor is he particularly brave. In other words, if he has any strengths, he doesn’t discover them in this book! I like the trope of the seemingly average person who discovers what makes them special during the course of a story, but that’s not what happens here. I saw little evidence of Barnabus’s uniqueness or growth by the end. And the fact that Freddie thought he was so amazing worked against the book, too. It felt forced and totally against her character. I was actually disappointed in her that she would settle for someone who was clearly not her equal. All I could envision for the future was her steamrolling over Barnabus in all decision making, going off to have exciting adventures while he tagged along complaining and making vaguely frowny faces.

There was also too much that didn’t make sense. The world building of this book wasn’t entirely consistent with the previous stories. For instance, when comparing Freddie to the last heroine, Eliza, it doesn’t seem like the two women come from the same world. Eliza is still subjected to gendered expectations, but she went to a university, learned how to be a mechanic/tinker, competes in the Sky and Steam Rally, etc. But Freddie has to sneak around dressed as a man, is expected to marry soon, and is definitely treated as the weaker sex. I think part of the difference can be attributed to her overprotective father, but Freddie’s world still seems more restrictive than Eliza’s. For example, Freddie’s friend Sophie (who I suspect may be the heroine of a future book) is also kept sheltered by her parents and is primarily valued for her marriageability. Perhaps the colonies, where Eliza lives, are simply more egalitarian than Europe, but if that’s the case the book doesn’t do much to make that difference clear. Freddie and Barnabus’s adventures are pretty preposterous, too. They easily eavesdrop on and follow Mr. Murcheson, who’s supposedly an experienced spy. They sneak into what is likely the most top secret location in all of England with no problem. There is more that I can’t discuss without giving tons of spoilers, but trust me when I say things get kind of far fetched.

I most definitely did not believe in the HEA for Freddie and Barnabus. It looked more like settling than an equal, loving partnership. I actually think Freddie belonged with another character. I don’t want to name him because his appearance is part of the plot, but right from the moment he entered the story he bickered with Freddie, stood up to her, was perceptive and mysterious, and generally injected some much-needed life into the adventure. THAT guy could have been a match for Freddie, and I would have preferred to read their story. The good news is I think he’ll be the hero of a future book–hopefully his heroine will be up to the challenge.

Grade: 3 out of 5

The series:
Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

This book is available from Berkley. You can purchase it here or here  in e-format.  This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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