Category Archives: Steampunk

The CAse of the Dragon-Bone Engine by Galadriel Coffeen

Stars: 4 out of 5

This was a very interesting and “light” read. And by light I don’t mean a dumbed down storyline, but the fact that this story was surprisingly devoid of angst and dark themes that seem to permeate most of modern books. Oh we have a few murders here and a rather gruesome accident, but despite that the story is refreshingly devoid of extra angst.

I must admit that I am intrigued by the world the author introduced. It’s slightly steampunky/Victorian maybe? And what glimpses we get of the worldbuilding only raise more questions. What are these dragon hives? Why are they only found on this mysterious continent? Speaking of that continent, how far North is it located that the sun barely rises for half a year? And if it’s that far North, why isn’t the weather colder than described? I understand that this is the first book in a new series, so I think the author did a good job giving us a glimpse into the world without huge infodumps, but dang, I want more answers! Which is one reason why I will most certainly pick up the next book in the series when it comes out.

I also really liked our protagonist. Unlike some typical female heroines in urban fantasy, she is refreshingly mature and no-nonsense. She has a brain and she doesn’t hesitate to use it. She is educated and she has manners. If anything, she seems way more mature than her age, but I am not complaining.

I also liked that we don’t really have a romantic line woven into the story per se. Yes, she likes her partner, and he seems to like her, but we are spared the teenage hormones and angst that are so common to these types of books. Again, really refreshing. These two people are good partners who trust and respect each other first and foremost. The romance feels an organic development of the relationship they had built before then. I certainly am looking forward to see how it will evolve in future books.

The author also did a great job setting up the stage for the next books. While the main mystery of this book is resolved in the end, and the reader has the satisfaction of discovering who sabotaged the dragon-bone engine and why, bigger mysteries are just hinted at. Honestly, I really want to know who would have wanted to kill our protagonist’s father and why. Did it have anything to do with his research into the origins of magic? And if so, what did he discover that had him killed?

Anyway, I am definitely putting this series and this author on my To Be Watched list.

PS: I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Master of Djin by P. Djeli Clark (Dead Djin Universe 1)

Stars: 3 out of 5

I really love this author’s short stories. I’ve read everything he published and each one of the stories was a solid 5 out 5 stars. So I was really looking forward to diving into this full length novel set in the same world as the Haunting of Tram Car 015.

Unfortunately, my high expectations were met with a disappointment. This has all the ingredients that made his short stories great… but the mixture isn’t quite setting right.

I think one of the reasons is that there isn’t enough plot here for a novel, so the author is putting a lot of filler to add to the word count. As a result, the narrative moves at a very sedate pace and feels rather disjointed. I caught myself wondering several times why the the author chose to stay with some minutia details for as long as he did.

When the narrative actually moves the story along, it’s all tight writing and nail-biting action. Unfortunately the “padding” kills that momentum every time. I constantly felt like the story was hitting the break every time it was starting to get good.

My other problem with this book was that I didn’t particularly care for the protagonist. Fatma spends most of the book worrying more about if her tie matches her outfit or what her lover is doing than doing actual detective work. As a result, she comes across as an irresponsible airhead, not a decorated investigator.

And speaking of detective work, Fatma is particularly bad at it in this book. To the point I started wondering exactly how she got her position. Did she get hired as the token female into an all male world? I’m sure that’s not the view the author intended to convey, but Fatma’s seeming ineptitude and worry about her wardrobe above anything else doesn’t make her seem like a capable character. Heck, all the major clues that move the story along are basically handed to her by other characters!

I think the author realized that his protagonist wasn’t doing much detecting, so he decided to give her a new partner. Who is also a female. Fresh out of the academy. Very eager to learn and to jump into action.

This could have been such a wonderful idea to explore – to have those two women used to being tough in a man’s world butt heads, learn how to cooperate, and slowly gel into a cohesive team. And in the beginning it really seemed like that would be the road the author would take… until it wasn’t.

The problem here is that he made the new recruit too perfect. She is skilled in martial arts, she is smart and reads several languages, she never looses her cool even in dreadful situations, and she knows and uncle/cousin/brother-in-law, etc. in any and all departments of Egyptian life. She is basically a glorified Mary Sue.

So we have a wishy washy protagonist paired with a Mary Sue and a story that draaaaaags over pages and pages… and the result is a big disappointment. I think I’ll still with this author’s shorter work for now.

PS: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Shadow Revolution: Crown & Key 1 by Clay Griffith, Susan Griffith.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5.

This is the first book in a new series and as such, it has the thankless task of introducing a brand new world and new characters while keeping it interesting with a good plot. Because of that, I always try to be more lenient when reading and reviewing them.

All in all, The Shadow Revolution was an entertaining read. The plot moved along at a steady pace with the right balance of action and explanation to keep it interesting but also give the reader time to breathe between action-packed scenes.

I liked the two main protagonists as well. Simon Archer is a spell-casting scribe as well as a dandy, well known in the upper society circles for his romantic conquests. Kate Anstruther is an alchemist as well as a true lady who never loses her composure even in the heat of battle.  It was interesting to see those two very different people try and work together and slowly move from grudging mutual respect to admiration and then even affection.

However, that’s where the good ends and the problems start. There isn’t much to say about the supporting characters, which was disappointing. I almost felt like they were a collection of stereotypes.

Nick Barker, Simon’s mentor and friend, prefers getting drunk in a pub than risking his life battling the things that go bump in the night. It’s hinted that he is powerful and rather old, but nothing in his behavior throughout the book really shows that.

Then we have Imogen, Kate’s younger sister, who is a carbon copy of one of the air-headed sisters from Pride and Prejudice. She is rebellious against the control her sister has over her life and sure of her own feminine powers over men at the beginning of the book, then vulnerable, driven mad and otherwise useless for the rest of the book. Basically, Imogen gets fridged just to drive Kate’s character development and involvement in the whole story, which is a cheap move, in my opinion.

Malcolm MacFarlane is another walking stereotype – a Scottish monster-hunter who embodies all the tropes about Scotsmen that I hate. He is loud, he is rude, he is boorish and uneducated, oh, and he has a short temper. Really? I’ve lived a year in Edinburgh, I can assure you that not all Scottish people are like that. In fact, most of them are not. It’s like saying that all Russians are drunks, or that all French wear berets and those ridiculous striped sweaters. I call that lazy worldbuilding.

Speaking of worldbuilding, it’s next to non-existent. I know that it’s hard to find the right balance in a book between showing the reader this new world the author has created and not boring them to death with info dumps, but the authors went into another extreme – they put no world building whatsoever.  It feels like they decided that just indicating that their story takes place in Victorian London is enough. Well, it’s not.

The world is a jumbled mess in this book. We have Victorian Society. We have magicians. We have werewolves. We have other creatures. But how all that works, we have no idea. The authors didn’t deem it important to explain the rules of their own world. So there are scribes and alchemists and other kinds of magicians, but what kinds? How do they differ? How do they coexist? No clue. There are brief mentions of an Order of mages that existed before, but is gone now, other than that – nothing.  I don’t need long info dumps. I’m more than willing to stick along for the ride and progressively discover more about the world, but I need at least some breadcrumbs to keep me going. I need to understand the rules to still be interested in the story. Here, I felt like the characters were just running through cardboard decoration, not a living breathing world.

As I said at the beginning, this is the first book in a series, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of doubt. Hopefully the next one will flesh out this world a bit more. If not, I don’t think I’ll stick with this series.

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.

 

Evernight by Kristen Callihan

Stars: 2.5-3 out of 5.

This is a review of the ARC of Evernight that I got curtesy of NetGalley.

I admit that I find rating this book extremely difficult, and I think it has at least partly to do with the fact that I rarely read books with a romantic line as one of the driving forces of the plot. And of those that I read, the number that I really liked is very small.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we? As far as the world-building and the plot itself goes, I would give Evernight between 3.5 and 4 stars.

This is the fifth book in The Darkest London series, so the readers are thrown into a world that had already been introduced and explained in the previous books. As such, there are no noticeable info-dumps. The world itself is interesting and well fleshed-out. It’s everything a steampunk lover would want: a Victorian London with steam engines and crazy contraptions; Ghosts in the Machine (GIMs), demons and other supernatural beings; an organization in charge of policing the supernaturals and another one fighting for their freedom.

Granted, it’s nothing particularly new or original, but it’s described well and it works. I enjoyed exploring this alternative London with Holly and William, and I wouldn’t mind discovering a bit more about it, so I might go back and read the other books in the series.

The main characters are also rather engaging. Both Holly Evernight and William Thorne are interesting protagonists, with their own backstories and personal demons. So empathizing with them wasn’t a problem for me.

By now you must be wondering why I gave this book such a low rating if I liked so much about it? Well, we reached the crux of my problems with Evernight – the romance between the protagonists. In order for a romance book to work, at least for me, the romance has to work, since it is such a big part of the story. No matter how good the plot is or how interesting the world, if the relationship between the characters rings false, it will put me off the book.

And this is precisely the problem here. Will and Holly are interesting characters… that have zero romantic chemistry between them. They work well as partners, maybe reluctant friends, but any time the author tries to introduce the romance, both start acting extremely out of character.

The whole romance between them feels forced, as if the author had decided that it was needed, since it was a romance book, and tried to make the characters dance to her own drum beat, instead of listening to what they really wanted to do.

As a result, I had to roll my eyes during some of the touchy-feely scenes. When I realized that I was skipping them altogether to get to the plot, that was indication enough that the romance simply wasn’t working for me.

So I would rate the romance component somewhere around 1.5 and 2 stars. But, once again, I need to emphasize that there are very few romance novels I liked; where the relationship between the main characters was so well written that it had me hooked and wanting more. When I find such a gem, I hoard it, I cherish it, and I re-read it quite often. And this is always a matter of personal taste. What I found forced and unbelievable might seem beautiful and romantic to somebody else.

So would I recommend this book? I would say – up to you, guys. The world is interesting, the plot is rather fun, if you don’t mind skipping all the romance parts.