I’m always looking for new books to read, so I asked the TwitterVerse for some steampunk recommendations. I’d read several of the suggestions that came back, but I found some new ones to check out too. In case you’re a fantasy fan and looking to try more steampunk books, I’ll include the list here.
Let me know what you think. Are these “must read” titles, or is there something else you’d recommend?
Perdido Street Station
This recommendation comes via Lynda Young, and it was my introduction to steampunk, several years ago. While the characters didn’t stick with me, the world-building did. Total immersion steampunk, magic, and crazy made-up creatures that were refreshingly creative after all the Tolkein-inspired medieval fantasy I’d read growing up.
Mieville’s much-praised first novel of urban fantasy/horror, was just a palate-teaser for this appetizing, if extravagant, stew of genre themes. Its setting, New Crobuzon, is an audaciously imagined milieu: a city with the dimensions of a world, home to a polyglot civilization of wildly varied species and overlapping and interpenetrating cultures. Seeking to prove his unified energy theory as it relates to organic and mechanical forms, rogue scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin tries to restore the power of flight to Yagharek, a member of the garuda race cruelly shorn of its wings. Isaac’s lover, Lin, unconsciously mimics his scientific pursuits when she takes on the seemingly impossible commission of sculpting a patron whose body is a riot of grotesquely mutated and spliced appendages. Their social life is one huge, postgraduate bull session with friends and associates–until a nightmare-inducing grub escapes from Isaac’s lab and transforms into a flying monster that imperils the city.
Several of my Twitter buddies recommended this series (Beth Cato, Ryan Sanders, and Kendra Highley — she’s the one who first sent me a copy of the ebook and said, “read this!”). It’s young adult, but enjoyable at any age. The setting never gets in the way of the story, but it’s full of steampunk-goodness as well as creative world-building concepts (it’s the sort of alternate Earth you would have loved to see!), and the heroes are easy to identify with as well.
This is World War I as never seen before. The story begins the same: on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated, triggering a sequence of alliances that plunges the world into war. But that is where the similarity ends. This global conflict is between the Clankers, who put their faith in machines, and the Darwinists, whose technology is based on the development of new species. After the assassination of his parents, Prince Aleksandar’s people turn on him. Accompanied by a small group of loyal servants, the young Clanker flees Austria in a Cyklop Stormwalker, a war machine that walks on two legs. Meanwhile, as Deryn Sharp trains to be an airman with the British Air Service, she prays that no one will discover that she is a girl. She serves on the Leviathan, a massive biological airship that resembles an enormous flying whale and functions as a self-contained ecosystem. When it crashes in Switzerland, the two teens cross paths, and suddenly the line between enemy and ally is no longer clearly defined.
This recommendation (as well as a few others in here) comes from Ant over at SFBook (a review site you should check out, and not just because he was kind enough to review my books).
A masked terrorist has brought London to its knees — there are bombs inside books, and nobody knows which ones. On the day of the launch of the first expedition to Mars, by giant cannon, he outdoes himself with an audacious attack.
For young poet Orphan, trapped in the screaming audience, it seems his destiny is entwined with that of the shadowy terrorist, but how? His quest to uncover the truth takes him from the hidden catacombs of London on the brink of revolution, through pirate-infested seas, to the mysterious island that may hold the secret to the origin not only of the shadowy Bookman, but of Orphan himself…
Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate)
This was also a recommendation from Beth Cato, but it’s certainly a popular series, so I’m surprised more folks didn’t mention it. Perhaps because the steampunk elements are more decorative than key to the story (I’d probably call Soulless a historical fantasy). It does often get mentioned as a steampunk romance, though, and there are lots of positive reviews on Amazon, so you might want to give it a try (warning: vampires and werewolves abound).
Carriger debuts brilliantly with a blend of Victorian romance, screwball comedy of manners and alternate history. Prickly, stubborn 25-year-old bluestocking Alexia Tarabotti is patently unmarriageable, and not just because she’s large-nosed and swarthy. She’s also soulless, an oddity and a secret even in a 19th-century London that mostly accepts and integrates werewolf packs, vampire hives and ghosts. The only man who notices her is brash Lord Conall Maccon, a Scottish Alpha werewolf and government official, and (of course) they dislike each other intensely. After Alexia kills a vampire with her parasol at a party—how vulgar!—she and Conall must work together to solve a supernatural mystery that grows quite steampunkishly gruesome. Well-drawn secondary characters round out the story, most notably Lord Akeldama, Alexia’s outrageous, italic-wielding gay best vampire friend. This intoxicatingly witty parody will appeal to a wide cross-section of romance, fantasy and steampunk fans.
If you have an e-reader and like the idea of giving an indie author a try, this recommendation comes from Ant:
Europe is a dangerous, virtually lawless place. Armed bandits prowl the railway lines in their armed Steam Locomotive looking for easy marks, and heavily armed mercenary engines travel from town to town looking for work in a world where every day is a struggle for its civilians.
Erica, an emotionally disturbed girl from England finds herself joining one of these mercenary teams. What follows is a trek across Europe to where two mighty cities, each representing a different way of life, stand on the verge of a war which will shape the way Europe develops.
On one side are the Steam using traditionalists of St Vith, led by the charismatic and cunning General Roosje Cuvelier. On the other, stands the mighty Winterscheid Diesel Empire under the iron fist of the merciless Kaiser Sigmund Eisenburg.
Two vicious armies, treachery from her own allies and the world’s deadliest super-weapon are just a few of the dangers that Erica must face in her journey.
The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire, Book 1)
This one was suggested by urban fantasy author Nicholas Olivio:
Griffith and Griffith, perhaps best known for their media tie-in work, merge vampires with steampunk in this tale of derring-do and star-crossed romance. In 1870 the vampires rose up and conquered the northern lands of Earth. The northern elites fled south to new colonies, leaving their subjects to the mercy of the predators. By 2020, the world is still divided. Princess Adele of the Equatorian Empire becomes the catalyst of the final human–vampire war when she is lost in vampire territory with only a mysterious adventurer known as the Greyfriar to help her. Set in a future that is comfortably quaint, where brass-plated technology is uninhibited by plausibility and the northern exiles may feel oppressed but the indigenous equatorial peoples never do, this melodramatic tale is fast-paced and entirely unchallenging.
Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel
Starla Huchton, the lady who does Amaranthe in the Emperor’s Edge podiobook, suggested this steampunk read for us:
These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences—the Crown’s clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling—will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest . . . and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray.
For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Books and Braun—he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices—must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot . . . or see England fall to the Phoenix!
Several folks have recommended Cherie Priest to me, and this one is in my too-read pile, especially since it takes place in Seattle (my hometown).
In an alternate 1880s America, mad inventor Leviticus Blue is blamed for destroying Civil War–era Seattle. When Zeke Wilkes, Blue’s son, goes into the walled wreck of a city to clear his father’s name, Zeke’s mother, Briar Wilkes, follows him in an airship, determined to rescue her son from the toxic gas that turns people into zombies (called rotters and described in gut-churning detail). When Briar learns that Seattle still has a mad inventor, Dr. Minnericht, who eerily resembles her dead husband, a simple rescue quickly turns into a thrilling race to save Zeke from the man who may be his father. Intelligent, exceptionally well written and showcasing a phenomenal strong female protagonist who embodies the complexities inherent in motherhood, this yarn is a must-read for the discerning steampunk fan.
If you’d like to go back and try the classics, Peter Seaton from Gallant Press recommends 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (Unabridged And Complete) and Five Weeks in a Balloon (the Kindle editions are 99 cents and free respectively).
Ant from SFBooks also suggested Infernal Devices while Maria Snell recommends The Last Block in Harlem. Another recommendation from Starla is The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne in).
Thank you, TwitterVerse, for all the suggestions. Good readers, are there any must-read steampunk offerings you’d add to the list?