Category Archives: Steampunk

The Devious Dr. Jekyll by Viola Carr

The Devious Dr. Jekyll is the second book in Viola Carr’s Electric Empire series. I initially picked up the first book in this series, The Diabolical Miss Hyde, because I saw the cover in a bookstore and it looked really cool. The cover for this installment was equally awesome. As the title of the books suggest, they are a play on the story of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Main character Dr. Eliza Jekyll is the daughter of Henry Jekyll, and because Dr. Jekyll was using his infamous elixir when Eliza was, *ahem* conceived, Eliza has what you could call a split personality. Her “other half” so to speak is Lizzie Hyde.

**This review will contain some mild spoilers for the The Diabolical Miss Hyde.**

devious dr jekyll coverEliza is a well-respected female doctor who often helps the police solve their cases and who dates the dashingly handsome Captain Lafayette. Captain Lafayette works for the Royal Society, a group dedicated to wiping out everything even remotely supernatural in England. This should include Eliza, which makes their relationship a bit tricky – until Lizzie discovered Captain Lafayette has his own secret – he’s a werewolf. Eliza and Lafayette mutually decide to keep each other’s secrets, but their relationship remains complicated. Lizzie meanwhile is not just another personality. When Eliza drinks her elixir – or Lizzie breaks out on her own – her whole body changes, down to her hair color. She looks completely different, wears different sized dresses, and speaks with a different accent. Adding complication to Eliza’s relationship with Captain Lafayette is the small matter of Lizzie sleeping with him, and continuing to harbor feelings for him after he tells her he loves Eliza only and can’t be with her anymore. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a love triangle or not, haha.

These books are interesting reads for me, because most of the books I really like I enjoy because I can become emotionally invested in the characters. I don’t particularly like Eliza Jekyll or Lizzie Hyde. Eliza is too proper, and she makes some outrageously stupid decisions for a person smart enough to become a doctor. Lizzie is more crude than I can handle. The plot is good though. In this novel, Eliza and Captain Lafayette are searching for a murderer who is killing his victims using a horrifying ritual. I like steampunk novels, and I think Eliza’s talking mechanical dog is adorable and a nice touch by the author. So far, the books are fine.

Now here’s the part that really makes me want to read these novels: Viola Carr’s imagery is SPECTACULAR. I should have made notes of some specific examples, but of course I didn’t think of that at the time, and now the book is back at the library. The one moment I remember because it was so brilliant was Carr’s description of the sunlight as “gritty.” There was much more to the description of the scene than just this one word, but this stuck with me, because while it is not a word you generally associate with the sun, I understood exactly what she meant. Every single one of her descriptions is this perfect. It really takes her story writing to the next level, and it inspires me to make my own writing even better.

Overall, I give this book 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to fans of steampunk, the supernatural, and really brilliant imagery. The third book in the series, The Dastardly Miss Lizzie, was just published in April and I looking forward to reading it.

Greyfriar by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith

Greyfriar by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith, a husband-and-wife writing team, is the first book in the Vampire Empire series. It is an alternate universe novel, set in a time when vampires banded together and essentially took over the world in the late 1800’s. Humanity, which now lives in the cities closest to the equator where there is the most heat and sun, has finally made enough technological advances that they are prepared to start fighting back. The main protagonist in the story is Adele, Princess and future Empress of Equatoria, and land that encompasses most of the former British Empire. While on a diplomatic mission, Adele’s airship is attacked by vampires. She is rescued by the legendary Greyfriar, a human known for his ability to fight vampires. As she travels through Northern Europe and falls in and out of the hands of the ruling vampire clan, her worldview is shattered, and she learns quite a bit about herself and the vampires she has grown up hating and wishing to destroy.

greyfriar coverA unique take on the vampire lore is presented in this novel. Vampires are creatures that a born, not made from humans. They have exceptional senses of sight, hearing, and smell but feel little pain and have a terrible sense of touch that makes it difficult for them to manipulate tools – which is fine, because they are arrogant and find manual labor beneath them, forcing their human “bloodmen” to do it for them. They have retractable claws which they use as a main weapon. They can also fly – sort of? They can change the density of their body, and therefore float and move around with the breeze.

 

On one hand, I had a bunch of issues with this novel. I’m not sure I ever completely bought into the vampire lore. I respect the authors for trying to do something different, but I think it was too different. I believed almost everything right up until the change their body density to float/fly thing. I also found it unusual that the vampires had no interest in any sort of knowledge – they couldn’t read or write, and didn’t care that they couldn’t. They ruled and conquered by physical strength. Perhaps it is just because I have read far too many vampire novels in which the vampires are brilliant, rich and well-read, using the knowledge they gain by living for centuries to their advantage. The fact that these long-lived vampires had no concept of that seemed strange to me. I wanted this new and different take on vampires to be refreshing, but instead it irked me and took away from the story.

 

 

I did enjoy the relationship between Greyfriar and Adele. I felt Greyfriar appeared a bit too vulnerable at points, and it took away from the believe-ability of his character. But I thought their relationship was believe-able and well-written, and that kept me interested in the story. I figured out Greyfriar’s real identity almost immediately, and at first I was annoyed, but then later decided the writers did it on purpose and it worked.

 

There were these few and far between moments that alluded to some sort of magic. Presumably this becomes more important to the plot in the next novel? Otherwise I can’t figure out why it was mentioned. So little information about it was offered, that I found it annoying and abrupt rather than mysterious. I just wanted to get back to the action with Adele and Greyfriar. The mystery-magic either needed to be more developed or removed completely, particularly the secret meetings. I think moving them to the beginning of the next novel would have been more effective and interesting, and just left the readers wondering why Adele’s prayers have an effect on the vampires. This paragraph was a bit vague, but I don’t want to give anything away.

 

Overall, this novel was OK and I do plan to read the next one eventually, being interested in Greyfriar and Adele, and how their relationship will grow and change. I give it 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to fans of alternate history and steampunk vampire novels. I use the term steampunk loosely though – the novel has airships, but that’s about it for typical steampunk technology.

 

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

goliath coverAlek and Deryn are aboard the Leviathan when the ship is ordered to pick up a strange passenger in middle-of-nowhere Russia. This mysterious and eccentric passenger is none other than Nikola Tesla, brilliant inventor and Clanker-turned-Darwinist. Tesla claims he has invented a powerful weapon than can end the war. Dr. Barlow, the Leviathan’s chief boffin and head of the London Zoological Society, believe Tesla is completely mad, and the weapon will not work. Nevertheless, Alek sees Tesla as the fulfillment of his destiny: a way to end the war. While struggling to determine whether or not he can trust Tesla, Alek’s life is further complicated by finally learning the truth about Dylan-he’s actually a she named Deryn. Alek feels betrayed, and Deryn worries their friendship will never recover. Can the two become allies again, and can Tesla really help Alek stop the war?

First let me say this novel really made up for the second book in the trilogy, Behemoth, which I didn’t particularly like. I was so happy that the final secret between Alek and Deryn was out of the way. I loved the fact that it was the fabricated perspicacious loris Bovril that helped Alek figure it out. Bovril really became his own character in this novel, which was great. The relationship between Alek and Deryn which we have been watching develop since Alek first stumbled upon Deryn/Dylan freezing in the Alps, changed again as well. Alek finally realized Deryn was not only lying about her gender, but also her true feelings for him, which explained many things. Once again, Alek and Deryn got into and out of trouble, both together and separately. Their adventures were exciting and believable,a and didn’t take away from their relationship, which was the really interesting part of the series.

I liked the addition of Tesla and his weapon called Goliath. Despite Tesla’s outrageous claims about his weapon using the entire Earth as a power source, it was so well written I was still able to almost buy in completely to its powers. That was something I liked about these novels. The “Clanker” technology was always well done and believable. I’m not sure I ever fully bought into the Darwinist tech, especially the whole living-in-a-flying-airbeast thing, but it didn’t distract me from the parts of the book I did like, which was good. Overall, this was a great series and I’m glad I read it.

Happy reading,

-Branwen

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Behemoth coverThis is one of those books that is tough for me to review. I was reading some other reviews to get ideas, and it looked like most people LOVED this book, which was interesting to me because I was sort of “meh” about it. I mean, it was a good story, because I had a hard time putting it down, but on the other hand, it seemed like it ended in the same place as it began. Let’s see if I can explain.

****This review will contain some SPOILERS!!****

Alek, heir-in-hiding to the Austrio-Hungarian throne, and Deryn/Dylan, midshipman on the air-beast Leviathan and also girl masquerading as a boy, have finally reached the Ottoman Empire. While Deryn is playing handmaiden to diplomat Dr. Barlow while she meets with the Sultan, Alek and his friends are looking for a way to escape the ship. The British have finally joined the war, which makes Alek and his Clanker friends their enemies. Deryn and Dr. Barlow discover that the Germans have beaten them to Istanbul and have already won the Sultan to their side, which forces the Leviathan to leave early. Alek is only able to escape with a few of his friends, Count Volger is left on the ship. Not knowing what else to do, and feeling responsible for the war, Alek joins up with a groups of revolutionaries and vows to help them stop the Germans. Meanwhile, Deryn is sent on a secret mission into the city, and when the rest of her team is captured she is stranded. She finds Alek in the city and helps him and the revolutionaries. Alek reveals to Deryn that he is heir to the throne, and Deryn almost reveals that she is a girl pretending to be a boy so she can serve in the air service, but loses her nerve at the last second. At the end of the novel, everyone is back on the Leviathan at the same place they were at the beginning of the novel, they are still at war, no one knows Alek or Deryn’s true identity, and everyone is left wondering what will happen next.

I felt like this story had the same ending as the first book. The action in the middle was different, and that was exciting, and I did like Alek better in this novel. He was much less whiny and more “take charge” in his attitude. Deryn acted a little more girly and started exploring her feelings for Alek, which was interesting. I really thought she was going to finally reveal her secret, but she wimped out at the last second, which annoyed me, because I think the relationship between Alek and Deryn would have been much more interesting if she told him the truth. I did like the addition of the American reporter. Adding an American to the mix was a nice touch, as was the mention of Americans being a cross between the Clanker and Darwinist theory. Also, and this was a little thing, considering the book was called Behemoth, I would have thought the behemoth creature would have had a slightly bigger role. It was talked about for awhile, but only showed up for a few pages. Anti-climactic if you ask me.

A lot of reviewers on Goodreads mentioned that this was an excellent example of Steampunk, and that’s why they loved it. I am not a “diehard” steampunk fan–it’s alright, but I don’t love it. Maybe if I appreciated that aspect of the novel more I would have liked it better. Again, over all it wasn’t a bad book by any means. The ending just fell flat and that was unfortunate. Perhaps the third book will redeem the trilogy.

Happy reading,

-Branwen

PS – While I’m writing this review, SyFy is having one of their infamous SyFy-Original-Movie Marathons. I love SyFy Original Movies. They’re so campy and fun to pick on, with hilariously bad CGI. The one on at this present moment is coincidentally called Behemoth. I can’t wait to see the monster, haha.