Breaking into a new genre can be intimidating. Like entering an exclusive club, there are players big and small you’re expected to know and lingo you’ll want to use correctly. But rather than going in blind, it’s best to look for a tour guide who can help introduce you gently to the wild world you’re entering. In the case of steampunk, we’ve asked The Clockwork Crown author Beth Cato to give us a lesson.
You may not be familiar with the term “steampunk,” but chances are you’ve already seen or read something in the genre. It harks back to Jules Verne with works like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea up to recent works like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or the series and movie Wild Wild West. Think of Victorian or Edwardian settings, manners, and clothes, with a boost of technology and magic and a dash of derring-do.
Steampunk is a growing literary genre, too, one that readily crosses lines between mystery, romance, science fiction, and fantasy. There’s something for everyone. If you’re looking for an introduction, here are five I’d recommend:
If you love and miss the TV show Firefly, Retribution Falls is the book for you. The ensemble cast of dysfunctional rogues aboard the airship Ketty Jay drops into a hot mess of political intrigue and adventure. It’s a breathless romp with hapless bad guys you can’t help but cheer for.
This was one of the most hyped fantasy novels of 2014, with reason. Royal back-stabbing tends to make for a dark, dour read, but Addison’s reluctant emperor, Maia, charms in this bright, positive novel. The steampunk element is light and adds to the setting’s charm.
Cherie Priest is best known for her book Boneshaker, the first novel of her Clockwork Century series. However, each novel stands well alone, and Dreadnought (the third book) is a fast-paced survival drama about a Civil War nurse who takes an all-too-eventful train ride across a very different 19th-century America.
If you prefer mysteries akin to Sherlock Holmes, The Affinity Bridge presents a fog-shrouded Victorian London and cadavers who won’t stay properly dead. The chemistry sparkles between Investigator Newbury and his new assistant Miss Hobbes as they delve into the mystery with proper British aplomb.
The heroine of the Parasol Protectorate series has no soul, but these books are full of heart. Soulless is set in a different Victorian London, one populated by vampires, werewolves, and a great deal of mischief. Dry humor and sharp wit make this a laugh-out-loud read. It’s no wonder Soulless is one of the signature books of steampunk. There’s also a graphic novel version that condenses the story and retains the delightful spark.