Book Review: The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D. Sonnier

With a title like The Clockwork Witch, who needs a synopsis? You got clocks, you got witches, and you got a witch that fixes clocks. What else were you expecting? Michelle D Sonnier hits the nail on the head with this Victorian-Era Urban-fantasy about discovering the most counter-intuitive witch powers a teen girl could ask for.

Arabella Sortilege is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, born to the Grand Dame of the great Blackstone House under the auspices of a not so subtle prophecy. Except unlike all her sisters, she can’t seem to manifest any abilities. What’s a girl to do? Until she sneaks into a World’s Fair type of Exhibition and meets a certain Mister Westerfeld and his Distinction Engine (see while the women all go and do their witch thing, the mundane men compensate with motors and machines). Having been sequestered within her mother’s overprotective bubble, this first experience with machines awakens her gifts in what essentially amounts to the antithesis of natural witchcraft. Continue reading “Book Review: The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D. Sonnier” »

Book Review: The Queen of England: Grand Tour, by Courtney Brandt

There’s a surprising readability to be found in this wish fulfillment fantasy for any teen girl reader, or any reader really, who might vicariously want to be a teen a girl. Who is Queen. And wields Excalibur. And talks to unicorns sometimes. You probably already know if you’re capable of enjoying this type of classical Victorian steampunk romance fantasy or not. But just for the sake of a fair review, let’s break it down anyway.

Grand Tour is actually Book II in this series by Brandt available on Amazon (Book III is on the way), but I didn’t feel restrained in any way by missing Book I. Everything you might need to know is included within the text. The famous teen Queen Victoria—you know, from the Victorian era—was killed last time and replaced by… another teen queen, this time named Juliette. I don’t understand the merit of replacing one teen queen with another except to avoid all the historical research, but as far as I can tell Juliette is no different than how I’ve seen Victoria portrayed in any number of adaptations dealing with her youthful monarchy. Nonetheless, Juliette is descended from King Arthur so that’s why she carries Excalibur everywhere with her and occasionally talks to it. But that’s all backstory. What’s young Juliette up to this time? Under the guise of husband-hunting, she boards her airship on a tour across Europe to investigate the New World Order (a secret society that wants to rule England or Europe or something which may or may not be run by [SPOILER REDACTED]), but things go horribly wrong right from their first stop in France. This is our premise.

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Book Review: Esper Files by Egan Brass

Esper Files mixes the charm of your usual Victorian steampunk setting with the spectacle of a superhero popcorn flick and keeps the action pistons pumping throughout this first novel by Egan Brass.

Nathan and James are Espers with superpowers, feared and hated by the public at large, and when they aren’t bickering with one another like step-brothers, they’re getting into your usual fisticuffs around town with their less reputable counterparts and rescuing pubescent children who are only beginning to understand the changes they’re going through. Along with the requisite evil henchmen, they confront a villain named simply the Baron, a former associate of their enigmatic mentor known only as the Professor who runs an Institute for Espers to learn to control their powers. If this is starting to sound familiar, you aren’t the only one thinking this is just another X-Men knockoff set in set in a vaguely steampunk Victorian England. The only part that didn’t feel X-Men to me was the little girl they rescue after her unexpected expression of powers turns the entire scene into a block of ice, threatening to kill everyone. That’s straight out of Disney’s Frozen. Continue reading “Book Review: Esper Files by Egan Brass” »

Book Review: The Machine by E.C. Jarvis

Opening with a curmudgeonly engineer, “Cid” adjusting his goggles, moving quickly to the bouncing blond curls of our naive young heroine, “Larissa”, and leading swiftly into the explosion of a mysteriously ominous machine, E.C. Jarvis’ steampunk powered novel, The Machine, kicks off with a literal bang and rollicks along at a near unrelenting pace. We are whisked from Larissa’s fairly mundane existence as a humble clerk at a clothing emporium, her modest apartment where we meet her best friend and confidante, “Imago” her cat, to a flight for her life, and a desperate mission to save the life of a man she might be in love with…delicate details, twists on the all-too-common tropes, are what make The Machine such a pure pleasure to read, that draw us in to discover the true nature of Larissa’s romantic entanglements, as well as to understand the evil machinations, of not only our evident villains, the sadistic “Dr. Orother”, his giant henchman, “Hans” or even the seductive, yet seemingly heartless female assassin, “Serenia”, but later even deeper and more insidious implications of intrigue on a grander scale.

E.C Jarvis paints in vivid hues a world of corsets, cogs, pirates and airships, with a gently restrained romanticism, and even a few heated scenes of sexual passion. She balances these elements skillfully with raw action and harrowing suspense, tempering it all with a touch of playful humor. She is a master at tension and release. I found myself reveling in the beautifully rich descriptions of a somehow familiar yet delightfully exotic future/past, where clerics in robes guard temples to the gods, ladies of the evening laugh raucously from the balconies of a city tavern where denizens of the night brandish knives and pistols under their waistcoats.

Our author warns, “This is a work of adult Steampunk Fantasy. Possible triggers are present within the book including…sex, murder, torture and violence.” I was surprised only once at how far into the abyss she takes us. Yet even when I found myself wince a bit, Ms. Jarvis handles her re-balancing act deftly and with a renewed sense of purpose and worldly wisdom gained by our heroine.

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Book Review: A Measure of Temperance

A Measure of Temperance, written by Ichabod Temperance, about a nineteenth-century steampunk version of himself also named Ichabod Temperance, is as ridiculous to read as this sentence kicking off the review would suggest. This is the sixth volume in the series and you can find them all digitally on Amazon for a dollar (or paperback for a few bucks more).

Temperance cover

Check it out on Amazon

I really struggled with how to review this book. On the surface, it seems like a fun little steampunk romp full of jovial humor and quick wit. The author likes to stay completely in character for all his interviews as if he is speaking to the future.  And after six self-published novels, he has clearly honed in on exactly what he wants. The only problem is, it’s too inaccessible to the reader and almost impossible to follow along.

The plot is rather perfunctory. Ichabod Temperance (the character) is once again joined by his lady Persephone Plumtartt and a handful of carryovers such as the lusty Rev. Dolomite. They bumble about such fictional locales as Los Angelos [sic] and the island of San Monique, battling various monsters and zombies and magic. Sku Le’Bizarre represents this novel’s “VooDoo” equivalent of a Saturday morning villain and his scheme has something to do with making a sacrifice to a volcano named Queen Tempestia and provoking the “Great Awakening,” while often laughing sinisterly, “Mm-Baaaa-HAH-hahaha.”

Unfortunately I did not find the rollicking banter nearly so endearing or amusing. I love good repartee between characters, but I could seldom keep up with who was talking to whom. There are literally no dialogue tags. Ever. Indeed, in many scenes, you would not know where the scene takes place, who is present and how they were dressed except for the other characters’ pronouncements. Even scenes involving action exist solely through the descriptive prattling of the participating characters.

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