Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.
Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.
With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.
I can’t remember how Leviathan crossed my path. I think it might have been a sale on Audible? Regardless, I read some of the reviews and decided — despite my usual distaste for war fiction — to give Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk YA alternative history a go. The audiobook is narrated by Scottish actor Alan Cumming, whose accent gives the perfect voice to Deryn, an awesomely competent young adult heroine who shines as a new recruit in the British Air Service. But he also does an excellent Austrian accent for Alek, and his various British accents are also great.
Before I more talk about the characters, I have to mention Westerfield’s alternative world. Germany and Austria are “clankers”, countries that have embraced steampunk-type technology: oil-guzzling, smoke-blowing machines of various fantastical designs. Great Britain, Russia and a few other countries that are mentioned in passing are “Darwinists” who, instead of using technology, use genetically modified “fabricated” creatures in the same sorts of roles. (PETA would not approve of any of the Darwinist creations, and perhaps especially the Leviathan air ship, which is a huge whale modified to host bacteria that produce hydrogen so it can float, carrying humans underneath and within it. I shared Alek’s grossed out reaction to that last part.)
Anyway, moving on: when Deryn gets whisked away on a rogue Huxley (a hydrogen-breathing floating squid — I’ll let that sink in) and is rescued by the Leviathan, she is drawn into a government diplomatic mission to Istanbul (not Constantinople *snigger*), to try and stop the Ottoman Empire from taking sides in the war.
The fact that Deryn is secretly a girl isn’t the focus of the story, by any means, which was a relief. For the most part, she is a member of the crew, invested in her ship’s wellbeing and surviving one disaster after the next. Because this is young adult and it’d be a rare book indeed that didn’t have some romance, she also slowly develops a crush on Alek that she doesn’t know what to do with.
I also enjoyed Alek’s point of view chapters. He spends the first little while being incredibly naive and somewhat foolish, but under the circumstances that was entirely believable and relatable. Over the course of the story, with the guidance of his cunning fencing master, Count Volger, and patient master mechanic, Master Clopp, Alek comes out of his over-protected shell and starts to make his own decisions — often ones that Volger doesn’t like.
There is a lot of action in this book, but the large-scale action sequences that I find boring in most war books aren’t present here. The chapters stay very tightly focused on either Deryn or Alek, so while there might be other things going on in a battle, we only see what they see. This approach — and the novelty of conducting a war using modified hawks and bats instead of small planes — kept me engrossed where other war fiction loses me.
My only real gripe with the story is that the ending seemed rather abrupt. But luckily, I bought the first two books in the trilogy at the same time, so as I write this I’m already halfway through the sequel. Yay!
More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings—merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.
As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery, one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.
“Brandon Sanderson writes yet another novel full of amazing worldbuilding and story misdirection.” I fear I’m starting to sound like a bit of a broken record when it comes to his work, honestly. But it’s truuuuue.
Things that make The Rithmatist stand out from Sanderson’s usual fare are the target market (young adult) and the consequent reduction in the plot’s complexity from the typical Sanderson thousand-page monster. There are fight scenes, a little blood, and descriptions of some scary events, but otherwise this book would be suitable for younger teenagers.
The thing I loved most about The Rithmatist was the magical system, and … okay, yes, that is another pretty standard response from me when it comes to his work. In this case, the magic is derived from empowered geometry and art, drawn with chalk. Different shapes (circles, lines, sine waves) have different effects and can be combined in various ways depending on the strategy of the rithmatist. And simple creatures can be drawn that come to two-dimensional life and follow simple instructions. From such a straightforward premise emerge a quite complex series of strategies used in duelling and combat against the wild chalklings.
I have never been so excited about geometry in my life!
Joel is a glorified maths nerd. He has no particular interest in or aptitude for drawing chalklings (just as well, given he is also not a rithmatist) but is excellent at understanding and drawing the different patterns. He tends towards laziness and emotional insensitivity at the start of the story, but does improve as the tale progresses. Melody, a rithmatic student who is prone to overblown dramatics and is a master of chalklings but awful with rithmatic lines, is shunned by the other rithmatic students due to her incompetence (and, let’s be honest, her trying personality). I liked both of them, but was more fond of their introverted, kindly and conflict averse professor, Fitch.
Despite what you might assume, there is no romance in this book. Sanderson usually has a romantic plotline (although he tends towards awkwardness and the hottest anything might get is a chaste kissing scene), but not in this case. I suspect that Melody and Joel may get together down the track, especially given how regularly he notices that she’s pretty, but they at least become friends first, which I heartily endorse.
The mystery is of the whodunnit variety (I fell for the red herring; I’ll guess right next time, Sanderson, I swear). The Rithmatist isn’t as dark as his other young adult series, The Reckoners, but I preferred its mystery feel to the latter’s car chases and gun fights.
I definitely recommend this one!
Emmeline Muchamore is a well-bred young lady hiding explosive family secrets. She needs to marry well, and quickly, in order to keep her family respectable. But when her brass heart malfunctions, she makes a desperate choice to steal the parts she needs to repair it and survive.
She is unable to explain her actions without revealing she has a steam-powered heart, so she is arrested for theft and transported to Victoria, Australia — right in the midst of the Gold Rush.
Now that she’s escaped the bounds of high society, iron manacles cannot hold her for long.
The only metal that really matters is gold.
I nabbed this when I was at Conflux last month, partly because it’s Australian-set steampunk by a Canberra author but mostly because it’s a seriously beautiful-looking paperback. (Yes, I am that shallow!) Happily, Heart of Brass was worth the gamble.
In the space of a couple-hundred words, we get to see Emmeline go from proper society lady who conforms to (most) social expectations while chaffing at the restrictions they impose to convict and criminal rebelling against an unfair system. For the most part, her transition seems entirely natural, although there’s one particular incident that did have me raising my eyebrows a little — I just wasn’t convinced that such a bright young lady would do something so spontaneous and poorly thought out. Maybe it was that colonial influence.
I loved seeing all the steampunk elements in what could otherwise be considered historical fiction — everything from practical devices to silly fashion (wheels for shoes?! I’m so clumsy I’d break something for sure). The elements are well-integrated into the world rather than seeming strapped on. There’s also an element of magic; metals have different properties that influence the world around them in one way or another. It’s a little bit Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn in that regard, without seeming derivative.
Basically, this combination made me a happy, happy girl.
On the romance front, there isn’t much to speak of — Emmeline is attracted to different characters, but it would go very much against her character to see her shack up with someone early on. Still, it was obvious to me that she was bisexual from fairly early in the story, even though she doesn’t seem to realise it. I loved that element too.
In terms of what I didn’t love, there was really only one thing — this book is kinda short. I read it in paperback, and although I knew there was bonus material at the back, I didn’t expect that bonus material to be almost 100 pages. So when I got to the end of the story, I felt a bit like I’d had the rug pulled out from under me. I wanted moooooooore. Obviously this is a good thing, as I will definitely be buying the sequel. I want more Emmeline, Matilda and Patrick.
As for that bonus material, it’s a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story that tells the tale of one of the bit characters in Heart of Brass, the real-life champion of the Eureka Stockade, Peter Lalor. Although I was disappointed it didn’t show me more of the main characters’ and their story, I did spend a fun hour or so following up all the different story options and reading the Easter Eggs.
I’d definitely recommend Felicity Banks. She’s one to watch. (Also, as a side note, this is the most professionally produced book by a small press that I’ve ever seen. Odyssey Books definitely have game!)
Centuries after the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is on the verge of modernity — railroads, electric street lights, and skyscrapers. Waxillium Ladrian can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After 20 years in the dusty Roughs, in the city of Elendel, the new head of a noble house may need to keep his guns.
The Alloy of Law is the fourth book (of six) in the Mistborn series, but — because the series is divided into two trilogies — it’s actually the first book in the second trilogy. As a result, you don’t have to have read the preceding three books in order to make sense of this one (though the religious references won’t be as interesting if you don’t).
I’m in more than a little awe of Sanderson. The first three books were a somewhat traditional (though not really) epic fantasy series. The Alloy of Law is set 300 years later in the same world — a world where technology has advanced to something resembling the 19th century. There’s still magic, in the form of Allomancy and Feruchemy, the metal-based Mistborn magic system. But there are also guns, trains and electricity. As a result, in some ways this book defies characterisation. Is it steampunk? Fantasy? An alternate world Western set in the big city? I don’t know … and that’s always an exciting thing to find!
Wax is your traditional Western action hero (with superpowers): highly competent and with a tragedy in his past that means he shies away from love. Wayne is a hilarious and crass master of disguise who “trades” for things rather than stealing them (although the trades generally occur without the other party’s consent). Both of them are fun characters, though I didn’t enjoy them as much as Sazed, Breeze or Elend from the first three books.
Lady Marasi, the noblewoman who is studying to be a legal attorney, is a lot more interesting, to my mind. She’s easily embarrassed but also a crack shot with a rifle, and she has a crush on Wax from before she meets him. She and he are well-matched in terms of both their interests and their intelligence, so Wax’s denial of the fact she’s clearly perfect for him is a little frustrating.
Overall, this was a fun book, though a little bit more predictable and less compelling than the first trilogy was. There was only one plot twist I didn’t see coming, and I wasn’t as invested in it as maybe I should have been. (That could be a result of the fact I listened to this book on either side of my son breaking his arm and spending a night in hospital, though — I had other things on my mind!)
Still, I enjoyed The Alloy of Law and have already started on the next book, Shadows of Self.
A TREMBLING EARTH
The flames of civil war sweep across the Shima Imperium. With their plans to renew the Kazumitsu dynasty foiled, the Lotus Guild unleash their deadliest creation—a mechanical goliath known as the Earthcrusher, intended to unite the shattered Empire under a yoke of fear. With the Tiger Clan and their puppet Daimyo Hiro in tow, the Guild marches toward a battle for absolute dominion over the Isles.
A BROKEN REBELLION
Yukiko and Buruu are forced to take leadership of the Kagé rebellion, gathering new allies and old friends in an effort to unite the country against the chi-mongers. But the ghosts of Buruu’s past stand between them and the army they need, and Kin’s betrayal has destroyed all trust among their allies. When a new foe joins the war tearing the Imperium apart, it will be all the pair can do to muster the strength to fight, let alone win.
A FINAL BATTLE
The traitor Kin walks the halls of Guild power, his destiny only a bloody knife-stroke away. Hana and Yoshi struggle to find their place in a world now looking to them as heroes. Secret cabals within the Lotus Guild claw and struggle; one toward darkness, the other toward light. And as the earth splits asunder, as armies destroy each other for rule over an empire of lifeless ash and the final secret about blood lotus is revealed, the people of Shima will learn one last, horrifying truth.
There is nothing a mother won’t do to keep her children by her side.
Endsinger is the third and final book in The Lotus War trilogy by Aussie author Jay Kristoff. All the setup from the first two books—the various factions, wars, betrayals, rivalries and romances—comes to a head in Endsinger. That’s probably why the paperback was 661 pages. Seriously, there were times when, after reading for a couple of hours, I had to stop due to wrist strain. By the end I had to stick the cover together with sticky tape because the book was collapsing under its own weight!
If you’ve read the first two books in the series, you’ve already got an idea of what to expect from Jay’s style. His prose is beautifully, darkly descriptive, so much so that I half expected to get a chest infection from reading about Shima’s polluted air and soil. The Lotus Guild and its toxic chi industry—made from the Lotus Bloom they worship and adore—have driven the land over the edge, killed the animals and created great swathes of deadlands where nothing can survive.
(A note on the prose: if you’re the sort who prefers a straightforward style over lush metaphor, you might want to look at a sample of Jay’s writing before deciding whether it’s for you. It’s definitely a matter of taste: one person’s “descriptive” can be another’s “florid”.)
And, like the first two books, his story is bloody. He isn’t afraid to kill characters, which is only fitting. This is a war, after all. But there are a couple of particularly traumatic deaths in Endsinger. I won’t say who they are, obviously, but although I found them sad, they fall into the category of “noble sacrifice for a greater good”, which I’m okay with as a reader. It would be unrealistic if no one died.
Jay’s style is like a lot of epic fantasy, in that he tends to jump between characters, giving little bursts from different perspectives. During battle scenes, particularly, this can be four or five times in a chapter. But he doesn’t head hop within each scene, which is good; when he’s telling a story from a character’s perspective, he is faithful to that character, and manages to portray them as fully fledged people with their own motivations and desires, even the ones that only appear once or twice. (Even the puppy.)
I love the relationships between characters—especially between Yokiko and Buruu, although that’s been an ongoing thing and my adoration is therefore no surprise to me. I have a new favourite in Endsinger though, which is the street rat Yoshi. He’s learned from his (it must be said) rather stupid, cocky behaviour in the previous book, but he still has a bit of swagger there. I just loved his attitude.
Overall, my favourite part of Endsinger is the way all the loose threads are tied into a neat bow (probably made of flesh or intestines or something). There are a few eye-opening moments as we get to see what’s really been going on this whole time—things that were just part of the world in the first two books turn out to have been significant all along. I really admire the level of craft that went into achieving that.
I’ve seen some people shelve this as young adult on Goodreads, but I’d suggest it’s more for older teenagers and adults. Did I mention bloody?
YOU GUYS! Remember how I reviewed Wicked After Midnight by Delilah S. Dawson last week? Well, on Tuesday I got to interview Delilah herself over at Aussie Owned and Read. I’m pretty excited! 🙂
Today I’m thrilled to be interviewing one of my favourite authors, geek queen and Lady of the Twitters, Delilah S. Dawson.
After writing some of my favourite sizzling steampunk fantasy in the Blud series, you’re venturing into young adult with Servants of the Storm. You’ve also written middle grade, and erotica. Is making the shift between age brackets/markets difficult?
Not for writing, but the promo is definitely challenging! Just when I learned how to reach steampunk and romance readers, now I have to figure out how to get my Young Adult books to teens. I move pretty smoothly between writing projects thanks to compartmentalisation and playlists. I make a playlist for each book and listen to it while writing, editing, and cogitating, so as long as I’m listening to that music, I’m in that book’s world. Servants of the Storm was written to Saturnalia by The Gutter Twins…
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A contortionist and a rakish brigand navigate the cabarets of Paris to rescue a girl taken by slavers in the third steampunk-tinged romance of the Blud series.
Life as a contortionist in Criminy’s Clockwork Caravan should be the height of exotic adventure, but for Demi Ward, it’s total dullsville. Until her best friend, Cherie, is stolen by slavers outside of Paris, and Demi is determined to find her.
On the run from his own past, Vale Hildebrand, a dashing rogue of a highwayman, hides Demi from the slavers…but why? He pledges to help her explore the glittering cabarets of Paris to find her friend, but much to Vale’s frustration, Demi soon attracts a host of wealthy admirers. The pleasures of music, blood, and absinthe could turn anyone’s head, and it would be all too easy to accept Cherie’s disappearance as inevitable—but with Vale’s ferocious will and Demi’s drive to find her friend, they soon have a lead on a depraved society of Parisian notables with a taste for beautiful lost girls. Can Demi wind her way through the seedy underbelly of Paris and save her best friend before she, too, is lost?
Wicked After Midnight is the third and final book in the Blud series, a set of three steampunk fantasy romance novels set in the same world but with each following a different pair of main characters. You could pick up any of the three and read it without having read the other two, and you’d be fine.
I love this series. Love love love. The world, a sort of medieval parallel to modern day Earth, is rich and dark and has clockworks and magic in equal measure. Plus Dawson’s love interests in each book are smoking hot, strong, dangerous to their enemies and respectful of their leading ladies (which is one of the reasons they are smoking hot, in my book!). Wicked After Midnight brought us more of the same in that sense, while telling a different story.
The bulk of this book is set in the Blud equivalent of Paris, populated mostly by daimons — magical creatures that feeds on emotions — and the humans they need to survive. The main character, Demi, is a bludman (basically a vampire but with a bunch of unique aspects that separate them from your typical Dracula or Edward), and — due to her awesome contortionist abilities — quickly becomes a star in the cabaret. I love the movie Moulin Rouge and there were a lot of elements of that in here. I pretty much had the soundtrack stuck in my head the whole time I was reading.
The only fly in the ointment for me is that Demi is a bit of a diva. At the start of the book she basically harrasses her best friend, Cherie, into running away from the caravan to join the cabaret (despite all the warnings she gets about how this isn’t the glamorous life she thinks it is). When Cherie goes missing, Demi decides the best way to find her is to follow through on her original plan and become a star. She then gets so swept up in her new life that at times she completely forgets about her friend. If it wasn’t for Vale, quietly reminding her every so often that he’s still pursuing her friend, Cherie would probably never be found.
Now, in Demi’s defence, a lot of cabaret girls have gone missing, presumably taken by the same people that took Cherie, and her plan to make herself bait and investigate the clientele for hints of her friend isn’t a bad one in and of itself. And she does regret the self-absorption, when she realises what she’s done. But I would’ve liked to see more active searching as well, maybe a couple of scenes early on that involved her actually going out into the city looking for clues, just so I didn’t feel like her decision to join the cabaret was her deluding herself into thinking she was “helping”.
The overall theme of this book is quite pertinent despite its fantasy setting: mysogyny, rape culture and women’s fight against it. And any qualms I had about Demi were blown right out of the water by her defiant reaction to that culture and the things that are expected of her as a dancer and a courtesan. There’s no doubt that if anyone actually tried to force themselves on her, she’d gut them. For example, I love this quote:
My only choices were play nice, get raped or die?
The Blud series is a great read, and definitely worth your time if you like stories about carnivals and dancers; hot vampires; steampunk technology (and let’s take a moment to acknowledge the awesomeness that is Coco in this book — she’s only in two scenes and she steals them both); respectful men who are apparently fantastic in bed (*fans self*!); and strong women who know what they want and aren’t afraid to take it.