7 steampunk stories worth reading

adoreSteampunk does not always have the best rep, but when it is done well it is often immensely enjoyable and fun. Because steampunk is set in a pseudo-victorian era setting there are some rather problematic elements of that society, but can be left unexamined in the fiction. Some steampunk choose to deal with this, some do not – and sometimes it fits the story to do and sometimes it does not. This list has books of both persuasions. At least some of the books here takes a hard look at the class, gender, sexuality and race issues of the era. But mostly they are just good stories, that I want you to enjoy as well.

Full length novels

51WedzBF-iL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Series: No, standalone
Keywords: Western, prostitute, queer, female friendship
Pub: 2015
Karen’s story is set in a western boom town in a brothel, and Karen manages to have book stock full of prostitutes without having a single sex scene. This book has a ton of female characters as well as many queer characters – all of them rich and fleshed out – a truly diverse cast. The story captured me from the very first page and it was among the best stories I read last year. There is action, romance, friendship, political maneuvering and deep emotion all at once.
Read my full review

10874177 Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Young adult
Series: Finishing School
Pub: 2013
Keywords: boarding school, female friendship, spy thriller, mannerpunk
This is really a fun romp of a boarding school spy thriller set in a steampunk version of England. What more do you need to know? Perhaps you need to know that the protagonist is strong willed and willing to break conventions when it suits her. That she will never be a pretty flower in a gentleman’s bouquet and that really unsettles the people around her.
Read my review of the first two books here

17910048 The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Young adult
Series: No, standalone
Keywords: Goblins, elves, second world fantasy, court life, optimistic
Pub: 2014
The story is about Maia who is half-elver half-goblin and at the start of the story is very far removed from the dynastic politics. He gets tossed into role as emperor and is very ill prepared from the role. He is a an outsider at court and that allows for Addison to introduce him and the reader to the court at the same time. You follow Maia trying to figure out how court works while trying to survive and do what is best for the realm at the same time. The tone is optimistic which is such a breath of fresh air in this age of grim dark.
Read my full review

7114825 Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
Young adult
Series: Spiritwalker 
Keywords: Second world gaslight fantasy, magic, sisterhood, love, family, obligation
Pub: 2010
This story is one of a mirror Europe where history went totally differently and Elliott has created a very rich alternative history for most of the world. We visit both England and the Caribbean, which isn’t under European control. It is a story of two sisters’ unconditional love for each other (they are bea really). There is a love story as well but it is always second to the sister story. The characters are as rich and diverse as the backgrounds and the magical world is really interesting.

7864587 The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
Series: The Iron Seas
Keywords: Romance, steamy, airships, secondary world, fantasy
Pub: 2010
An action packed romance in an alternative Europe, where most of Europe is overrun by zombies, where the air is ruled by airships and where industrious people can do anything. The romance is not too annoying, the sex is steamy and the action works very well. It is very much an adventure book with romance.

Short stories

28805133 Brilliant by Georgina Bruce
Published in Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories
Pub: 2011
Two very different women meet on a train though Africa. It is a story about obligations, culture, romance and liberation. I really liked how mysterious the protagonist is about herself. The play between the unnamed protagonist and Brilliant was wonderful and so was the slow way we got a hint of what she was running from.

The Effluent Engine by N.K. Jemisin
Published in Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories
Pub: 2011
A wonderfully paced spy story. Adventure and sweetness. Very much recommended.
As always Jemisin’s characters tackle privilege head on. It’s refreshing. It made me want to know more of Haiti history and of the revolution. A lot of the tension between the protagonist and her love interest has to do with privilege of different kinds, freedom, class etc.

 

 

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