Category: Steampunk

Lifemaker by Dean F. Wilson

Lifemaker by Dean F. Wilson(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

The Regime is on the hunt, forcing the Resistance to take refuge aboard the Lifemaker, an advanced submarine that houses a special cargo: a handful of women who are can give birth to human children.

To evade the Regime’s own submersibles, all parties must work together, but tensions are high, and not everyone on board is looking out for the greater good.

As they descend into the deeps, they quickly learn that not all monsters work for the Regime.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

Lifemaker is the sequel to Hopebreaker, a steampunk novel featuring a smuggler named Jacob as he navigates a world essentially controlled by demons.  I had given the first book 4 stars in March and was eagerly awaiting this second installment.  So when I saw the blog tour for it, I signed up immediately.  Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with Wilson’s second book in the Great Iron War series.  Not because the characters had truly gone downhill or because he world-building suddenly tanked, but rather because of the plot.

Despite all of the good things that do happen in Lifemaker, I was a little disappointed in the plot.  It was predictable in comparison to the first book and not more than a little boring around the halfway point of the book.  There are characters interacting, sure, but there’s not really all that much for interpersonal conflict.  And until the end there’s really not all that much for action either.  It was essentially just Jacob and Whistler having a sweet sort of father-adoptive son bonding time and occasionally being interrupted by Taberah.  Oh, and playing cards with Rommond.  Compared to the sheer action of Hopebreaker, this second book was a bit of a letdown.  It does set things up nicely for the third book but at the same time I did have a little trouble getting through it.

Jacob is still a decent enough character although I’m still having problems relating to him on an emotional level.  It’s much better than my struggle to relate at all with him in the first book but it’s definitely still there.  He’s not a bad character and he’s more of an ambiguous figure than a bad or good person but I found that because he wasn’t really doing anything that I got bored.  Essentially he skulks around the ship and bonds with Whistler, occasionally running into members of the crew.  I liked that he’s finally attempting to woo Taberah back to him and is trying to mentally prepare himself for fatherhood, though.  In that respect, Jacob has certainly improved.

The world-building was still good here in Lifemaker.  It didn’t expand all that much, but we learned some fascinating things about Rommond’s background, Taberah’s past and the history of demons taking over.  The submarine everyone is staying in doesn’t exactly make it easy to expand on a whole world but Jacob’s exploring does lead him to some interesting new discoveries.  Was I absolutely as blown away in this book as I was in the first one at the world-building?  Not really, but it was still very solid and despite the somewhat boring tone of the book you can feel Dean F. Wilson’s enthusiasm for the world he’s created shine through.

So overall, Lifemaker was not a bad book, but it was definitely not as good as its predecessor, Hopebreaker.  The plot got a little boring and I definitely predicted the ending but it was not a book that I actively disliked.  I even enjoyed some parts of it.  Really, the main problem is that it suffers from Book 2 Syndrome: its trying to set everything up for the super exciting third book.  Still, if you loved Hopebreaker, you’re going to want to read this book.  The little cliffhanger for Skyshaker will ensure that and there’s still many things to enjoy about Lifemaker.  It’s just that an exciting plot isn’t one of them.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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Wish for Me by A. Star

Wish for Me by A. Star(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Three wishes. Two lovers. One destiny.

When the snarky Glory St. Pierre discovers the gold mechanical vase in her deceased grandmother’s basement, she has no idea that she has uncovered a priceless treasure: a genie lamp. With a real genie inside. A very sexy genie with a not-so-sexy grudge against the entire human race.

Irving Amir hates being called a genie. He’s a Djinn, and he is none too happy to be in the service of Glory, who is as intolerable, and beautiful, as humans come. Now he owes her his gratitude for freeing him and three wishes. Damn his luck.

But an arrow through the shoulder alerts Irving to the fact that he is being hunted, and after a truce dinner with Glory ends with them both almost being killed, hating each other goes right out the window. As feelings change and love starts to develop, they must dig through the secrets and lies to find the truth…a truth neither of them will ever see coming.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

Wish for Me is a really hard book to describe.  On one hand, you’ve got a fantasy element: a djinn.  On the other hand, the djinn in question, Irving, leaves in a steampunk world where he tinkers with gadgets like a steam-powered motorcycle and an adorable mechanical bat with artificial intelligence.  So I guess the best way to describe this book is genie steampunk.  How you describe it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things, but it does explain why I was so thrown for a little bit when the different elements were introduced.

Glory is not your typical heroine, believe me.  She’s covered in tattoos, is independent, knows her mind and isn’t really afraid to speak up unless it comes to feelings.  And she’s got curves!  That’s a really far cry from a lot of heroines and it was a really, really refreshing change to read about someone who was reasonably self-assured.  Glory certainly has her vulnerabilities and flaws but it’s not like she’s one of those annoying shrinking violets.  Irving on the other hand, is very mysterious and sometimes mischievous but once he cares for someone, he’s not afraid to show it.  Even though humankind has done so many horrible things to djinns like him, he still learns to see Glory as one person rather than hold her responsible for what’s happened in the past with other humans.  They’re both very different people and personalities so when they realize they’re becoming attracted to each other, things get complicated pretty quickly.  I could go on and on about their attraction but I don’t want to spoil too much here.

The plot was actually quite fast paced, which I was not really expecting at the beginning.  In the beginning there’s a lot of set up and interpersonal tension but not really much in the way of physical action.  But that changes pretty quickly as Glory learns that Irving is hiding things from her and may be endangering her because of that.  When she makes a wish accidentally at dinner and they’re both hunted by a completely new enemy that isn’t the usual djinn hunters, things get exciting pretty quickly.  While the book is not all action there are lots of action scenes like that and they’re so well written.  They give you an excellent balance of dialogue, description and action and so the scenes are all the more intense.

The world-building was amazing.  I haven’t actually read many genie/djinn stories but the ones I have generally have been quite similar.  That’s not true with Wish for Me.  You have a hierarchy within djinns, a royal family, different nations of djinns, etc.  It’s all very complicated but A. Star introduces the different elements slowly so you can catch up pretty easily.  It’s clear from the start that she put a lot of thought into building her world and it shows through in the quality of the writing.  The strong world-building makes an excellent backdrop for all of the action and the amazing characters.  It also allows for quite a few plot twists when things get going.

So overall, I absolutely loved Wish for Me.  It has great characters, lots of action and romance and is set in a wonderfully well thought out fantasy world.  Not only that, it solves a lot of questions raised at the beginning of the book while still managing to end on one powerful cliffhanger.  I’m very excited to see what happens in the next book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Hopebreaker by Dean F. Wilson

Hopebreaker by Dean F. Wilson(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

In the world of Altadas, there are no more human births. The Regime is replacing the unborn with demons, while the Resistance is trying to destroy a drug called Hope that the demons need to survive.

Between these two warring factions lies Jacob, a man who profits from smuggling contraceptive amulets into the city of Blackout. He cares little about the Great Iron War, but a chance capture, and an even more accidental rescue, embroils him in a plot to starve the Regime from power.

When Hope is an enemy, Jacob finds it harder than he thought to remain indifferent. When the Resistance opts to field its experimental landship, the Hopebreaker, the world may find that one victory does not win a war.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

Two years ago I really couldn’t have told you what steampunk was but it’s really been growing on me, particularly of late.  So when I had an opportunity to read Hopebreaker, I leaped at the chance.  It sounded like some pretty good steampunk from the blurb and it turns out that I was not wrong in trusting the description.

What is really striking about the world of Wilson’s The Great Iron War series is that it’s a mixture of fantasy and science to create a special blend of steampunk.  On the fantasy end, we have demons controlling the human population by swapping out the souls of human fetuses with the souls of demons.  Magical amulets are worn by rebellious pregnant women to prevent this from happening.  On the science end, we have things like the Hopebreaker and the other machines used by the Resistance and the Regime.  They’re classic steampunk complete with steam-powered engines and a mixture of cold machinery and elegance.  And the world-building itself was quite good because Wilson’s grasp of politics is also good.  Not everything is so black and white in his world and oftentimes there are people caught in the middle of the faction fighting that just really want to live their lives in peace, thank you very much.  There are traitors on both sides of the line and nothing is as it seems.

The main character Jacob was both excellent and hard to relate to.  On the surface he is an excellent character: he’s a thirty year old man who has been smuggling as a way of staying alive and rebelling against the Regime.  In theory he supports the Resistance by getting the demon-preventing amulets into the hands of women throughout the city but he really just wants to survive.  He doesn’t support the Regime because of the whole demon thing but he doesn’t actively support the Resistance because sometimes they can be just as bad as the ‘bad guys’.  But when he’s captured by the Regime and saved by the Resistance in a raid he really has no choice but to fight with them, particularly as he wants to stay alive.  Then he finds out that maybe he’s not as neutral and uncaring as he would have liked, particularly around the smart, brave and morally ambiguous Resistance leader Taberah (she’s not the supreme leader but she does command a fair number of men).  But once he meets Taberah that sort of gets to the crux of my problem with him as a character: I can’t connect with him on an emotional level.  Sure, he displays emotions in theory but I really wasn’t feeling them from him.  Maybe it’s just me but it was sort of disappointing that he seems to go through the novel with minimal emotional reactions to the crazy events unfolding all around him.

Despite my little quibble with Jacob, I did otherwise enjoy the novel because the plot was well paced and although it was sometimes predictable there were enough twists thrown in to keep things interesting.  You can probably guess the end of the novel by about a third of the way through but it’s well written so it’s actually quite an enjoyable journey that will have you eagerly turning the pages to find out what happens next.  Dean F. Wilson is excellent at writing suspense even when the outcome isn’t really in doubt and he sort of keeps a line of tension running through the novel that slowly ratchets up until things seem ready to explode.  So like I said, you’ll probably be able to predict the ending but you’ll enjoy the plot and want to know what happens next all the same.

If you’re looking for a little steampunk in your life or just a great suspenseful novel with generally good characters, Hopebreaker is for you.  It’s a great introduction to a steampunk world that I’m really looking forward to learning more about.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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First Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn

First Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue…

With the war begun, Aniri, Third Daughter of the Queen, has to battle not only a prince with a deadly skyship, but her own sister, the First Daughter, who finally sees her chance to become Queen. With their mother gravely ill and the Second Daughter kidnapped along with Aniri’s husband-to-be, Aniri embarks on a desperate mission to save the people she loves from a war that will tear all three countries apart.

First Daughter is the third book in the The Dharian Affairs Trilogy (Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter). This steampunk-goes-to-Bollywood (Bollypunk!) romance that takes place in an east-Indian-flavored alternate world filled with skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue. And, of course, kissing.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

For a series that I initially thought sounded kind of dumb, by the last book I was quite emotionally invested in all of the characters, particularly Aniri.  Susan Kaye Quinn has a real talent for bringing her steampunk (Bollypunk?) world to life and making us care about her characters.  That’s not common in any genre.

Of course I’ll start with the characters: I loved them.  Aniri really came into her own in First Daughter, what with her mother’s injury and her falling out with her own sister over their battle strategies and politics.  Nahali really didn’t come off as a good character at first, but when you realize that she’s only doing what all of us try to do, our best, it’s easier to sympathize with her.  She’s not perfect, but then again no one is, particularly when they’re in a leadership position and everyone feels free to criticize them but to not actually do anything about the problem.  I loved how Aniri matured and eventually realized that she had to try to see things from Nahali’s point of view as well, not just immediately dismiss her older sister.  Being able to compromise and understand someone is an important part of growing up and Aniri does a lot of that in this book.  It was really satisfying to see her huge transition, especially when you consider how she was in the first book.  She was never stupidly immature, but she lacked confidence in herself and in Ash, who also underwent some pretty awesome changes throughout the story.

The world-building in The Dharian Affairs Trilogy really is just amazing.  Susan Kaye Quinn did such a good job creating a society in the middle of an industrial revolution while still retaining much of its dependence on the old ways.  That’s why Dharia is so rich and is the most important of the three kingdoms: they’re not the most advanced, but they’re the breadbasket of the area.  Their farming allows them to grow rich, even though they don’t produce the amazing industrial advances that they do in Samir.  It was really interesting to see how that tension between the agrarian but rich Dharia and the industrial but relatively poor Samir play out.  The author really knows her politics because the tension plays out in a believable way and even though the book ends, you still get the feeling that maybe not all of the world’s problems were solved by out protagonist.  Shocking, I know!

This tension also contributed quite a bit to the plot, particularly the parts about the Samir rebellion.  Dharia is richer than Samir, but they don’t have the airship fleet of their smaller neighbour.  Can Aniri avert a deadly war, launched either by Samir’s second son or her own sister?  That’s pretty much the whole conflict of the book, but there are some interesting subplots that tie up loose ends we were introduced to in Third Daughter and Second Daughter.  And of course we get a little bit of romance between Aniri and Ash, although that’s far from the main focus of the story when they’re both trying to avert a potentially catastrophic war.  The plot also has so much political intrigue that it never really slows down and you’re left guessing what will happen next.  That was one of the really strong points of the book: you have to actually pay attention to the details because if you don’t, you’re going to miss out on so many good things.

Essentially, First Daughter was a good conclusion to the Dharian Affairs trilogy.  It tied up most of the loose ends without it seeming forced and therefore it left me feeling satisfied, which is something rare in a trilogy ending.  The characters were great, undergoing amazing changes; the plot was fast-paced and complex and the world-building was as good as ever.  You really can’t ask for more in a final book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Second Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn

Second Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn(Cover picture courtesy of Susan Kaye Quinn’s site.)

The sequel to the steampunk fantasy romance Third Daughter (The Dharian Affairs #1) is here!

Assassins, skyships, and royal intrigue…

With plans for a second skyship exposed, Third Daughter Aniri fears her sister, Seledri, will be caught in a war between the three Queendoms. Seledri is the Second Daughter of Dharia, which means she had no choice in her arranged marriage to the First Son of Samir—a country with whom they may soon be at war. As Aniri fights to free her sister from a husband and a country she does not love, she questions her own rushed betrothal to Prince Malik, the noble barbarian who controls the skyship—and whether a love pledged in the heat of adventure can survive the looming threat of war.

Second Daughter is the second book in The Dharian Affairs trilogy (Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter). This steampunk-goes-to-Bollywood (Bollypunk!) romance takes place in an east-Indian-flavored alternate world filled with skyships, assassins, royal romance and intrigue.

[Full disclosure: After seeing my 5 star review of Third Daughter, Susan Kaye Quinn provided me with a free ebook of her second book in exchange for an honest review.]

As you guys know, I really don’t read much steampunk.  It’s never really appealed to me as a genre but I’ve picked up the odd one here and there.  I almost didn’t request Third Daughter on NetGalley several months ago, but I’m so glad I did.  I was even happier when Susan Kaye Quinn contacted me about reviewing the sequel.  I mean, after that doozy of a cliffhanger, how could I resist?

I definitely wasn’t disappointed with this second installment in the Dharian Affairs.  It has just the right amount of romance, intrigue and action to make it an enjoyable sequel.  What I really liked about Second Daughter was that not everything is as it seems: the people you think are villains are a little more ambiguous later on.  I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, but I will tell you that all of the plot twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat.

I like how Aniri has matured a little bit after her adventures in Jungali.  She’s clearly in love with Ash but at the same time she’s getting cold feet about the impending wedding since she’s only known the guy for a couple of weeks.  These doubts make the whole thing a little more realistic and allow Aniri to decide what she really wants out of life.  Add to that the fact her sister is pregnant in a country that is on the verge of a civil war between the two princes and you’ve got the perfect recipe for some adventure.  She meets her old lover Devesh and things quickly turn complicated but I promise you that this is not your typical love triangle.  It’s pretty far from that, trust me.

As I mentioned earlier, the plot was insane.  It wasn’t action movie fast but it was so interesting I couldn’t put my ereader down.  After learning about the second skyship at the end of the first book, I knew things were going to be exciting.  What I didn’t know was just how exciting this book would be!  There’s so much intrigue George R. R. Martin would be proud.  When I say things aren’t always what they seem in this book, I really do mean it.

If you haven’t yet checked out Third Daughter, you really should.  Even if you’re not a huge steampunk fan, it’s worth giving it a try because the Dharian Affairs trilogy is just amazing.  And if you’ve read the first book, getting Second Daughter is a no-brainer.  It’s just that good.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Third Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn

Third Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn(Cover picture courtesy of The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment.)

The Third Daughter of the Queen wants her birthday to arrive so she’ll be free to marry for love, but rumors of a new flying weapon may force her to accept a barbarian prince’s proposal for a peace-brokering marriage. Desperate to marry the charming courtesan she loves, Aniri agrees to the prince’s proposal as a subterfuge in order to spy on him, find the weapon, and hopefully avoid both war and an arranged marriage to a man she does not love.

Third Daughter is the first book in the The Dharian Affairs Trilogy (Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter). This steampunk-goes-to-Bollywood (Bollypunk!) romance that takes place in an east-Indian-flavored alternate world filled with skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue. And, of course, kissing.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I almost didn’t pick Third Daughter to request because the cover gave me the impression it would be a stereotypical Bollywood sort of novel with no real substance.  Still, the blurb was good enough that I decided to ignore the cover and give it a chance.  And honestly, thank goodness I did!

I’ll be honest with you guys in that I really haven’t read much steampunk.  It was only really last year that I actually picked up my first steampunk novel.  Still, I absolutely loved the world-building in Third Daughter.  It’s set in an Eastern-flavoured world on the verge of an industrial revolution.  Many courts like the ones in Dharia favour the old-fashioned styles of dress with corsets and starched skirts, but at the same time there are things similar to handheld computers for long-distance communication and airships.  It’s a time of upheaval as new weapons are being created and the kingdoms engage in subtle power plays for supremacy.  Really, Susan Kaye Quinn couldn’t have chosen a better time as a setting for her fantasy world.

The characters are wonderful.  I absolutely loved Aniri.  She’s sort of your typical rebellious princess in the beginning but when she agrees to go on a mission for her mother you really get the feeling that she also cares about her country.  Aniri isn’t selfish, even if helping her country means leaving behind the courtesan she loves and pretending to be engaged to a ‘barbarian’ prince.  She and Ash (the aforementioned prince) develop slowly over the novel and their feelings for each other become more and more complicated as emotion gets in the way of duty.  There’s a lot of romantic tension in this novel but it’s not a romance novel per se.

The plot was truly wonderful.  I loved the twists and turns that kept me guessing right up until the end.  I sort of knew who was behind the big airship plot but it turns out I was only half right.  That’s the thing about Third Daughter: it keeps you guessing and just when you think you’ve figured everything out, Susan Kaye Quinn throws you for a loop.

Even if you’re not the biggest steampunk fan out there, I’d definitely recommend Third Daughter.  It has great characters, is set in a well built fantasy world and the plot is fast-paced and unpredictable.  You can’t ask for more.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Can I just say wow?

That one word pretty much sums up my whole experience with The Goblin Emperor.  Really, it does.  The world-building was unique and three dimensional, the characters were memorable, the political intrigue was constant and the plot was fascinating.  I’ll start with my favourite part of the whole novel, though: the world-building.

This world of goblins and elves is amazing; there are no other words for it.  At first it seemed like a traditional nobody-becoming-king story, but then I realized that Katherine Addison had put her own unique twist on it.  This isn’t your typical fantasy world, oh no!  It’s set in a society where airships are used, where technology is slowly being more and more relied upon but there are people trying to hold back progress.  The monarchy is still around and I like how the court was infused with a more Eastern flavour.  If you’re familiar with the Chinese and Japanese forms of monarchy you’ll be able to pick out where Katherine Addison borrowed from those cultures to create her world.  It’s honestly refreshing to see a writer take old elements from Western fantasy (elves and goblins) and put them in an entirely new setting.

Maia, our confused protagonist, was wonderful.  He was the fourth half-goblin, half-elf son of the former Emperor, who died in an accident that took out the three in line for the throne ahead of him.  Maia was never raised to be Emperor, in fact he was abused physically and mentally by Setheris, the exile sent to look after him.  Seeing him suddenly in a position of supreme power over everyone is quite a jarring change but it feels like he deserves it.  Except that the position of Emperor isn’t all its cracked up to be: there are plots against his life, he has no friends at court and he has absolutely no privacy.  It’s stressful for him but I love how he learns to navigate the politics and set himself apart from his father as a just Emperor.

The only thing that could have used a little work was the plot.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  It was fascinating, very intense at times and I couldn’t put the book down.  But it would have been nice for Katherine Addison to reveal a little more information to her readers just a little sooner.  She did a good job avoiding info-dumps but I would have definitely preferred a little more information about her fascinating fantasy world sooner.  The names were a little confusing and extremely hard on my poor English-speaking tongue, but once you immerse yourself in her fantasy world you start to get the hang of them and the formal vs. informal pronouns and titles.

If you like fantasy or steampunk (or both!) you’ll love this book.  Go out and pre-order it immediately because it comes out on April 1.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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