Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Review: A Clockwork Christmas: A Steampunk Christmas Anthology

A Clockwork Christmas: A Steampunk Christmas Anthology
by JK Coi, PG Forte, Stacy Gail, and Jenny Schwartz
Carina Press
Received from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review

We're still within the 12 days of Christmas, aren't we? I mean, this is my last day of Christmas break (as is The Husband's and the kids) so I think I'm good in getting this review posted in the nick of time for the holiday season. Not that it really matters, because even though A Clockwork Christmas is billed as "A Steampunk Christmas Anthology," there isn't very much in the way of the yuletide in these four novellas that comprise this collection. Trust me when I say you're good to go if you want to read this in the middle of July.

A Clockwork Christmas does, however, deliver in regards to the steampunk elements - which I had to look up, being that I'm very new to the steampunk genre. I requested A Clockwork Christmas from NetGalley because I thought a Christmas-themed collection of novellas would be a good introduction to the genre as well as be a fun, entertaining book to read on my Kindle during our 6 hour drive (each way) to and from Philadelphia for the holidays. And that it absolutely was.

(For those who, like me, are unfamiliar with steampunk, here's how Wikipedia describes it: a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that involves a setting where steam power is used, most often in Victorian era Britain or the Wild West era of the United States. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architecture, etc.)

Now, there's an added element in A Clockwork Christmas that certain readers might want to know about beforehand and that bears mentioning. Carina Press is a publisher of romance novels - some of them on the steamy side, from some of the descriptions of ones I've seen - and the first two steampunk novellas (and even the fourth) in A Clockwork Christmas are definitely powered by that particular type of ... uh, steam. From what I understand and can gather from reading other reviews, this isn't typical of most steampunk works. (Or maybe it is. I don't know. I don't have enough experience with the genre, truthfully, but I do know that it is definitely present here. In great - sometimes, often graphic - detail.)

So, some readers may not appreciate that added romantic element. As for me? Well, that didn't bother me nor did it take away from my enjoyment of these four novellas.

Take Crime Wave in a Corset by Stacy Gail, the first novella in the anthology and my favorite of the four. This is the story of Cornelia, a beautiful professional thief who grew up knowing no other way of life and who keeps her physical and emotional scars hidden from anyone who tries to get close to her. When Roderick discovers that Cornelia has stolen a valuable (and sentimental) Faberge egg from him, he demands that she return it - or he'll make certain that she won't live to see Christmas Day. The tension between the two is delicious and makes for a fun and entertaining (and steamy!) story.

Then we have This Winter Heart, by PG Forte, which I also liked. Destitute, Ophelia has returned (from eastern Pennsylvania!) to her husband Dario's estate in the Wild West, after being away for eight years during the Civil War. (An interesting twist there: in this tale, the Civil War happens to have been won by the South.) Lia, as she is known, doesn't return alone; she arrives with her 8 year old son, whose father happens to be (you guessed it) the cad Dario.  This comes as somewhat of a surprise to Dario, who believed Lia to be barren - and, because of her father's inventor interventions - inhuman as well. He treats her callously, refusing to admit that he once had feelings for her - and perhaps, still does.  

Esme Smith is the protagonist of Wanted: One Scoundrel, Jenny Schwartz's novella about a suffragette in Australia who hires Jed Reeve ("a scoundrel") to promote her feminist agenda in the male social clubs that she's denied access to because she's a woman. I gotta say ... I loved Esme, who was my favorite of all the strong female lead characters presented here. I just adored her independence, smarts, and spunk in a time when women's voices were often silenced and that made Wanted: One Scoundrel a fun story to read. (Plus, there was a twist at the end that I didn't see coming.) And while I liked the romance between Cornelia and Roderick in Crime Wave in a Corset, I really liked the relationship with Esme and Jed.

Finally, JK Coi's Far From Broken was a heartbreaking story about a accomplished ballerina who suffers a horrible crime as revenge for her husband's work as a government spy, the lengths that one will go to save a life, and what it means to be human. There are some similar thematic elements to This Winter Heart in this one, but it is different enough to stand alone. This one had me riveted to my Kindle, as it was the novella I spent New Year's Eve with.

While I thought the Christmas aspect of A Clockwork Christmas was definitely lacking, overall this was an enjoyable, entertaining, turbo-charged romantic read with strong characters and good writing. I'm glad I gave it a try, as it was one of my most surprising reads of 2011. These four novellas were a great introduction to steampunk and while I don't think I'll be abandoning my regular preferences anytime soon, I would certainly consider reading additional works by these talented authors.

What Other Bloggers Thought (did I miss your review? Let me know in the comments!)

Reading Thru the Night

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Belle Wong said...

It's interesting that the novellas aren't about Christmas! I enjoy steampunk, although I've never read an erotica steampunk novel or novella before.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

Thanks for the easy to understand explanation of steampunk...I haven't given this genre a try yet. I'd like to but have no idea whatsoever where to start.

christina said...

You know I chided the first story because of all the sexytimes, but quite honestly, it happens to be the one that I remember the characters fondly.