Book Review: Mortal Engines

mortal engines

Mortal Engines
by Philip Reeve
Post-Apocalyptic Steampunk
296 pages
Published 2002

Through this entire book, I kept thinking “this feels like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” It’s a completely different setting, and a different plot, but it had the same atmosphere. Rollicking action, fantastical premise, crazy setting, huge machines with entire worlds within them. I loved Valerian – it may not have been a critically great movie, and I don’t think the leads had much chemistry, but the movie was just FUN. And that’s how Mortal Engines is, too.

It’s a crazy world, where cities have become mobile – think Howl’s Moving Castle – and they chase each other across a barren world, devouring each other for resources in a social order they call Municipal Darwinism. Some cities, like London, are huge, with six main levels, not really counting the Gut, or the center of the machinery. Other towns are small, one or two levels crawling along trying to avoid the notice of the larger, faster cities. The peoples of the Traction Cities think people who live in statics (stationary cities, or, horror of horrors, right on the ground!) or people who are part of the Anti-Traction League, are crazy barbarians. And then there are the airship captains and crews, based out of the one floating city.

It is a crazy steampunk world, and Tom Natsworthy stumbles into a conspiracy plot by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as he travels with Hester across the wasteland, trying to survive their pursuers and avert catastrophe, he learns more about her, and more about how the world actually works.

I absolutely adore the last two sentences of the book, and I’m going to post those here because they aren’t terribly spoilery. And they’re fantastic.

“You aren’t a hero, and I’m not beautiful, and we probably won’t live happily ever after,” she said. “But we’re alive, and together, and we’re going to be all right.”

This book is the first of a quartet, and Reeve also wrote a prequel trilogy, so there’s actually three books before AND after this book. I’ll probably check my library for them, because I REALLY enjoyed this book.

Mortal Engines is also set to come out as a movie this December – I can’t tell from the teaser how closely it’s going to stick to the plot of the book, but the Traction Cities are well done!

This also fills the “Steampunk” prompt for Litsy’s Booked 2018 challenge.

From the cover of Mortal Engines:

Emerging from its hiding place in the hills, the great Traction City of London chases one terrified little town across the wastelands. If it cannot overpower smaller, slower prey, the city will come to a standstill and risk being taken over by another. In the attack, Tom Natsworthy, Apprentice Historian to the London Museum, is flung from its speeding superstructure into the barren wasteland of Out-Country. His only companion is Hester Shaw, a murderous, scar-faced girl who does not particularly want Tom’s company. But if they are to make it back to London, before Stalkers or hungry cities get them first, they will need to help each other, and fast. If Hester is to be believed, London is planning something atrocious, and the future of the world could be at stake. Can they get back to London before it’s too late?


Friday 56 – Mortal Engines

mortal enginesThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

Today’s quote is from Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve. It’s my Steampunk book for Litsy’s Booked 2018 Challenge, and my full review will be up tomorrow!

Dog went hurrying ahead to sniff at the stacks of crates and drums: tinned meat, lifting gas, medicines, airship-puncture repair kits, sun lotion, gas masks, flameproof suits, guns, rain-capes, cold-weather coats, mapmaking equipment, portable stoves, spare socks, plastic cups, three inflatable dinghies, and a carton labeled “Pink’s Patent Out-Country Mud-Shoes – Nobody Sinks with Pink’s!

I mentioned in Tuesday’s Top Ten post that I love the character names in this book, but the rest of it is pretty great too!

Book Review: London Steampunk series

kissofsteelKiss of Steel/Heart of Iron
Bec McMaster
Victorian Steampunk Urban Fantasy Romance
400ish pages
Published 2012/2013

Holy crap. I have only read the first two of this series – I have three more to read. (My Lady Quicksilver, Forged By Desire, and Of Silk and Steam, with a second series in the same universe called The Blue Blood Conspiracy.)


Victorian Steampunk in London with vampires, mechs, and werewolves (sort of) with romance, a political conspiracy plot, and plenty of action? YES PLEASE. These books are excellently written, with a hefty plot that moves at a perfect pace. Both romances have been very believable and intertwined seamlessly with the larger world’s plot. Each book is a hefty length, enough to really get absorbed in and flesh out everything that needs to be covered, without dragging on and getting old. The characters are fascinating – even the side characters are interesting enough that I really hope future books focus on them.

I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this series, and I can’t wait to read the next books. I am forcing myself to take a break from the series, even though I have the next two books, because I have library books that are due sooner that I need to read.

The first book, Kiss of Steel, is available on Kindle Unlimited, my library had #2 and #4, and #3 is also on Kindle Unlimited, so they’ve been very convenient to read. This series is definitely going on one my list of best reads for this year, it’s that good.

If you like Steampunk, READ THESE.

From the cover of Kiss of Steel:

Honoria Todd has more secrets than most people and she’s hiding them in Whitechapel. Blade is the master of the rookeries and agrees to protect her, but at what price?

Most people avoid the dreaded Whitechapel district. For Honoria Todd, it’s the last safe haven as she hides from the Blue Blood aristocracy that rules London through power and fear.

Blade rules the rookeries-no one dares cross him. It’s been said he faced down the Echelon’s army single–handedly, that ever since being infected by the blood–craving he’s been quicker, stronger, and almost immortal.

When Honoria shows up at his door, his tenuous control comes close to snapping. She’s so…innocent. He doesn’t see her backbone of steel-or that she could be the very salvation he’s been seeking.

From the cover of Heart of Iron:heartofiron

In Victorian London, if you’re not a blue blood of the Echelon then you’re nothing at all. The Great Houses rule the city with an iron fist, imposing their strict “blood taxes’ on the nation, and the Queen is merely a puppet on a string…

Lena Todd makes the perfect spy. Nobody suspects the flirtatious debutante could be a sympathizer for the humanist movement haunting London’s vicious blue blood elite. Not even the ruthless Will Carver, the one man she can’t twist around her little finger, and the one man whose kiss she can’t forget…

Stricken with the loupe and considered little more than a slave-without-a-collar to the blue bloods, Will wants nothing to do with the Echelon or the dangerous beauty who drives him to the very edge of control. But when he finds a coded letter on Lena-a code that matches one he saw on a fire-bombing suspect-he realizes she’s in trouble. To protect her, he must seduce the truth from her.

With London on the brink of revolution, Lena and Will must race against time-and an automaton army-to stop the humanist plot before it’s too late. But as they fight to save a city, the greatest danger might just be to their hearts…

Book Review: Quintessence by David Walton

by David Walton
320 pages
Published 2013
Historical/Steampunk Fantasy

With Thanksgiving over, I’ve finally had time to sit down with a book again, and WOW where do I start with this one?! Quintessence is a fantastical tale, set in an alternate Victorian Age England. In this reality, the world really IS flat, and the sun and stars are a half dome over the earth, meaning they’re much closer to the earth at the edges of the world. Our main characters are Dr. Parris and his daughter Catherine, part of an expedition to an island on the edge of the world, populated by fantastical creatures, where lines of magical “quintessence” power strange abilities.

This book was fantastic. I keep using that word – but it’s the perfect word for this book! There’s -just- enough romance to give it that happy-ever-after feeling at the end, but the romance was by no means integral to the plot. Walton wove together magical creatures, political intrigue, colonization issues, philosophy, and troubles with the natives into one coherent, magical tale. I LOVED it. I see on his Amazon page that there’s a sequel – Quintessence Sky – but I’m not sure I want to spoil the perfection that is the first book by taking the chance on the second!

I picked this book up largely because of the gorgeous cover art, but it does not disappoint. If you like steampunk, you should read this book.

From the back of Quintessence:

Five hundred years ago in an alternate age of exploration, the earth is flat. Alchemy is a true science, sea monsters menace the oceans, and Europe is embroiled in religious controversy. Here, the magic is thin, but at the edge of the world, where the stars reach down close to the earth, wonders abound. This drives the bravest explorers to the alluring Western Ocean, toward lands unknown. Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who cares about one thing: quintessence, a substance he believes will grant magical powers and immortality. And he has a ship.

Fleeing an inquisition, physician Stephen Parris follows Sinclair to an island that perches upon the farthest horizon, bringing his daughter Catherine with him. The island teems with fantastical animals and alluring mysteries . . . and may even harbor the greatest and most coveted secret of all.

Book Review: Debris

by Jo Anderton
464 pages
Published 2011
Modern Fantasy

Debris is Jo Anderton’s debut novel, and while it at times feels like it, the story at its heart is a unique take on the genre. I hesitated on which genre to list it as; it’s modern-ish technology, not on Earth, and more advanced than Steampunk. But it has magic, which makes it not sci-fi. Ultimately, it’s just GOOD. There were some pacing issues and the heroine seemed a little bi-polar, going from “I’M GOING TO GET MY OLD LIFE BACK” to “I don’t want to disrupt my new life” but other reviewers say that those issues are smoothed out somewhat in the second book, which I haven’t read.

The story begins with Tanyana exhibiting her talent for manipulating pions – the molecules that make up everything. She’s building a giant sculpture with the help of her circle. But something goes wrong – whether it’s a simple accident or someone targeted her is a mystery – and she loses her ability to see pions, but gains the ability to see “debris” – magical garbage created by the manipulation of pions. At least, that’s what she and her fellow “Collectors” are told it is. There seems to be more to the principles behind debris than just “junk,” though, and answers are not very forthcoming in this book. (Though plenty more questions are raised!) Other reviewers have said their are more answers in Suited, the next book in the trilogy. The third book isn’t out yet, and I’ll probably wait for that before picking up Suited, unless I happen past it on a library shelf or something. (Edit: Guardian is now out.)

I am very excited to see how this new author shapes up, given the quality of Debris.

From the back of Debris:

Tanyana is among the highest ranking in her far-future society – a skilled pionner, able to use a mixture of ritual and innate talent to manipulate the particles that hold all matter together. But an accident brings her life crashing down around her ears. She is cast down amongst the lowest of the low, little more than a garbage collector. But who did this to her, and for what sinister purpose? Her quest to find out will take her to parts of the city she never knew existed, and open the door to a world she could never have imagined. 

Book Review: Her Sky Cowboy

herskycowboyHer Sky Cowboy
by Beth Ciotta
342 pages
Published 2012

This book is FANTASTIC. It’s the closest thing to a feminist, egalitarian romance I’ve seen in quite some time, and the romance subplot is expertly woven into the main treasure hunt plot. With it all set against the steampunk backdrop of a time-travel-altered Europe, this is a spectacularly fun read.

The book is set in 1887, 31 years after the “Peace Rebels” traveled back in time from 1969. They came back to warn the world of the dangers of technology – they had stories of Hiroshima, and the Holocaust, and the horrors visited on the human race by nuclear bombs and tear gas and pollution and other terrible things. Their travel had a consequence, though – they apparently came from another dimension. They’re still human, but when “Mods” have children with “Vics” (Moderns vs Victorians), their children then get labeled “Freaks.” Freaks have kaleidoscope eyes – they’re said to look like time travel, or what the Mods saw when they traveled back to 1887. And Freaks all have some sort of ability – the main Freak in the book is a healer. Others can read minds, or control weather. The danger of this is that no Freak is older than 31 years old; no one knows what they’re truly capable of, not even themselves.

Mods came back in time to warn of the dangers of technology, but at the same time, some of them couldn’t resist re-inventing some of the things they’d left behind. And spreading their knowledge. So the setting is Victorian Europe (Britain, mostly) but with varying amounts of steam power, electric power, gas power – dirigibles and air-cycles and the rumors of a lost time-machine.

Among all of this lies the Darcy family. The Darcys have a family connection to the man that built the first time machine, and as such are somewhat rejected from society, since a lot of people are not very happy with the sudden technology and blame them for bringing it upon them. Baron Darcy is an eccentric inventor who can never focus on one thing long enough to see it through. His three children, Amelia (the heroine of this book) and her twin brothers, Simon and Jules, are all equally brilliant, but it’s Amelia that’s taken after her father the most. She dreams of captaining her own airship someday. When Baron Darcy dies and leaves the family destitute, their only hope to regain the family fortune (and respect from their countrymen) is a contest for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. They each receive a personal invitation to join the hunt for “lost or legendary technological inventions of historical significance.” (Future books follow Simon and Jules’ adventures in this quest, and I WILL be looking for those!)

Amelia’s quest leads her to run into Tucker Gentry, a notorious ex-Air Marshal from America. Convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to hang, his crew rescued him and ran to Europe. Amelia and Tucker immediately strike sparks on each other and soon fall in love. And their love story is one of the best I’ve read recently. It’s repeatedly noted that it’s her mind and personality that drives Tucker wild – her aptitude with aeronautics, her sass, her ability to do things for herself. It’s also repeatedly demonstrated that she CAN, indeed, take care of herself. She rebuilds her air-cycle on his ship – or almost does, until one of his crew members takes over and adds a bunch of new stuff to it as thanks for saving his life. When she’s abducted he finds her having dinner with her captor, bargaining for her own release. She’s the one that leads them to the treasure, putting together the clues and finding the secret cave. It’s that self-sufficient streak that really captures Tucker’s heart: “By marrying you, I’m gaining the wife of my dreams, a woman who’ll share the wheel with me, soar the skies, experience adventures.”

Looking back on it, there were a few times where Tucker soared to her rescue, but I never noticed it while I was reading. They were equals throughout the entire book, and that’s not something you see often in a book with a strong romantic sub-plot. Even in the sex scenes, of which there are two or three, she takes an equal, demanding role. I was extremely impressed, and I cannot WAIT to read more about “The Glorious Victorious Darcys,” as the series is called. This is one hell of a book, and if you like steampunk and don’t mind a romantic sub-plot, you should DEFINITELY pick this up.

So far there are two more in the series, His Clockwork Canary (Simon’s story) and His Broken Angel (a novella about Doc, the Freak from Her Sky Cowboy.)

From the back of Her Sky Cowboy:

Amelia Darcy has no interest in marrying well. Her heart belongs to the sky and the dirigibles of brass and steel that swoop over Victorian England. But when her father, an eccentric inventor, dies, the Darcy siblings are left with scrap metal—and not a penny to their names. Their only hope to save the family name and fortune is to embark on a contest to discover an invention of historical importance in honor of Queen Victoria.   
Armed with only her father’s stories of a forgotten da Vinci workshop, a mechanically enhanced falcon, and an Italian cook, Amelia takes flight for Florence, Italy. But her quest is altered when her kitecycle crashes into the air ship of ex–Air Marshal—and scandalous dime novel hero—Tucker Gentry. 
Challenged by political unrest, a devious sky pirate, and their own sizzling attraction, Amelia and Tuck are dragged into an international conspiracy that could change the course of history…again.