“The Alloy of Law” by Brandon Sanderson (TOR, 2011)

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Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson is back with his 336-page “novella.”  In between lengthy, epic fantasy projects, Sanderson likes to have fun with some short pieces.  The Alloy of Law is an example of one of those once he was done with The Way of Kings and Towers of Midnight before he started working on the final Wheel of Time book, A Memory of Light.  In the acknowledgements he talks about the potential to write two more trilogies set within this world, each trilogy set further in the future from the original Mistborn trilogy.  The Alloy of Law is a shorter work set in the time of this proposed second trilogy.

Three hundred years have passed and the planet of Scandrial is now turning into a modern place with railroads and electric lighting in the homes of the wealthy.  Waxillium Ladrian is called back to his old city of Elendel to take the mantle left by the death of his uncle, living the city life and looking for a potential wife.  As he tries to turn away from his rebel, gun-toting days, a series of strange train cargo thefts and kidnappings pulls him back into action.  Wax will need Allomantic powers, with his ability to Push on metals; he’s also a Twinborn, with the Feruchemical ability to make himself lighter or heavier at will.

While Sanderson perhaps should’ve gone with a shorter name for his main character, or stuck with Wax as the official nickname – seeing twenty Waxilliums on the page gets a little annoying – he does what he did best with the Mistborn books, using his magic system skillfully and telling a great adventure story.  Alloy of Law is definitely set in the time of a steampunk type world that fans will immediately latch on to.

Originally written on December 1, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti” by Genevieve Valentine and Kiri Moth (Prime Books, 2011)

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The sub genre of “steam punk” is growing in popularity, giving zombies and vampires, and the concept of the end of the world a run for their money.  With a very favorable quote from Cherie Priest, author of the great bestselling steam punk novel “Boneshaker,” on the front cover; “Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti” from debut author Genevieve Valentine is a great starting point for anyone looking to get into this genre of zeppelins, steam, and cool outfits featuring oversized goggles; and an automatic must read for any fan of the genre.

The Circus Tresaulti is unique; think Cirque du Soleil on acid but with people of a mechanical nature; it is the show to end all shows.  These mechanical men and women – who have suffered accidents and falls throughout their careers and had their human body parts replaced with strong, metal ones – spin, flip, balance and seem to defy gravity on their trapezes, as they fly through the air like human birds.  But these mechanical performers are still people, with complex lives and varied histories – some filled with happiness and joy, other dark and filled with pain; this is their story.

“Mechanique” is a special story, told with and short and precise writing style that hooks you right in, along with short chapters that allow you to learn a lot about this war-torn world and its varied people fast.  Illustrations from Kiri Moth help to bring described images and scenes to life.  Genevieve Valentine takes the reader on a journey they won’t soon forget.

Originally written on May 21, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

“Leviathan” by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, 2009)

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Most people are familiar with the events that sparked the inception of World War I, namely the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo.  Leviathan begins with the assassination, but then goes on its own alternate history tangent where their son, Prince Aleksander, must flee with his loyal servants from those looking to kill him.  And then Westerfeld introduces the Clankers: great mechanical machines – some the size of small buildings – that travel across the European continent battling each other with their mighty guns.  Aleksander is traveling in the Cyklop Stormwalker.

Meanwhile, Westerfeld introduces Deryn Sharp, a teenage girl looking to be an airman in the British Air Service.  That’s right, airman, and she cuts her hair short and keeps herself disguised as a guy and soon joins the crew – through a string of unusual circumstances and adventures – of the great ship Leviathan.  The British are Darwinists, and instead of monstrous machines, they use genetically-engineered amalgamations of animals to create enormous creatures.  The Leviathan is a massive flying whale that houses an entire ecosystem, as well as a full crew within its mighty girth.

After an intense air battle, the Leviathan must flee, its injured body lumbering along, until it crash lands into the Alps, not too far from the Prince, who soon pays the strange creature a visit and our two heroes meet for the first time.  And as the creature heals itself and Deryn and Aleksander get to know each other, the first book comes to a close.  While the alternate, fantastic world setting is somewhat reminiscent of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Leviathan focuses more on setting the stage without dealing any epic punches, which will likely be made in successive books in the series.

Leviathan is a beautifully designed book, and deserves some awards for this, with its wonderfully Steampunk eye-catching cover, the inlay of the Darwinist/Clanker map of Europe, and the beautiful illustrations within the pages.  The story will capture you, the design entrance you, leaving you wanting the next book in the series.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 24th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest (Tor, 2009)

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In an alternate America of the 1880s, Leviticus Blue invents a mining machine that is supposed to revolutionize the growing town of Seattle.  Instead he loses control of the Bone-shaking Drill Engine, which breaks loose and tears through the underground of the town, causing buildings and roads to collapse within the tunnels made by the machine.  Then a mysterious blight gas is released that somehow turns anyone who breathes enough of it into the living dead.

Sixteen years pass and the city is walled off, turning it into a zombie graveyard.  There are those who live on the inside of the wall, eking out a survival, always terrified they will breathe the gas and be turned.  Then there are those who live on the outside of the wall, having abandoned their city, living in poverty, trying their best to get by.  Finally there are the zeppelins and airships that ferry, transport, and smuggle items into and out of Seattle.

Briar Wilkes, husband to the late Leviticus Blue, is doing her best to get by, while supporting a growing teenage boy.  Only Ezekiel wants to find out more about his dad, wondering if he might still be alive, and whether he was truly to blame for the tragedy that befell Seattle.  Ezekiel sneaks past the wall through a sewer pipe and travels into the doomed town.  Briar soon discovers that her greatest fear has come true, and she must go in after him.  She will make friends on the inside, but also enemies, while fighting to find out if her son is still alive, as well as making sure she doesn’t get turned by the blight gas.

Cherie Priest has created a wonderfully original story in what she says is a response to the Steampunk look of hat and goggles.  The result is a fun, action-packed book that explores the relationship of a mother and son with an unusual past, along with designed yellowed pages and brown print that gives Boneshaker a whole unique look.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on January 24th, 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Cherie Priest check out BookBanter Episode 25.

“The Court of the Air” by Stephen Hunt (Tor, 2009)

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Stephen Hunt’s debut novel, The Court of the Air, is a fun romp through the steampunk world as he successfully combines a Victorian, Dickensian feel with interesting machinery and a strange and unusual world.  It is the story of two orphans – you can’t get more Dickensian than that! – who are on the run from various deadly and clandestine groups.  There is Molly, who is being chased by assassins of a mysterious group; she fortunately finds some friends along the way and is able to go underground, into the sewers and caverns below, discovering another world.  Then there is Oliver, who has been framed for his uncle’s death, and must flee for his life.  He takes to the air, escaping the fey-hunting Special Guard, in a great air ship.  They both draw the attention of the Court of the Air, an unknown and secret organization that spells dread for all.

While this first book in the series is somewhat overloaded with gimmicks and gadgets and characters and things going on that can often lose the reader who must stay focused to follow the story, Hunt has nevertheless created a unique and entertaining steampunk story that continues in The Kingdom Beyond the Waves.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 21st, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Lamentation” by Ken Scholes (Tor, 2009)

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New author and winner of Writers of the Future, Ken Scholes, offers up the first book in a projected five-book series known as The Psalms of Isaak, featuring the complexity and political intrigue of George R. R. Martin with the artistic touch and historical feel of Guy Gavriel Kay. Lamentation is a subtle fantasy novel that does not seek to dazzle readers with nonstop action, but instead introduces them to a complicated world where there is no clear definition between good and evil for the different kingdoms, where each decision that is made will have important and far reaching ramifications.

Lamentation begins with the end of a beloved city, Windwir of the Named Lands.  All that remains is a curling column of smoke reaching into the sky after the casting of a catastrophic spell that razes the once great city to nothing but ruin and dust.  The main characters of the kingdoms of the Named Lands – Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses; Petronus, the Hidden Pope of the Androfrancine Order; Sethbert, Overseer of the Entrolusian City States; Jin Li Tam, daughter to the king of the Inner Emerald Coast – all pay witness to the devastation and must now begin putting the pieces together to find out who is behind this terrible destruction and to punish them accordingly.  The evidence rests on the word of a young boy, Neb, who witnessed the event, along with the survival of a merchservitor named Isaak who proclaims he is to blame for it all.  Yet he is but a robot, a machine that was ordered to do this; human hands and minds are ultimately behind this cataclysmic event.

Ken Scholes has created a wonderfully original world where it is not immediately clear who is fighting on the side of good and who isn’t.  Each character must be severely question on where their intentions lie and what they hope to achieve.  Scholes also uses a fresh blend of steampunk where there are mechoservitors to perform important duties, and mechanical birds that are used to send messages, as well as a special kind of magicks that uses elemental forces and materials for abilities like invisibility and speed. Lamentation is the first book in a great new series from a strong new voice in the world of fantasy.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 31st, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Ken Scholes check out BookBanter Episode 21.

“Mainspring” by Jay Lake (Tor, 2007)

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Mainspring is your classic steampunk novel: the world is run by machinery. The Mainspring is at the center of the world, constantly turning and working, making every other cog, wheel and spring turn and work.  The world is split between the two hemispheres by a giant metal wall that reaches into space.  The planet turns, and runs on an orbiting track around the sun and at midnight the wall connects with this track for one moment, obliterating everything on top of the Wall and starting anew.  All this was created and set in motion by God: the Mainspring is the heart of the world and is also the heart of God.

In this world, the War for Independence never happened, and at the turn of the twentieth century, Britain still controls the colonies.  Hethor Jacques is a sixteen year old boy and a clockmaker’s apprentice.  He is visited by the Archangel Gabriel and told that the Mainspring is not running well and requires the Key Perilous to set it in correct motion again.  This is necessary once over many generations and the time has come again and it is up to Hethor to perform this task.  With lots of problems and obstructions along the way, Hethor makes his treacherous journey to Boston where he is press ganged into the British navy on Her Majesty’s Ship of the Air Bassett: an ordinary ship that is attached to a great air balloon sending it high into the sky.  Commissioned to aid Her Majesty’s ships at the Wall, the Bassett travels over the Atlantic to the great iron curtain where they come face to face with horrors and monsters never imagined.  The Wall is a place of legend and story, of fabled cities filled with jewels and ghosts.

It is in a town on the Wall that Hethor meets the Jade Priest who aids him in his quest to cross the Wall and enter the southern hemisphere.  He must travel to the South Pole where he will find the entrance to the Mainspring and attempt to carry out his duty.  It is here, in the last third of the book, that the plot of Mainspring devolves and becomes quite dreadful, much like the devolved and chaotic world of this hemisphere.  Jay Lake takes an uncertain direction in pushing forth the religion that has been secondary to the incredible steampunk world so far, making Hethor into a messiah like character and therefore able to survive every devastating attack and tragedy that befalls him.  It is here also that Hethor becomes a leader of this simian race that are between monkey and human on an evolutionary scale, known as the “correct people.”  With Hethor leading the correct people south, it recalls the plight of Moses and the Israelites.  Naturally there is a female in this group who has the incredibly developed and humanistic name of Arellya that Hethor becomes closer and closer to, eventually leading to a copulation scene that can only be described as bestiality: “He rubbed at her hairy back, enjoying the silky smooth feel, like petting a giant cat.”

With this severe downward turn to the novel, Mainspring was hard to finish.  The failing of the book was in going from a complex and fantastic world of air ships and machinery and exotic places to a religious dogma coupled with a fascination for an ape-like race.  Nevertheless, Mainspring possesses many facets of the steampunk novel making it a classic in some ways, along with amazing cover artwork of the Bassett at the Wall.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on August 15th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.