A couple of weeks ago, I took my 12-year-old daughter to the town library in search of something to read. When I asked the librarian in charge of the YA section to recommend something without suicide or sex, she said, without hostility but quite firmly that we were in the wrong section. Apparently those were the predominant themes of modern YA literature. (Mind you, this is the stuff offered to them as pleasure reading, in addition to the doom-and-gloom highbrow literature they’re already required to read for school.) And then we wonder why so many of today’s teens are A. depressed and B. avoid pleasure reading at all costs.
It is therefore with great pleasure that I report on this latest offering from a science fiction author Jon del Arroz. For Steam and Country is, as the title implies, a steampunk adventure first and foremost, but it also succeeds brilliantly as YA.
The protagonist, Zaira von Monocle, is a 16-year-old, who–shocker!–actually behaves as a normal teen, even though the circumstances of her life are anything but ordinary. Sure, she is a daughter of a great adventurer, who inherits her father’s airship and goes off to far away lands and gets involved in battles that might decide the fate of her country. Yet at the same time she is subject to the same challenges and emotions as any teen. She has a secret crush on a neighbor boy who, frustratingly, only sees her as a friend. She feels sad about having lost her mother at a young age and devastated at the news that her father is presumed dead. She has a comically adorable attachment to her pet ferret (yes, there’s a ferret named Toby, and he’s important to the plot!). And, as most teenagers, she has her flaws: she is stubborn, occasionally rash, doesn’t know her limitations while at the same time being insecure… Did I mention the “normal teen” thing? If you don’t have teens of your own, just take my word for it. Zaira is true to life, perhaps more so than the cynical and too-smart-for-their-age creatures that populate modern YA fiction, especially the kind geared towards girls.
It’s #SteampunkMonth in honor of Superversive Press’s first full length novel release, For Steam And Country, which will be available in all of your favorite online retailers on Thursday, June 15th.
As such, it’s time for another of Jon Del Arroz’s Definitive Top 5 lists! One I know a lot of people have been waiting for since #SteampunkMonth began.
The steampunk genre of literature is a pretty small market, not overexposed like many other subgenres of fantasy. There are a few works even in such a small crop that do stand out, and without further ado, here’s the list:
Gail Carriger – Soulless. Ms. Carriger really is almost like the fairy god-mother of steampunk. Everyone seems to know who she is. Everyone loves her vivid descriptions of Victorian England, carriages, high tea times, and of course the beautiful attire worn by the aristocracy of the time. She was one of the first to emerge on the scene and embrace Steampunk, and with Soulless, she brought a book that was anything but, as I found it completely soulful and full of passion. It does feel a lot more like a romance with fantasy elements rather than the other way around, so be aware with that going in, and you’ll enjoy this world of werewolves and vampires that her heroine has been thrust into.
Robyn Bennis – The Guns Above. I started reading this one last week, and it’s already made it into my top five. I’m currently very enthralled with this fantasy world that’s perpetually at war, where the costs of war are shown and realized. The protragonist is grinding through a really tough society, and finds herself in command of an airship after the opening of an intense battle. I can’t speak to the ending yet, but I’m so enthralled this made the list.
Jean Rabe and Martin Greenburg (Editors) – Steampunk’d. Not many top lists of mine will have an anthology in it, but this one does. I really got into steampunk after cosplaying and then reading this book. It’s got a lot of incredible stories, including one of my favorite shorts of all times “Portrait of a Lady with a Monocle” by Jody Lynn Nye. You get a nice breadth of imaginative stories that give a good feel for what Steampunk is.
Cherie Priest –Boneshaker. This is a story set in late 1800s alternate Seattle, where some experiment went drastically wrong and there’s this whole area that’s been walled off, as some gas that came up from the ground when it was being mined turned people into zombie-like creatures. This woman Blair’s husband was held responsible, and her son traverses into the walled off area to try to clear his name. She tries to track her son down and has to deal with all the horrors inside to rescue him. It also has one of my favorite book covers of all time.
Beth Cato – Clockwork Dagger. This was an airship travel adventure like I always wanted. It’s a bit on the lighter side, which I love. There’s secret agents, secret royalties, secret romance and it comes to an epic conclusion. I love Octavia, the main character, and the cool medicine and the religious aspect intertwined with that. Cato made being a healer cool, and made a stellar fantasy universe.