BEAUTY AND THE CLOCKWORK BEAST by Lily Lang
The first story in this steampunk anthology kicks off with Beauty and the Clockwork Beast by Lily Lang. A story of love, machines and angst, this short story was a great way to lead in to the world of steampunk.
It begins with Rose Verney, a strong and forthright woman who is determined to carry out her father’s dying wish to complete his teleportation machine. He had made a major breakthrough before his death, and his will stipulates that Sebastian Cavendish, his former student, is the only one with the brain power to complete the invention.
However, when arriving at Sebastian’s mansion Rose finds that he is scarred and haunted by his past, physically as well as mentally. There are scars across his face, he walks with a limp and is kept alive by a clockwork heart. These are all wounds from war, which have left him a wreck of self-loathing and determined never to work on scientific invention ever again. Can Rose be the one to bring him out of his tortured shell and get him to use his talented mind once again?
As characters, I loved the development of both Rose and Sebastian throughout this story. Both are very different people at the end to what they were at the beginning. Rose was always strong and stubborn, but she has a softer side which is not deterred by Sebastian’s grotesque scarring, or his clockwork heart. What she cares for is his sharp, scientific brain, as she knows she cannot fulfil her father’s deathbed wish alone. However, she is intelligent in her own way and knows just how to bring Sebastian out of his self-flagellation and respond to human contact once more.
It is Sebastian who goes through the most pronounced character change in this story, as he begins full of angst, angry at the world around him and unwilling to let Rose remain at his home. When she refuses to leave he is forced to face the changes she has made to his home, and realises that he is developing feelings for a woman who he perceives as far out of his league. At times I thought that his character was too full of angst, although his backstory did make this understandable. I did like the amount of change he had undergone by the end, but I felt that this all came at once and would have preferred to see a few more steady changes throughout the story.
For a short romance, this story has characters which are easily liked, and a simple plot premise which manages to produce its own dramas. I enjoyed the amount of backstory revealed by the author, as this really helped to understand the inner workings of her characters. However, I would have liked a bit more description of the setting, as the beginning sees the heroine immediately walking into Sebastian’s world and I would have liked a little more preamble. As I mentioned before, there were times when there was too much angst, and perhaps not enough romance. The one sex scene of the story was built up in detail but then over in a matter of sentences, so I would have preferred it to be omitted completely or described fully, as this strange mix of middle ground didn’t feel quite right. Overall, it was a great steampunk story to get me started on the anthology, and was exactly the kind of thing I would look for in a short romance. (3.5/5)
THE CLOCKWORK BRIDE by Patricia Eimer
Moving on to the next story in this anthology, and the delightful, entertaining story of The Clockwork Bride by Patricia Eimer.
We are introduced to Aida Mulvaney, an Irishwoman and prolific inventor living in London and working for her father’s automaton company. Her position in society is tenuous, as there are nobles such as Lord Capshaw, an enemy of her father’s, who want to force the Irish out of England and stop women from becoming inventors. Regardless of their enmity, Aida’s friend, Esther, has convinced her to attend a masquerade ball at Lord Capshaw’s, with her being disguised as the Queen of Hearts.
Whilst there she is accosted by a masked noble, who seduces her in a curtained alcove and gives her a kiss she will never forget. She soon realises that she is in a compromising position with none other than Julian Capshaw, the eldest son and heir of the masquerade’s host. Acting on impulse, she allows Julian to whisk her away from the ball and finds herself participating in an impromptu wedding aboard an airship. Married to a noble and at risk of the Lord’s wrath, the pair escape to Paris, but trouble is never far behind…
I loved this story, as the sudden marriage was so irregular that it was both amusing and romantic in a way. Julian seemed like a rake at first glance, as it was clear that he only convinced Aida to marry him to get back at his father, with her dubious reputation being everything his father hates. However, first appearances can be deceiving, and it transpired that Julian actually had a scientific brain himself, and had similar interests and invention ideas to Aida. Their hasty marriage turned out better than either could have hoped for, and I found myself really warming to Julian as a hero.
Despite my liking of Julian, it is Aida who is the heroine of this story, with the tale being told from her first person perspective. She was definitely a strong protagonist, as she knows her own mind and was not duped into the marriage. She knows that if she doesn’t marry Julian she is likely to end up a spinster, or married to a man she doesn’t love just for the sake of convenience. At least with Julian she stands a chance of some intelligible conversation and a companionship, if not love. I liked her inventive mind, as we get to see a lot of her thought processes throughout the story and get an idea of how her mind works. She has to come to the rescue as the story concludes, and she has to answer the difficult question of whether Julian is worth giving up everything she has worked for in England.
Overall, I loved the more subtle integration of the steampunk elements into this story, as the inventions are not as central to the plot as those of the previous story, which made delving into the world easier. There are some steamy romance scenes, as there is obvious chemistry between the pair from the off and I loved the concept of a wedding onboard an airship. The slight issue I had with this story was that we are told Aida’s father hates Lord Capshaw, yet he seems to accept their wedding easily and shows little disregard for Julian. I would also have liked to have seen a bit more of Lord Capshaw, as all of his hatred is reported by the other characters and if I had seen it for myself, it would have made him seem more menacing. This was still a great romance story, and has certainly made me intrigued as to Eimer’s other writing. (4/5)
DEMON EXPRESS by Candace Havens
So, finally we have Demon Express by Candace Havens, a teaser for her new series which takes steampunk to the wild west.
Maisy Clark is a feisty young woman who has been brought up as a warrior/assassin by her father, and genetically enhanced by him to be tougher than your average female. She is a demon hunter in pursuit of her ex-boyfriend and evil scientist, Julian, who is trying to genetically modify humans (and human corpses) into super beings, such as vampires and were-creatures. He is obsessed with Maisy, and frequently sends his newest creations after her whilst carrying out dangerous experiments on entire towns.
The opening of the tale sees Maisy confronting some shady gravediggers at a local cemetery, when she mistakenly captures Jake Calloway, the town’s marshal. Being secretive is in Maisy’s nature, and she has no desire to let Calloway into her supernatural-filled world. However, he won’t take no for an answer and frequently pops up whenever Maisy is under attack and needs a helping hand. There is obvious chemistry between the pair, but with Julian stepping up his evil plans will there be any opportunity for romance?
As a heroine, Maisy is exactly the type of woman I like to read about, as she is strong, independent and sassy, having some very witty dialogue. She has a close bond with her butler, Barnes, with whom she shares a loyal relationship but also acts as her voice of reason; chastising her for the troublesome situations she keeps getting into. As this story acts as a prequel to Havens’ forthcoming series, it was clear that there is a closetful of demons lurking in Maisy’s past which are yet to be uncovered, with this slightly detracting from my enjoyment of the story. It would have been nice to know a little more about her, but at the same time I’m not sure if I feel a burning desire to pick up Havens’ series to find out.
I enjoyed her relationship with Calloway, but similarly there is the wait for the new series to find out if there will ever be anything more between them. He is reliable and trustworthy despite not approving of some of Maisy’s methods, as he believes in the law rather than criminal justice. However, he is well-grounded and exactly the type of man Maisy needs to overcome her troubled past, as she needs someone reliable rather than a risk. It is clear that he is attracted to her, and his desire to protect her from the demons is admirable and makes me want to know more about him. There is great potential for romantic development in the future series which I am looking forward to.
On the whole, the story was fast-paced and exciting, and I loved the fact that Maisy lives onboard a train, with her own electric fence surrounding it. Add in her capabilities with a gun, knife or multitude of other weapons and you have the makings of a great steampunk novella. I also loved the scenes with Delaney, a dressmaker extraordinaire who comes up with some ingenious thoughts for fight-worthy gowns. Julian was set up as an evil adversary, and I can’t wait to see what horrifying new demon he creates next. This was a nice introduction to a new steampunk series, but perhaps not the best of tales for an anthology as there are unanswered questions and I would have preferred the closure of the other two stories. (3.5/5)
This was a great anthology for those who are unsure about the steampunk genre and want to test the water before delving into any particular series. The romances were well-developed and didn’t feel too instantaneous, although in some cases I would have liked a little more description. I loved that all of the heroines were strong women, and the male heroes each had their own unique charm. If I had to choose a favourite, The Clockwork Bride ticks all my boxes.
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