Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Steam & Sorcery by Cindy Spencer Pape Book 1 in the Gaslight Chronicles

Sir Merrick Hadrian is A Knight of the Order of the Round Table. His job is to use magic and steam technology to hunt down evil, whether it be human or supernatural.  One night on the trail of a vampire he is actually saved by a group of street urchins.  He is moved to take them on as wards, when the oldest boy shows signs that he has the skills to become a trained knight.  Suddenly Merrick moves from being a confirmed bachelor to a man with a house full of children he can scarcely control.  

His aunt recommends that he hire Miss Caroline Bristol to become a governess for the children.  After finding out that Merrick is a confirmed bachelor, Caroline is determined to down the job, having been accosted repeatedly by previous employers.  It is only because the children are so endearing that Caroline decides to accept the job.  What she does not realise is that this acceptance will lead to a discovery about her true origins, place her in mortal danger and introduce her to all of the supernatural elements that polite society simply cannot bear to acknowledge. 

Essentially, Steam & Sorcery is a romance based steampunk novel, with elements of fantasy like vampires, werewolves and fae.  I am going to say upfront that I am not a lover of the romance genre; however, the elements of this story made it interesting.  Caroline, the female love interest is very much her own person and an independent thinker.  She refuses to be left behind while Merrick investigates cases.  She actively listens for clues to help him and when the time comes, is not afraid to pick up an umbrella or a gun for that matter to defend herself and those she cares for.  She absolutely refuses to be bullied into playing the frail woman. 

I didn't expect to see a single character of colour or a GLBT character in this novel as they are often erased.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was wrong.  We are told that Nell is a little girl of colour, and Merrick believes that her father was Indian.  Nell herself is unsure where her family actually hails from because when they were together they traveled a lot. She is a sensitive and speaks to ghosts.  Caroline makes it clear that even with the advantages of being Merricks ward that English society is not going to be easy on her because of the colour of her skin.  

Aunt Dorothy is a lesbian, though of course she is a single woman.  It would have been nice to see her partnered in some fashion as the celibate GLBT character appears far too often in fiction.  What I do like about Aunt Dorothy is that she is an independent woman who refuses to be dismissed because she is a woman.  Aunt Dorothy demands to be treated with respect by all of the men around her and she even makes it clear that though what the Knights do is essential for society that they are backward because of their treatment of gender.

I was quite disappointed that the mystery which Merrick was investigating tended to take a back seat.  This is clearly an issue of my preference because certainly in any romance novel the purpose is to focus on the romance whereas;  I would have preferred the romance to be in the background.  This is made up somewhat by the characters.  There isn't a single character that I disliked in this book.  I would have preferred to have more scenes with the children as when they did appear, I couldn't help but smile.  

If you like romance and steampunk, Steam & Sorcery would probably be of some interest.  It is inclusive and sends really positive messages regarding gender.  The language is consistent with the times and let's just face it, the idea that the knights of the round table continue to exist really is fascinating.  For what it is, Steam & Sorcery is a good book.