Steampunk, wonderful steampunk! I've been reading my way through the YA category of this year's Locus Awards for sci-fi and fantasy, and two of the five books nominated this year have a distinctly steampunkish feel (though Ian McDonald's very enjoyable Planesrunner is actually 'electricpunk', taking place in a parallel universe where oil has never been used as a source of energy). All of the books below have plenty of adventure, interesting and imaginative settings, awesome steampunk technology and brave, smart, resourceful heroes and heroines. They're really good for readers who aren't scared of a little dose of science with their fiction - a little bit of 'how the rollercoaster works' alongside the whole rollercoaster ride. All that, plus - airships! Air pirates! Mid-air battles!
For more than twenty years West Canvia and Lemuria have battled one another in a constant war. From the safety of his laboratory, weapons designer Thomas Riley has cleverly and proudly empowered the West Canvian forces with his brilliant designs. But when a risky alchemy experiment goes horribly wrong, Thomas and his wily assistant, Cynthia Bassett, are thrust onto the front lines of battle. Forced into shaky alliances with murderous sky pirates in a deadly race to kidnap the only man who can undo the damage--the mad genius behind Lemuria's cunning armaments--Thomas' own genius is put to the ultimate test.
Twin brother and sister, Lenis and Missy, are slaves aboard the powerful airship the Hiryu - but when the airship is stolen on its maiden voyage, they find themselves working for a captain whose noble quest seems to make no sense.
The great Traction City lumbers after a small town, eager to strip its prey of all assets and move on. Resources on the Great Hunting Ground that once was Europe are so limited that mobile cities must consume one another to survive, a practice known as Municipal Darwinism.
Tom, an apprentice in the Guild of Historians, saves his hero, Head Historian Thaddeus Valentine, from a murder attempt by the mysterious Hester Shaw -- only to find himself thrown from the city and stranded with Hester in the Out Country. As they struggle to follow the tracks of the city, the sinister plans of London's leaders begin to unfold ...
As with many other readers out there on the net, the first line of this series just suckered me right in and made me want to read more:
"It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea."
Leviathan / written by Scott Westerfeld ; illustrated by Keith Thompson
In an alternate 1914 Europe, fifteen-year-old Austrian Prince Alek, on the run from the Clanker Powers who are attempting to take over the globe using mechanical machinery, forms an uneasy alliance with Deryn who, disguised as a boy to join the British Air Service, is learning to fly genetically-engineered beasts.
The author offers a really neat twist on the usual mechanical airships - the Darwinists have been able to genetically splice together living creatures and make biological airships! Deryn has a great relationship with all of these 'beasties' and it is interesting to see the living ships through the eyes of Alek, who has only fought using mechs. I liked Alek, particularly, because he was trying so hard to keep secrets and make smart decisions in a tough situation, but he got it wrong sometimes, and it didn't stop him from trying to do what he thought was right.
When fourteen-year-old Everett Singh's scientist father is kidnapped from the streets of London, he leaves a mysterious app on Everett's computer giving him access to the Infundibulum--a map of parallel earths--which is being sought by technologically advanced dark powers that Everett must somehow elude while he tries to rescue his father.
I really enjoyed this book. More than any of the others, I felt like I was reading about - visiting - a real world, full of vivid sights and sounds and smells. I loved the way Ian McDonald took me aboard a 'real' airship in alternative England, where the crew had their own way of doing things and even their own language (based on thieves' cant). There is a fair amount of science in here, but to me it didn't feel like it slowed down the plot too much. The only pain with this one is the wait for the next book because it ends on an absolute cliffhanger.