Victorian life hasn’t been the same since Steampunk became the science fiction and fantasy darling. Whirligigs and steam-powered machinery have dominated a lot of the literary landscape in spec fiction the last year or so…which means it’s about time for the mutations to appear. We’ve seen some Old West (aka “weird weird west”) steampunk, and some steampunk-romance. And now we have a little “Indiana Jones-Meets-My-Fair-Lady-Meets-Urban-Fantasy” Steampunk. Sort of. Because I found Phoenix Rising, the new title from Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, hard to categorize. But read on, see what you think―and comment for a chance to win a copy for yourself!
THE OFFICIAL BLURB: Evil is most assuredly afoot—and Britain’s fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade . . . and a librarian. These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences—the Crown’s clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling—will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest . . . and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray. For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Books and Braun—he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices—must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot . . . or see England fall to the Phoenix!
MY THOUGHTS: First, I enjoy reading the occasional steampunk novel―I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as a fanatic or even a purist of the genre, which is why I found myself eventually getting sucked into Phoenix Rising.
Wellington Books is a pompous archivist for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, and he gets stuck with a new assistant, Eliza Braun, a female agent who’s in hot water for not playing by the veddy-proper rules. The two, predictably, start out hating each other and end up, predictably, respecting each other to a degree, with a lot of banter along the way as they take up a cold case involving Eliza’s former partner. The partner who ended said cold case gibbering in a corner of a mental hospital.
Books and Braun, the characters’ names themselves, tell us the tongue-in-cheek nature of the story. It’s all sort of comic hero, Indiana Jones over-the-top snappy dialogue and corset-wearing action figures. Which, in some ways, is a shame. It’s so darned determined to be clever that the characters have a hard time becoming three-dimensional, and I set the book aside a couple of times before finally strapping on my bulletproof corset and soldiering on. (Yes, I am speaking figuratively here.) Eliza, especially, comes across as brash and annoying until we finally start to see the cracks in her facade…and then the book takes off.
Which is all to say that this is a really good read, but be patient with it and give it time to get through its world-building and set up its premise. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with a fun, complex read in a unique version of Victorian England.
Want to win a copy of Phoenix Rising? Tell me if you’ve read any steampunk―and what you like or don’t like about it. You know the drill: +1 for comment, +1 for blog follow, +1 for Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and +1 for Tweet or Retweet. Steam on!