Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas plus Steampunk plus Romance equals fireside reading

Romance novels touch on every genre of fiction.  They've nearly claimed vampires and werewolves for themselves, and there are historical romances set in every era from Ancient Rome to World War II Britain.  But generally, the genre-based romance novel is just a normal romance with a fancy dialect and a few more paes describing how everyone dresses thrown in.  They aren't truly a book of that genre.  A true Civil War buff will be sorely disappointed Philippa Gregory's A Respectible Trade, for example.

But that's the beauty of A Clockwork Christmas.  Steampunk isn't a genre of its own, exactly.  It's more of a window-dressing for another genre, such as a period historical story, or a zombie apocalypse, or a vampire and werewolf situation.  Steampunk is a setting, and the authors here write their stories with that in mind.

In 'Crime Scene in a Corset', Cornelia Peabody has made a terrible mistake.  A former street urchin turned sneaktheif and inventor, she's stolen a Faberge egg from a University professor.  He makes his way into her hidden office, and incapacitates her.  While she is out, he affixes a magnificent little piece of technology to her wrist, and explains her new situation: steal back the egg, or on Christmas Morning the device will go off and electrocute her.  Will she manage to get it back, or would stealing it away again be an even worse crime?  And why does this Roderick fellow keep appearing in her chambers?

Rather than finding new love, 'This Winter Heart' is about finding a love that they both thought was gone forever.  Ophelia couldn't help that she was a construct; her father, in mourning for his lost wife, used both his and her DNA to grow a flesh-and-blood daughter around a steel frame with artificial lungs and heart.  And when she met Leonides, the golden boy heir of the South, they fell in love and quickly married.  But family is important to Southerners, and when he discovered the truth about her, as well as the fact that she likely couldn't have children, he casts her out, back to her father's house.  Now, 8 years later, and with an 8 year old boy in tow, she's on her way back to her husband's home.  Her father has died, and she's hoping that seeing the son that Dario never expected to have will soften his heart towards her.  But will Southern pride get in their way?

Esme, in Jenny Schwartz's 'Wanted: One Scoundrel,' however, is campaigning to show Australia that women don't need men to support them.  A suffragette during Australia's beginnings, she was raised by a prospector on the continent's frontier and wants to establish the vote for women from the start.  There's only one problem: the men in the area are moving their political meetings to a gentlemen's club, where she cannot participate.  So she told her uncle to be on the lookout for a scoundrel on his next ship over.  One who would have no problem being the mouthpiece of a rather...opinionated, well-to-do lady and being paid handsomely for his trouble.  She thinks she's found him in Jedediah Reeve, a man cunning enough to be the ship's card sharp, but charismatic enough that no one had any hard feelings about losing their money to him.  The Outback is filled with men with the morals to have been transported, though and many a man wuld do drastic things to get at Esme's inheritance.  Will Jed probe to be more than a scoundrel after all?

Jasper Carlisle in 'Far From Broken' is hardly a scoundrel himself.  While on a mission for the military, his wife Calliandra, a former prima ballerina, is tortured nearly to death by some men after Jasper himself.  The War Council is just starting to work on mechanical replacements for the body parts of soldiers, and Jasper made a horrible deal with one of the commanders of the Council in order to save his wife's life.  But no one asked Callie if she wanted to be saved.  With both legs, a hand, and an eye replaced, she's lost the grace and looks that have come to define her.  Will Jasper and Callie be able to rebuild their life together, and what happened to the torturer Jasper hasn't managed to track down yet?

I've never been one to read many romance novels, and I admit I was pleasantly surprised by these.  For the most part, I was quickly engaged by all the plots, and the characters were well thought out and stayed consistent in their actions.  I've never liked damsel in distress stories, but even Ophelia in 'This Winter Heart' developed a backbone when the chips were down.  'Wanted: One Scoundrel' perhaps took the longest to capture my attention, but only because most Americans need so much narrative about Australia's founding and environment at the time.  

I loved Cornelia in 'Crime Wave in a Corset' from nearly the first page, and the longer the story went, the more I liked her.  'Far From Broken' had me rooting for both Jasper and Callie.  

A Clockwork Christmas is a perfect balance of love, lust, revenge and intrigue custom-made for reading next to the fireplace.  Perhaps the best praise I can give the authors is that I would read a series based on any of these stories.  With the Christmas theme, this makes a perfect stocking-stuffer for the Steampunk romantic in your life.

Highs:  Watching Cornelia in 'Crime Scene in a Corset' learn to get past her upbringing and be able to show her heart

Lows:  Some of the stories have a bit too much setup and can be hard to get into.

Verdict:  As the stories are a bit longer than in some collections, be sure to block out enough time in the evening to savor each story curled up with a cup of tea.

Further Reading:  Soulless, Ganymede

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