Book Review: The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

(note: I received this title via NetGalley)

I absolutely loved Kady Cross’ first book in this series, The Girl in the Steel Corset and was extremely excited to get a copy of the sequel. I read a lot of YA, I read some steampunk, but I really love it when they’re mashed up together (see: Dearly, Beloved, which also does this well). It’s been my experience that steampunk + YA can be hit and miss. But, much to my surprise when I read The Girl in the Steel Corset, it was a definite hit. I was hoping that The Girl in the Clockwork Collar would be just as good and I was thrilled to find out that it was. One of the things that I really like about Cross is that all her female characters have depth (even if they’re not that deep to begin with), but even better — all four of the “main” women in The Girl in the Clockwork Collar were strong characters. Not just psychically, but mentally as well. They all kicked ass in their own ways — which is something rare in novels of any kind. Sure, they might need rescuing, but then so do the guys in the novel — in fact, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar is all about a rescue mission — of a guy.

The story starts where the previous novel left off, with Finley and company on their way to America to rescue their cowboy friend. Even though I hadn’t picked up the previous book since I read it back in April of last year, Cross’ writing was so memorable that it only took me a few pages to remember how much I liked her characters. The story follows Finley, Griffin, Emily and Sam as they try to find Jasper and save him. But what makes this book so good is that the mission to save Jasper is only part of the story. What we also get is some really great character development. A running theme throughout both novels is that Finley isn’t quite sure of who she is and where she stands — Cross does a good job of getting Finley to a point where she’s almost comfortable in her own skin. Almost, that is, but not quite. For that, we’ll need another book (or several, I hope!).

I also liked the romantic relationship between Finley and Griffin. I know, we still probably have Jack to deal with, but he wasn’t too present (except in spirit) in the second book, and I like that. Mostly because I’m rooting for Griffin and Finley to find a way to be together.

Once again, Cross manages to weave the steampunk elements seamlessly into her story. It doesn’t feel like it’s just thrown in there for the sake of it. Instead, the steampunk elements seem vital to the story and without them, it just wouldn’t work. I can’t wait for the next book.

Recommend? Definitely — teens and adults. Fans of steampunk for sure, especially for people who like Westerfeld’s  Leviathan series and liked the romantic aspect. There’s also a dash of historical fiction, and that might appeal to people. Also, if you read The Girl in the Steel Corset you definitely want to check this.

Book Review(s): The Peculiars and The Drowned Cities

The Peculiars by Maureen McQuerry

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book, because I’ve had some bad luck involving books with similar covers (aka, girls with wings), but the gears that are part of the title won out on my skepticism. I’m glad it did, because McQuerry’s book is a pretty fun ride. The Peculiars is the story of Lena, who has abnormally long fingers and large feet. Her mother tries to play it off as normal birth defects, but her grandmother blames Lena’s father for making her a goblin. Because Lena has no idea about her father, she finds it hard to disbelieve her grandmother. Then, on her 18th birthday, her mother gives her a note from her father and Lena decides to embark on a journey to a place called Scree, where she hopes to find her father and the truth about herself.

The story really begins as soon as Lena boards the train to Scree and meets a boy, around her age, called Jimson Quiggley. One of the things I love about McQuerry’s writing is how she creates the relationship between Jimson and Lena. While they come from different backgrounds, they’re both curious and quite smart. They end up complimenting each other in such a lovely way, despite all of the problems they must go through. There’s also some lovely discussion of libraries and librarians that warmed my heart.

Overall, this was a really fun book with an exciting adventure that fills the second half of the story with action. I loved all the characters and Lena’s character development (which was very well executed). I hope there’s a second book, because I really want to know what happens next.

Recommend? Definitely. This is a great steampunk crossed with fairy tale characters (without the fairy tale) novel. It’s got a cute potential romance, but with enough angst to keep you wanting the next book. The story is self-contained, so while you might be annoyed with the ending, it won’t leave you wanting to throw the book across the room.

The Drowned Cities by  Paolo Bacigalupi

My past attempts at reading Bacigalupi’s books results in me not getting very far in The Windup Girl  and quite liking Ship Breaker. So when I saw that there’s a companion book to Ship Breaker, I just had to read it. The Drowned Cities is, in some ways, a darker novel than much of the young adult SF/F I’m used to reading. I think, in some ways, it’s even darker than The Hunger Games. The violence in The Drowned Cities is very personal, as the story takes place during a war. There are several central characters, many of whom give up their lives for what they believe is right, but also because they have no other choice.

The central character in the story is Mahlia, a castoff. Her father was a Chinese peacekeeper who slept with her mother, and then left them when the peacekeepers left what used to be the US for China. While escaping from one of the many armies (who sent the peacekeepers running) she lost her part of her arm, including her hand. She makes rash (and sometimes poor) decisions, that results in her and her friend Mouse stumbling upon the body of a bio-engineered half-man named Tool. One of the things I loved about this book was Tool. We got his point of view (along with several other characters, including Mouse and Mahlia), which differs from the children and the adults found in the book. He’s full of instinct and conflict and so many emotions that he’s not sure what to do with them.

The Drowned Cities is as engrossing as it is harsh. There’s not happy ending, no Mahlia defeats the bad guys. The ending is heartbreaking, but beautifully written.  I don’t know why Bacigalupi’s YA books work better for me than The Windup Girl, but they do. You do not need to read Ship Breaker to read the second book, but it does give you more of feeling for the world both books take place in. I look forward to the next installment.

Recommend? To older teens, definitely — especially if they’ve read Ship Breaker. Fans of Bacigalupi’s adult books might enjoy it as well. It’s a harsh read, as I said above, the not for those with weak stomachs. At it’s core, the book is a survival during war story and the main characters are all children/young adults. It’s not an easy read, but it was good, well written and thoughtful.

Leviathan – A Taste of Steampunk

Originally posted on Sat, Aug 28 2010 at ROPL.org.

What is steampunk? It’s a genre of science fiction and fantasy that mixes together our pasts with our possible futures. The worlds may resemble our own, only instead of coal, everything’s run on steam. Or they may be completely different from our own. Scott Westerfeld’s young adult novel, Leviathanfalls somewhere in the middle. The world is familiar; the setting (just before World War I) from our past; but the machinery is unlike our own.

Westerfeld’s two main characters, a prince named Alek and a young midshipman named Deryn, are from two different worlds. Deryn is a Darwinist (who use real creatures as their ships, and so on) and Alek is a Clanker (who uses steam-powered machines that are similar, in some ways, to those of our past). Westerfeld mixes reality with fiction to create a masterful, engrossing novel about two teens who must fight to survive.

His novel is more than just an adventure story. It’s about war, about love, about family. And, of course, about coming of age. Deryn wants nothing more than to be able to fly, but because she’s a girl, she must pretend to be a boy in order to fulfill her dream. Alek, on the other hand, is a prince (the son of Archduke Ferdinand – a name we’re all familiar with in connection with World War I). He too must hide who he is, by pretending to be a commoner instead of the royalty he is.

The book is fun, with hints of sadness and fear (the loss of Alek’s parents, the fear  they’ll be found by the Germans, Deryn’s worry that she’ll be exposed as a girl) that keep things exciting. Alek and Deryn do eventually meet and by the end of the novel, we’re left wanting more. Luckily, the squel toLeviathan (called Behemoth) will be released in early October of 2010.

If you like Leviathan, or if you want to read more in the steampunk genre, check out our display in the library. Here are some titles to get you started:

Young Adult

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series
Airborn and Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish
City of Ember and People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau
Fullmetal Alchemist (manga series) by Hiromu Arakawa
Un Lun Dun by China Mievelle

Adult

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Scar by China Mieville
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

Classics

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
The Time Machine by HG Wells
War of the Worlds by HG Wells