A review by infinitejester
Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances, by Trisha Telep


Steampunk is a genre I’ve started to get into of late, so when I saw this book on one the shelves in my local library I just had to pick it up. I’m generally not too fond on anthologies and have struggled in the past with short stories – I prefer longer novels which have time to develop a full plotline rather than anecdotes. This one was a good example though – although there were inevitably some hits and misses in this book, there were more hits and the quirky steampunk genre did lend itself well to smaller plotlines. It’s hard to rate a book when it’s really a series of short stories by different authors but I gave it rating based on my overall feeling at the end of it all. Each story was very different from each other and the use of romance was also imaginative.
For the sake of this review then, I’ll just be giving a few lines on what I thought on each story, keeping spoilers to a minimum as much as I can.
Rude Mechanicals by Lesley Livingston
The first in the collection, this one worked extremely well as a short story. The visuals were very strong throughout, particularly when describing Jewel, the automaton actress. It tells the story of a young theatrical who is close to despair at the lacklustre performances of Shakespeare his cast are producing and turns to a clockwork alternative, who proves to be eventually too good, with dire consequences. The story flowed well and really captured my imagination. (Rating: 9/10)
The Cannibal Fiend of Rotherhithe by Frewin Jones
Told in a fairy-tale style, this was one story where it felt it worked against the flow of the narrative, making the events and characters too isolated from the reader. I didn’t care much about the characters and the events too felt very predictable with little emotion so I ended up just skim-reading this one. More of a horror story than a steampunk one, I felt. (Rating: 4/10)
Wild Magic by Ann Aguirre
This was another nice addition, with young noble woman, Pearl caught between a mysterious boy in a world of magic and the duty of her family. Overall, I liked this story a lot and Pick was a great counterpart for the heroine. However, Pearl felt inconsistent to me at times – she seemed to alternate between being intelligent or naïve according to the plot which just left me feeling a bit confused about her in the end. The finale too felt a bit rushed and too neatly tied up when it could have been a little better handled. (Rating: 8/10)
Deadwood by Michael Scott
The air ship setting on this one was nice and the initial conversation between the two travellers was a good touch but I felt the overall reveal at the end of this story was a bit too gimmicky. I never really warmed to the characters and this one also felt too neatly concluded, when the potential was there for more. (Rating: 6/10)
Code of Blood by Dru Pagliassotti
Really liked the setting here of Italy for a change and it leant a nice atmosphere to the story and the main character, but this was one that just didn’t quite hit for me and I didn’t end up finishing it. Ironically, this was one that I felt could have been shorter rather than longer as it definitely felt like it dragged a bit. (Unrated as unfinished)
The Clockwork Corset by Adrienne Kress
The war time feel of this one was good and the two protagonists worked well together, even if the actual romance scene felt a little cringe-y and clumsy. A good, short story overall, with the strength lying in the characters themselves rather than the steampunk elements which were minimal. (Rating: 7/10)
The Airship Gemini by Jaclyn Dolamore
Another airship one, but one that tackled elements of the supernatural as well and a pair of Siamese twins who have performed together for years in a circus-style act. When a sinister doctor wants to separate them via a risky operation, can they find a way to escape the knife? And is it possible for one of the twins to find a way to be with her lover if they are still joined? This one was a pretty good story with imaginative characters, even if I felt the vampire subplot was one too many elements randomly thrown in to really work well. The ending felt a bit unsatisfying to me and I felt really bad for one of the twins. (Rating: 8/10)
Under Amber Skies by Maria V. Snyder
Another foreign setting here (Poland) for another wartime story, but this one worked the best out of the others in this collection. It felt authentic and very realistic, even down to the romance elements which were very believable. Zosia was very much believable as a real girl and easy to relate to. The air of mystery surrounding the story concerning the protagonist’s father’s whereabouts added that extra layer of tension too and the twist at the end was particularly horrific. (Rating: 9/10)
King of the Greenlight City by Tessa Gratton
Another story that comes across a bit like a fairy-tale, but this one worked better. It tells of how a young man, Ever, on the way to meet his fiancée discovers he has magical abilities far beyond expected. Learning to control these powers is dangerous and his teacher might prove even more so. The start of this one was particularly strong and drew me into the story straight away. The mix of magic and nobility again was interesting, particularly in how each noble family was known for being defined by one element. The romance worked well enough, but it was helped by both Ever and his fiancée Alys were strong, independent characters in their own right. (Rating: 9/10)
The Emperor’s Man by Tiffany Trent
The plot in this one was very interesting and worked well within the time-frame. It tells the story of a soldier in the emperor’s army, unable to remember his past, but somehow drawn towards the unusual princess and the strange creatures that threaten their home. I particularly liked the character of the princess and how Trent chose to stress how ordinary she was. (Rating: 9/10)
Chickie Hill’s Badass Ride by Dia Reeves
Another one I never managed to finish – the slightly later 1950’s time era on this one was a nice change but didn’t really match too well with the steampunk for me. I struggled to warm to the characters and gave this one up after a few pages. (Unrated as unfinished)
The Vast Machinery of Dreams by Caitlin Kittredge
An interesting concept in this one in that of a writer whose own life is influenced by the mysterious girl in his stories, but ultimately this one felt really confusing to read with the constant rewritings of the timeline. (Rating: 5/10)
Tick, Tick, Boom by Kiersten White
Another noble’s daughter is the protagonist in this one, who also part-times as a mechanic on the side, making bombs. This was a pretty good story with a twist that I unfortunately saw coming from the beginning, even if the protagonist didn’t. It had a lot of humour in it though and was a nice read. (Rating: 8/10)