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Trisha Telep – Corsets & Clockwork

January 12, 2015

98. Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances edited by Trisha Telep (2011)

Length: 437 pages
Genre: Short Story, Young Adult, Steampunk Historical Fantasy, Romance

Started: 15 July 2014
Finished: 26 December 2014

Where did it come from? The library. (Several times! I’d check it out, read a few stories, run out of renewals and have to return it, then check it out again a few weeks later.)
Why do I have it? I like steampunk and short story anthologies.

You can build clockwork
machines, but you need a heart
to love… or do you?

Overall Summary and Review: As it says in the title, this is a book of short stories that are (ostensibly) all steampunk romances. Some are more steampunk than others, some are more romantic than others, but they all have at least something clockwork and one couple in love. In theory, this collection sounded great: I like steampunk! I like romance! I like short story anthologies! But in practice, it never really grabbed me, which is why it took me so long to finish – after finishing one story, I rarely felt compelled to dive into another. Maybe I like my romances given a little more time and space to blossom? But I also felt that while this collection didn’t have any real losers in terms of story quality, neither did it have any clear winners – almost all of them were good, and enjoyable enough, but none of them really stood out for me. 3 out of 5 stars.

Individual Stories: “Rude Mechanicals” by Lesley Livingston is a cute little story about a failing theatre who decides to replace their unreliable leading lady with a mechanical Juliet. I’m always game for Shakespeare stories, but I think this one could have used a little more development in the midsection – it goes from zero to sixty (introduction to crisis) pretty fast.

“The Cannibal Fiend of Rotherhithe” by Frewin Jones is a tale of the daughter of a mermaid and an isolated mechanic. She grows up isolated in her father’s cabin, although he constantly tells her tales of London, where the streets are paved with gold and she can find her true love. But she soon discovers that true love is a rare commodity, and she prefers the taste of most men to their company. I liked the characters well enough, and I didn’t even mind that the story shifted tenors so many times. But all of the different pieces didn’t add up to a cohesive whole, and the ending felt arbitrary and unsatisfying. Plus, there were some steampunk elements present, but they were barely window dressing – not integral to the story at all.

“Wild Magic” by Ann Aguirre stars the young scion of one of the most powerful families in the city, born with a powerful magical ability but forced to keep it secret. And then one day, she meets a strange and alluring boy in the market, and discovers that there is a hidden society of magical folk – and they need her help. I liked the world of this story quite a bit, with its echoes of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Tithe, but it felt like its proportions were off: the intro and character development was pretty leisurely and then the actual action was all packed in together. Basically, the first part felt like the set-up for a much longer story/novella, which I would have happily read.

“Deadwood” by Michael Scott – A cross-country air-ship gets grounded in the lawless town of Deadwood, but two young passengers suspect that there is more going on, and aren’t going to give in without a fight. I liked the world, and there was good action, although the reveal at the end felt kind of gratuitous.

“Code of Blood” by Dru Pagliassotti – One of my favorites. Told from the point of view of the granddaughter of the doge of Venice, when the French attack on a festival day, it is up to her to save the city, with the help of an young elementalist. I liked this story quite a lot – I like stories set in Venice, and this had a nice blend of the legends of the city with the fantasy and steampunk elements. The romance was a little bit forced – I’m not a big fan of declaring love after you’ve known someone for only a few hours – but otherwise, I really enjoyed this.

“The Clockwork Corset” by Adrienne Kress is about a wealthy girl whose childhood best friend (the son of her father’s clock-winder) goes off to work for the army, building machines to help in the war effort, right after she discovers she loves him… and now she can’t let him be put into danger without her. I typically enjoy “girls dressing as boys to join the army” stories, and although I thought the end of this one was a little predictable, I liked it nonetheless. It was also one of the ones where I felt like the romance was actually believable, since it was built over a lifetime’s acquaintance.

“The Airship Gemini” by Jaclyn Dolamore – Conjoined twins scheduled to perform aboard an airship find themselves cornered by a magical doctor who wants to separate them – an operation which will win him glory, but which they desperately don’t want. Cool idea, and I liked the narrator, and her perspective on what it means to be alone vs. together, but it wasn’t super steampunky, and the ending seemed kind of abrupt and a little out of nowhere.

“Under Amber Skies” by Maria V. Snyder is a story about a Polish girl whose father is an inventor of clockwork machines – but now he has gone into hiding building machines to help with the war effort against the Germans, leaving his daughter alone with her mother and the secrets she keeps. Yow, this was dark. I mean, no one expects stories about Nazis to be light, but this was *dark*, in several unexpected directions at once.

“King of the Greenlight City” by Tessa Gratton involves a young man, heir to the noble family that controls fire magic, who is engaged to be married the heiress of the Niobe family, that controls Earth magic. But he finds out he can also control air – and being able to control more than one type of magic is the sole province of the mysterious and dangerous Titan who lives on the other side of the river. I liked it – it had a believable romance between the two leads, a dark edge to the story, and an ending I didn’t see coming.

“The Emperor’s Man” by Tiffany Trent involves a soldier who is set to guard the emperor’s daughter from the strange and magical creatures in the forest, only to find out that not only does she not need protection, but that much of what he thought he knew – about her, about the forest, about the emperor and the magic – is wrong. I don’t know quite how to feel about this one; it was based on a really interesting premise, and it was well written, but the surprise at the end didn’t feel entirely organic… plus the fact that the emperor mandates the worship of the International Scientific Bible and Saint Darwin, etc., when the emperor is the bad guy of the piece, was a little off-putting.

“Chickie Hill’s Badass Ride” by Dia Reeves was interesting, but one of the least steampunky of the bunch. It’s about two kids in 1960s East Texas, one who dreams of changing the world for the better, and the other who might have the power to do it, who encounter not only racism and social injustice, but also terrifying monsters from another dimension. I liked the characters, and I would have been interested to see more of Chickie’s powers, but it was much more horror and less steampunk.

“The Vast Machinery of Dreams” by Caitlin Kittredge is about an aspiring young author who meets a strange young woman who both inspires him and haunts his dreams – along with other, stranger things. The structure of this story was interesting, kind of dreamlike and unsettled and non-linear, not particularly easy to parse, but contributing to the feel of the story. But this was also horror (Lovecraftian horror, to be particular), not steampunk really at all, so it didn’t feel like it belonged in this collection – even less so than the previous story.

“Tick, Tick, Boom” by Kiersten White is the story of a daughter of one of the powerful industrial magnates who controls the town of Manchester, who is secretly building bombs and other devices to aid the rebellion and the union that are fighting for the common people. I liked the protagonist of this one a lot, and although the identity of her mysterious “suitor” is totally obvious almost before he shows up, I thought this was a fun story. It was another one that I think would have supported a longer story – there was a lot of world-building and secondary characters introduced, etc., that didn’t wind up playing much of a role in the story itself.

Recommendation: If steampunk is your thing and you’re looking for a short story anthology, I’d recommend Steampunk! for a more varied sampling, but if you like your stories romantic and your endings (mostly) happy, this one’s not a bad read.

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First Line: There are millions of stories in the Clockwork City; here are thirteen of them.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 393: “Every evening he’d make his way down the cliff path to the long strand where the massive black submersibles stood like beached whales between the wooden groynes, their high, thin smokestacks lifting to the clouded heavens like the lone and mute pipes of some broken-down old church organ.” – a wall or jetty built out from a riverbank or seashore to control erosion.
  • Location 996: “He sported a leather thong about his neck, strung with beads in thalassic hues, here a glimmer of cerulean, there beryl, shimmers of vert and viridian.” – of or relating to seas or oceans, especially smaller or inland seas.
  • Location 1954: “Top-heavy iron chimney flues rose over Murano’s high-walled, narrow stone buildings, which pressed against each other, bristling with sextants and turquets and telescopes and other, more mystifying instruments.” – Not a real word (or at least not one that makes any sense in context), according to the internet. There is apparently a Turquet’s Octopus, but I don’t think those were prevalent on Murano’s rooftops.
  • Location 1960: “As they reached the mouth of the canal, they saw a line of flat-bottomed peàte strung across the water like beads on a necklace.” – I can find it in other books in the same context – boats in Venice – but can’t find a dictionary with it.
  • Location 4847: “Matt was away, covering this and that, a stringer for the Lovecraft dailies.” – A part-time or freelance correspondent for the news media.

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