Monday, April 8, 2013

Steampunk Romance Watch - April 2013

I'm going to kick off this edition of Steampunk Romance Watch with a report on my experience watching director Stephen Fung's steampunk-martial arts mashup TAI CHI ZERO (2012).

What it's about:

Yang travels to Chen Village to learn a powerful form of Tai Chi. Though villagers are forbidden from teaching outsiders, Yang becomes their best hope for survival when a man arrives with a plan to build a railroad through the village.

I had blogged about the release previously and was really excited about it. This film definitely has both martial arts and steampunk elements. There's also a subtle romance with a strong heroine and bittersweet HFN ending. And some quirky videogame visuals a la SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. Overall, though, I didn't get the giddy buzz I was hoping for.

The steampunk elements, while interesting, were purely aesthetic. Unless something was lost in subtitle translation, nothing informed me as to why steampunk technology existed in this world. It wasn't grounded in any kind of origin event—not even an eccentric inventor ahead of his/her time. The steampunk elements seemed to exist only to give the fight scenes a different flavor.

Even though I should be totally in love with this film given my interests, the story seems to be a case of style over substance. I'm more of a plot gal so the sparkly steampunk veneer of TAI CHI ZERO wasn't quite enough to overcome the plot flaws.

What made it worse was learning at the end of the film that TAI CHI ZERO is the start of a trilogy. Aaaarggghhhh! No wonder the pacing seemed "off." Sigh. Maybe I shouldn't have had such high expectations.

Currently, I’m undecided about seeing the next installment, TAI CHI HERO:

Chinese steampunk martial arts blockbuster about the early years of Tai chi master Yang Luchan, the man who founded in the 19th century what has now become the most popular Tai Chi style in the world. The second instal[sic]ment of the "Tai Chi" trilogy continues the journey of Yang Luchan, a gifted child with a fleshy growth on his forehead who helped save a village from a frightening army of steampunk soldiers bearing strange machines with the knowledge of Tai Chi that they entrusted him with.

Ongoing steampunk romance book series - updates!

Meljean Brook's next story in her Iron Seas series is "Salvage," a short from the forthcoming anthology ENTHRALLED (July 2013). Here's the brief blurb:

A man who’s lost everything returns home to find that not only is his marriage in jeopardy, but he must now fight air pirates who intend to steal his one remaining treasure — his wife.

My commentary: I'm still on the hunt for a library copy of RIVETED, the latest novel-length book in the series. But I did blog about HEART OF STEEL recently--click here to read (I tagged the story, but beware spoilers).

Beth Ciotta's steampunk romance series The Victorious Glorious Darcys offers the following lineup after the first book, HER SKY COWBOY:

HIS BROKEN ANGEL (May 2013, Book 1.5, e-novella)

Doc Blue has never had it easy. Born a Freak, the offspring of a Vic—a native Victorian—and a Mod—a time traveler from the future—he’s lived on the fringes of society, hiding his true identity and preternatural healing abilities from even his closest friends. His brief support of the Freak rebellion has only left him with even more problems, losing him both his job and one of his greatest allies, the Sky Cowboy, Tucker Gentry. So when Tuck’s kid sister, Lily, ends up blinded in an air skirmish on her way from America to England, Doc jumps at the opportunity to be the one to rescue her and use his powers to mend her wounds.

Curing Lily proves harder than anticipated, and Doc realizes that to restore her sight he will have to spill his biggest secret and embrace his Freak nature like never before. But, with Lily’s help, Doc may be able to reach the full potential of his abilities, heal Lily’s broken heart, and learn, finally, how to open his.

HIS CLOCKWORK CANARY - (June 2013, Book 2)

For ambitious engineer Simon Darcy, winning Queen Victoria’s competition to recover lost inventions of historical significance is a matter of pride—and redemption. After all, it was Simon’s failed monorail project that left his family destitute, and winning the tournament would surely restore the Darcys’ reputation.

Simon sets his sights high, targeting no less than the infamous time-travel device that forever changed the world by transporting scientists, engineers, and artists from the twentieth century. The Mod technology was banned and supposedly destroyed, but Simon is sure he can re-create it.

His daring plan draws the attention of Willie G., the Clockwork Canary, London’s sensationalist reporter. Simon soon discovers that Willie is a male guise for Wilhemina Goodenough, the love of his youth, who left him jilted and bitter. He questions her motives even as he falls prey to her unique charm. As the attraction between the two reignites, Simon realizes that this vixen from his past has secrets that could be the key to his future…as long as he can put their history behind him.

My commentary: I've read HER SKY COWBOY. Tags include action-adventure, steampunk setting-with-an-origin-story, and passionate romance. It's also very hero-centric, especially given that the hero is the inspiration for a penny dreadful hero and one the heroine has previously admired from afar. So there is a strong element of hero worship happening at several levels.

The one thing I couldn't get a full handle on was the tone. The story includes some very campy elements (e.g. there's a device called a "Stormerator"), which is fine, but at other points the story took itself more seriously. I wasn't quite sure how to come at it. The quirky humor made me wish HER SKY COWBOY had gone more consistently campy and over-the-top. Your mileage may vary.

Kate Cross followed up HEART OF BRASS with TOUCH OF STEEL, book two in her Clockwork Agents series:

The Wardens of the Realm are a group with extraordinary abilities, dedicated to protecting England from any threat. But in this steam-powered world, there’s a fine line between enemy and ally…

Reeling from her brother’s death, beautiful American spy Claire Brooks has vowed revenge on the member of The Company who she believes to be responsible: Stanton Howard. But when she chases the man to London, Claire is captured by the Wardens of the Realm and placed in the custody of the Earl of Wolfred, the dashing Alistair Payne.

Seeing the prospect of retribution slipping away, Claire convinces Alistair that she has defected and will help him take down The Company. As they travel via steam liner, Claire and Alistair must pretend to be engaged. Claire can’t deny the growing attraction she feels for her pretend husband, but when Howard is finally within her reach, she will have to decide whether her true loyalties lie with The Company or with her heart…

My commentary: I've been searching high and low for a library copy of HEART OF BRASS but have yet to find one. So when TOUCH OF STEEL turned up in my local library I went ahead and grabbed it.

The author fills in some background information from book one so it was easy to catch up with the series. TOUCH OF STEEL works as a standalone. It's a spy historical romance with steampunk elements.

Unfortunately, I couldn't tell you why this world has steampunk gadgets other than perhaps the James Bond-ish "Q" type agents responsible for creating them are geniuses ahead of their time. Thus, the setting struck me as more steampunk aesthetic than thematic.

In terms of plot structure, TOUCH OF STEEL is of the "They Came To Talk" variety, which will appeal to those who prefer a predominant romance focus and a very light action level. Given this is a spy historical I was expecting more action, but on the other hand I've not read any non-steampunk spy historicals so maybe TOUCH OF STEEL is typical of this subgenre.

Theresa Meyers' THE CHOSEN recently released and is the third in her Legend Chronicles trilogy:

Attorney by day, demon-hunter by night, Remington Jackson is used to being on the sunny side of the law, even in the Wild West. But it’s showdown time, and Remy and his brothers are getting desperate. They don’t have the relic they need to slam the door shut on evil—so Remy is going to have to find and steal part of it.

Enter China McGee, shapeshifter, thief, beauty, and current prisoner. When Remy offers her freedom in exchange for a little light-fingered help, she’s pretty sure she’s going to end the association with a good old-fashioned seductive double cross. But there’s something about fighting through a jungle full of Mayan ruins that makes you want to settle down together. China could change. Remy might be special. But none of that matters if the devil takes them all…

My commentary: I've not prioritized this trilogy because based on my reading experience of the first few chapters of THE SLAYER (book one), it has more of a paranormal flavor than I'm seeking at the moment. From what I've heard about it, though, fans of the television show SUPERNATURAL will probably enjoy this trilogy.

However I did read the author's short story THE INVENTOR, which is set in the same world. It's a cute, fun story and has more of a steampunk-only flavor. That, and an endearingly nerdy inventor hero!

Kim Knox's forthcoming m/m steampunk/SF historical romance Agamenon Frost trilogy from Carina Press is in the pipeline. Here are the titles and release dates:


The British Empire has changed. By 1891, monstrous machines replace men on the field of battle and with these weapons, the Empire’s grip on its territories strengthens.

Official history says the machines came from a recovered book written by Hero, the mechanical genius working in Alexandria almost two thousand years before. Edgar Mason doesn’t care. He only knows that the machines have landed him back in England to work as a domestic servant. For men like Agamemnon Frost.

He believes Frost to be a dandy, concerned more with the fine cut of his waistcoat than world affairs but there’s more to him than meets the eye. Something about the man triggers Mason’s sharp instincts at their first meeting. Especially the forbidden ones. But those instincts he has to ignore.

Mason becomes swept up in Frost’s world and in a single, impossible night, the man’s dandy facade vanishes. It reveals the heart of a man who will face down England’s most dangerous enemy. No matter the cost.


Visit Kim Knox's site and check out a cool, custom-made image she made based on the stories.
Read the first 200 words of AGAMEMNON FROST AND THE HOUSE OF DEATH.

The latest release in Cindy Spencer Pape's Gaslight Chronicles is CARDS AND CARAVANS:

Belinda Danvers isn't a witch. But that won't stop them burning her at the stake…

Connor McKay can tell at a glance that Belinda's magickal powers are minimal at best. She can't be guilty of murdering village children. There's something suspicious about her arrest and lightning-quick sentence.

Unfortunately, telling anyone how he knows would mean revealing his own powers. He's been sent by the Order of the Round Table to help and he can't just let her die. Escaping from jail and running from vindictive villagers in her grandfather's steam-powered caravan is more excitement than Belinda's had in years. And despite the danger—or maybe because of it—she loves the time spent with her sexy rescuer. But there's more to his magick than he's letting on…

There's something going on that's bigger than the two of them. It's time for good to make a stand.

The Ether Chronicles is the steampunk romance series from the writing team of Zoe Archer and Nico Rosso. Book #5 is slated to release in August 2013. 

Random thought

Believe me, I'm not complaining about the current wealth of steampunk romance books. Still, I wouldn't mind having more non-series titles available in this category. I know that goes against the grain of series (which really translates to a number of spin-off books) and what they mean to many readers and authors, but I would enjoy steampunk romances that are contained in a single story. I'm having trouble articulating why, but something about the one-off nature of a complete standalone book makes it special.

I will read series, but I'm not a diehard glommer of them, so that may be a factor. Also, I'm aware of how publishers will push for spin-off books even if they aren't organic to the setting the author has created. For example, if I encounter a secondary character getting his/her own story, I'm a bit skeptical because sometimes what makes these characters so compelling is because of their very role as a secondary character. They are worth more in small doses (kind of like the Hulk in THE AVENGERS).

Anyway, that's my two cents, for what it's worth.

Submission call
Attention, authors! I learned of a steampunk romance anthology submissions call:

Ticonderoga Publications is opening the reading period for a new themed anthology. This anthology, with the working title Kisses by Clockwork, will combine the fun and irreverence of steampunk fiction with an element of romance. There might be stories of airships, gaslight romance, retro-futurism, post-apocalyptic steam-powered cities, analytical engines or neo-Victorian ladies and gentlemen.

The relationship/s in the stories should have an emphasis on romance rather than erotica, but well-placed steamy scenes necessary for the plot are of course, acceptable.

The anthology will be edited by Liz Grzyb (Scary Kisses, More Scary Kisses, Damnation & Dames, Dreaming of Djinn, The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2010 and 2011) and will be published by Ticonderoga Publications in 2014.

Read the complete submission guidelines.

Finally, visit the Coffee Times Romance's Steampunk Romance section if you haven't already done so. They are delivering awesome content in the form of book news, posts, author interviews, and more!

Joyfully yours,