View from the end of our street, February 22nd, 2019

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Third Daughter

          I've just finished a book so incredible that I don't know where to start, so I'll just put the wedge in somewhere and start prying.  I recently purchased one of those Kindle bundles where you get a dozen or so books for 99c.  This one was Gears & Goggles: A Steampunk Collection.  Right up my alley, so to speak.
          The Third Daughter was the first book in the collection, and one I never would have reached for had it been alone on its sales page; I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere.  Its author, Susan Kaye Quinn promotes it as a Bollywood-style romance, and it may be.  I know very little about the romance genre beyond the fact that it doesn't interest me a jot, but I think the author may have done herself a grave disservice by placing it in this category.
          The story takes place on one of those not-Earth fantasy worlds so common in the genre, and it is centered around the Kingdom, or more accurately, Queendom of Dharia.  Everything in the land works on steampunk/clockpunk tropes, and fits beautifully into the genre we all know and love.  The land is ruled by a widowed queen who has three daughters.  The elder two have been forced into arranged marriages to seal alliances, and the third daughter, Aniri, is nearing her 18th birthday.  She is a tomboy, more interested in climbing and fencing than jewelry and silks, and has been stealing away unobserved (so she thinks) to meet a lover, a courtesan from a foreign embassy.  Their relationship has remained non-sexual up to this point, and Aniri believes, rightly or wrongly, that they will wed, and enter into a life of travel and adventure that only the independently wealthy can imagine.  She has no courtly duties beyond looking pretty during state functions, and very few cares.  Life extends before her like a huge blank canvas.
          Until the fateful evening when her mother's personal guard, Janak, interrupts her supposedly secret dalliance to summon her before the queen without delay.  Her mother informs her that she will be introduced to a barbarian prince from the northern provinces in the morning, and it is hoped that her wedding to him will avert a war that would kill thousands.
          Aniri, as you might imagine, is devastated, then confused when, instead of an ape in bearskins, she is introduced to a charming and handsome young man who seems to sincerely want peace, and needs this wedding to solidify his hold on the throne before his warmongering generals usurp power.  What's a princess to do?
          At the first opportunity to get her alone, her mother explains that the foreign custom is for the prospective queen to live in the prince's palace for a month of courtship where they get to know each other, and establish how their arranged marriage will function.  The queen is in possession of troubling rumors of a flying ship that can wreak destruction on Dharia in the hands of the prince's kingdom, and her real mission is to confirm or dispell these rumors, and if true, discover some weak point that can be exploited to defend the kingdom.
          Aniri journeys to Prince Malik's palace to face hostile factions, assassins, and creep around behind this seemingly sincere man's back to try to ferret out the truth behind the rumors.  None of this is aided by a message from her lover, telling her that everything the prince says is a lie, and the dreaded war will be triggered by their wedding.
          There is indeed a classic love triangle in play here, but that isn't the book.  If you like court intrigue, political maneuvering, and steampunk gear aplenty, this could be the book for you.  It was certainly a pleasant surprise for me, and I am certain that this will join the Drizzt Do'Urden and Tarl Cabot of Gor series as Books I'll Never Forget.  I've been active in the world of steampunk for a good many years now, and I haven't come across Ms. Quinn's name as one of the giants of the genre.  It should be.  The Third Daughter stands head and shoulders above much of the material I've read.  Romance?  Yeah, it's there, and it's handled in an effective and satisfying manner, but don't be fooled.  This is the steampunk book for every reader, and the best thing is, it's the first book of a trilogy.
          Available on Amazon right here.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Den of Antiquity

          November of 2016 saw the release of the steampunk anthology Den of Antiquity, a project it gives me great pride to be associated with.  The brainchild of Bryce Raffle, a Canadian author of thrilling tales, it was meant as the joyous celebration of a group of good friends linked by our participation in Scribblers’ Den, a writers’ group in The Steampunk Empire.  This was the Den’s second anthology, an event which was becoming a traditional anniversary celebration for the group.  Bryce announced an open call for stories, I don’t remember, almost six months ahead of publication, a time frame that even I could meet.  The theme was to be a den.  Fitting somehow, eh?  Well, according to my trusty Funk & Wagnalls, a den can be a private room for relaxation or study, the cave or retreat of a wild animal, or a term for a place, such as a den of thieves.  As long as the story worked a den into the narrative, it was a go.  There were twelve stories collected for inclusion, and there were happy discussions of what next year’s theme would be.  And then four months later, we woke up, and The Steampunk Empire was gone.  Not a word of warning, not a hint of trouble, just a click on the shortcut to bring up the screen, and what appeared was not that beautiful Victorian wallpaper, but the dreaded “404” message:  “There’s no such thing as what you’re looking for.”
          The Steampunk Empire had been a stable home for punks of every stripe for at least a decade, for far longer than I was associated with it, and one day, poof, gone.  Twenty thousand members, including some big names in the genre, lost everything, photos, blogs, stories, how-to materials, contact information, everything.  I myself lost all but about a dozen of over a hundred contacts, and two sandboxes I had posted for other writers to play in, Port Reprieve and Cape Grief.  Cape Grief was just launching, but writers in the world of Port Reprieve lost a score or more of stories.
          Okay, that’s my rant for this issue.  It’s good to get it off my chest yet again and make my position clear, especially to myself.  With that done, let’s take a look at this book I’ve been raving about.

DenOfAntiquityCover          The link above will take you to its Amazon page, and it’s a purchase to consider for a multitude of reasons.  First, it’s cheap, only $2.99 for the Kindle edition.  Second, it’s a collection of shorts by some of steampunk’s up-and-coming lights, bite-size reads ideal for a lunch break or commute.  Third, it’s also ideal if you aren’t a steampunk aficionado, but would like to dip your toe in the proverbial water.  There are stories here of every ilk, and none of them too outlandish for the new reader.  And here’s the little cherry on top:  None of the writers are accepting a dime in royalties.  Instead, every penny earned is being donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.  So for any of those reasons, or one I didn’t think of, take the plunge.  You, too, can be a punk.  A glance at the table of contents may whet your appetite:

Brass and Coal by Jack Tyler
An Evening at the Marlon Club by Kate Philbrick
Dragon’s Breath by E. C. Jarvis
The Reluctant Vampire by Neale Green
The Complications of Avery Vane by Bryce Raffle
Hark!  Hark! by N.O.A. Rawle
The Jackalope Bandit by David Lee Summers
After the Catastrophe: The Lady of Castle Rock by Steve Moore
When the Tomb Breaks by William J. Jackson
All that Glitters by Karen J. Carlisle
Yggdrasil’s Triumphant Return by Alice E. Keyes
After the Crash by B.A. Sinclair

          Links to all the authors websites can be found at the end of their stories, so a few mouse clicks will open up a wealth of information on a group of fine independent authors who offer tales from the cutting edge, with no publishing house prodding them to recapture the Last Big Thing.  If you are a steampunk die-hard looking for some voices that you might not yet be familiar with, or a curious newbie wanting to try out the genre, thrilling adventures await at