Steampunk/superhero novel written by Adrienne Kress in late 2012.
The tale follows the exploits of three heroines in turn-of-the-century London:
- Cora, a scientific and engineering genius, able to build all kinds of dangerous and destructive steampunk weaponry in a matter of hours. She is practical and level-headed, but frustrated that her boss, an MP and a genius in his own right, doesn't appear to appreciate all she does as his assistant. And she may be falling in love with the guy who's out to steal her job.
- Nellie, an assistant for a famous magician. She is ambitious, clever, and funny, and she possesses breathtaking skills in acrobatics, thievery, and sleight-of-hand. She deeply loves clothes, ribbons, and all manner of stereotypically girly things, and she doesn't care who knows it. She has a pet parrot trained to assist her during her act. While her boss does appreciate and support her, she dreams of having her own adventures.
- Michiko is a young Japanese woman, superbly trained as a martial artist and samurai, but with limited skills in English and yoked as a "fight assistant" to an abusive egomaniac who resents her superior fighting skills, even as her demonstrations help sell his bargain-basement swords and weapons. She's honorable, dead serious, and deeply confused by British people, only partly because she can't always understand what they say.
What brings them together? In part, completely random chance -- they meet through an fancy-dress event they all take part in as performers and exhibitors. But what really forges them together is a villain -- an ominous, powerful foe known as the Fog -- who roams the streets at night murdering prominent gentlemen and innocent flower girls alike. He also breaks into the Tower of London and steals the Crown Jewels and eventually stages a daring and destructive attack on the entire city.
The police are helpless, the greatest men in the nation are clueless, and the only hope for the future are a trio of fledgling heroines: Hyde, the Silver Heart, and Lady Sparkle. Can they defeat a city-wide conspiracy of supervillains, science-criminals, and serial killers? Or is London doomed to fall?
So how is it? I think it's good. I’m not normally all that big on steampunk -- I love it in theory, but it often doesn’t live up to my expectations. Still, I really enjoyed this book — partly because it wasn’t entirely a steampunk story. Though there's a lot of period
detail, you shouldn't expect a lot of faithfully rendered Victorian
attitude or dialogue -- it’s really very anachronistic
, as all three of our main characters generally talk and act like modern-day women. And honestly, I think that’s fine -- this was designed as a young adult
novel, specifically to appeal to girls, so I don’t see any problem with having our characters think and act more like their audience.
Which brings us to our characters themselves -- Cora, Nellie, and Michiko are all total winners as characters. Cora brings the frustrated snark along with the brainy science, Nellie is part girly-girl, part swashbuckler, all enthusiasm, and Michiko is controlled, quiet, and generally confused by almost everything Cora and Nellie do. And they all work together really well. They all get individual moments to shine, and they all get moments where they shine as a team. They even get moments where they fail to shine, just to show that they're not perfect, unstoppable heroes.
I am fairly impressed that Kress specifically planned to have Nellie be the character most fond of stereotypically girly pursuits, primarily for the sake of realism -- plenty of girls like dresses and shoes and sparkles while still being awesome, so it makes good sense to give them their own character.
The action’s great, the mystery is fun, the plot twists are entertaining. If I’ve got a criticism, I’d say I wish Michiko had known a bit more English. There were too many scenes that featured Cora and Nellie talking to each other while Michiko stood by silently. But hopefully, that will be less of a problem in the sequels (and I hope there are sequels on the way).
It’s a good book. If you're into steampunk, superheroes, mysteries, humor, or young adult fiction for girls, you should pick it up.