All tagged Steampunk

Listorama: 11 Romance Novels for Clever Ladies

Recently, The Mary Sue--a website I have deeply conflicted feelings about--posted a super-ignorant, click-bait-y piece about romance novels and romance readers.

Rather than rebut the silliness (because what's the point), I thought I'd offer some recommendations for clever ladies looking to try out the genre, want to try a new subgenre of Romance or who want to revisit it after an absence. I'm not an expert, but I've read reasonable widely in the genre and appreciate that it is, in many ways, a deeply feminist field of offerings, particularly in recent years. 

The following are 11 smart big-R romances (read: happy ending of a central love story, as defined by the Romance Writers Association) I recommend for Clever Ladies who are interested in the genre. Keep in mind that there's just about something for everyone in this genre, so if there's not something that's up your alley on this list, there's probably something out there--leave a note in the comments and I'll see what I can do. 

Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Ironsking by Tina Connelly | A Review on

At times I lazily select a book based on its title or cover with no specific expectation beyond a momentary “um, this looks interesting” thought. My reading of Tina Connolly’s Ironskin was one of these.

I simply thought,

“Heh… interesting title.”

I hadn’t read too far into the book before thinking it had a Jane Eyre quality to it. Admittedly, it’s been many, many years since I’ve read the classic Bronte novel, but there’s a distinct air, no pun intended, to the ambience of the book. So, I called Sarah and mentioned this very-astute observation, and then she informed me that Ironskin is indeed a steampunk retelling of the classic gothic tale.

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed reading Ironskin, I found the retelling a veneer that I discarded as superfluous and the steampunk elements rather pretentious and under-developed.

Like in the source material, Jane comes to work as a governess at a once-elegant house fallen into disrepair; there’s a strangely haunted and despairing man; an odd child; and they’re all waiting to reveal secrets that lie within, both literally and figuratively. 

Ironskin delves into the masks individuals wear to hide from themselves and others. Hiding from reality behind an iron mask to shield her from the power of the fey against whom humans suffered a devastating loss from in a recent war becomes a door to open and release truth and power. Jane’s mask, she comes to realize, is not unlike less obvious ones worn by others. Masks become a motif woven throughout the pages of the novel.

“Perhaps there are more masks like that than we think. A mask you cannot look through…your eyes sealed shut.”

Fey lived in comfortable compatibility with humans furnishing them with technology to power the machinery of their lives. Blue packs flitted from the forest, home of the Fey, into the hands and lives of humans who did not realize that there is a price for everything.

“The forest had a foothold it would not relinquish.”

Mini Reviews: Retellings Edition

Retellings of classics are generally hit or miss for me. I haven’t figured out the sweet spot for me, because sometimes I like very faithful retellings and sometimes I like retellings that veer far from the original. I’ve recently read a few retellings and they’ve been all over the map. 

Interestingly, when compiling these mini-reviews, I started looking at Goodreads lists of retellings and it struck me how limited the spectrum of retellings really are. There are loads of Jane Eyres (um… and quite a few naughty versions) and a number of Jane Austens, but really, there’s not a broad range. I don’t know if I’d like to see more retellings, but if it’s something that’s going to continue as a trend, I’d love to see adaptations take on a broader swath of source materials.

Jane by April Lindner on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

Jane by April Lindner

{Original: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte}

And he left me to dreams that were anything but sweet.


I likely would never have read April Lindner’s adaptation of Jane Eyre if if hadn’t been for Angie’s enthusiasm for it. This is a very modern version of the source material (Rochester is an aging rockstar name Nico), but it’s also extremely faithful to the original story. The relationship between Nico and Jane should have really bothered me because it, like in the original, is not particularly functional. However, also like in Jane Eyre, the story is creepy and atmospheric. I do wish that Nico/Rochester’s Big Secret had been modernized to the extent that the other elements of the story were, because it did read as quite implausible. 

{Amazon | Goodreads}

Review: Riveted by Meljean Brook

But she wasn’t on another ship—and instead of a bird shitting in his eye at the port gates, an answer to an old prayer had landed in his lap in the form of a vibrant woman. Such mad luck.

Riveted by Meljean Brook

Iceland! Monocles! Vulcanologists!

Riveted, the third installment in Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series, has a lot of appeal on the surface, but its real richness is the layered, complex exploration of identity against the backdrop of a skillfully-developed steampunk world. 

I wasn’t a fan of the first book in this series, The Iron Duke. (Laura’s review echoes my sentiments.) However, I was extremely impressed by the world-building, which led me to try the first steampunk novel I’ve truly enjoyed, Heart of Steel (which has one of the worst covers in the history of bad covers). Heart of Steel was just pure fun, a wholly entertaining classic adventure tale. 

In Riveted, Brook takes readers to another part of the Iron Seas world: Iceland. A volcanic eruption caused Icelanders to evacuate the island a century prior, but legends about witches and trolls still inhabiting the island abound.

A century before, in the years following an eight-month fissure eruption, the Mist Terrors decimated livestock and crops. Ash fell in thick layers over the land, and toxic volcanic gases poisoned half the island’s inhabitants. The remaining population had been forced to flee or face starvation. Except for a few ports and fishing villages, Iceland had been abandoned for a hundred years.

However, the mythical creatures of abandoned Iceland are actually the work of Icelanders who secretly remained—a colony of women who will do anything to keep their village hidden from outsiders.

Annika grew up in that village of women (who primarily, but not exclusively, are lesbians or bisexual—there’s a very fluid sort of sexuality in this community) and left in search of her beloved sister Kalla, who was exiled for endangering the community. She facilitates her search for Kalla by working in the engine room of an airship, looking for her at their ports of call. 

Annika encounters David at one of those ports, where he is preparing to board her airship en route to an expedition. He’s a vulcanologist (that’s the study of volcanoes, y’all—what a badass job), but he’s also hell-bent on finding his mother’s home (in Iceland) so he can bury her runes, which he carried with him for 20 years. David has two prosthetic legs, a prosthesis for a hand and a monocle-type lens embedded in one eye.

Disabled during a terrible accident, David eventually had the metal prostheses grafted onto his body, meaning that he’s also infected with the nanoagents introduced to the Old World by the Horde to control the populations (much of the story behind the nanoagents is addressed in The Iron Duke, but it’s also discussed on the author’s website); the nanoagent infection means that he is also unwelcome in many parts of the New World. He is part-indigenous and has a number of facial scars, in addition to being significantly differently-bodied (for lack of a better term), so despite David’s skills as a naturalist, people generally avoid him. 

David’s interest in Annika is piqued because, despite that she claims that she’s Norwegian, her recognizes her accent as the same as his late mother’s—and he thinks Annika will be able to give him information about where to bury his mother’s runes. 

These two characters are fascinating because David and Annika have both defined themselves by how they are perceived by others. 

FNL Character Rating: The guy that kept trying to rape Tyra.

This is harsh, I know, especially in comparison to the many rave reviews I’ve read.
However, I cannot abide by the effed up sex stuff & the attitude of Rhys Traehaern, the Iron Duke from the title. In my eyes, he is the prototypical abusive male. I guess some people might see Traehaern simply as an alpha male and find that attractive. I find him possessive, controlling & abusive, yet somehow making the object of his interest, Wilhemina “Mina” Wentworth, believe that’s what she wants.

Well, this is embarrassing. 

Heart of Steel was recommended by Noelle, whose taste is very similar to my own, so I reluctantly looked past the heinous cover (thanks to my ereader) and aversion to steampunk and gave it a try. And, holy moly, am I glad I did.

Heart of Steel is seriously badass: in bullet points.

  • Yasmeen is a fantastic lead character. She’s tough and smart and capable. I loved her as the captain of an airship, and her loyalty to her crew. 
  • Archimedes Fox, the male lead, is delightful. He’s funny and a clotheshorse and awkwardly in touch with is feelings. He’s brilliant character.