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Steampunk, Victorian Science Fiction for Younger Readers

Updated on September 23, 2015

What is Steampunk

First of all, Steampunk is a part of the science fiction genre of literature set in a universe of advanced Victorian, steam powered or similar “heavy Industrial” technology. Steampunk books are set around the period ranging from the Victorian era (mid 19th Century, the Wild West) through to the rise of the internal combustion engine (early 20th Century). A key feature of this genre is that it caters for all ages and genders; there are many steampunk books with children and young adults as the main character and women are as often the hero of the story as men. These are fantasy fiction books making use of all of the possibilities of monsters and heroes in this semi-industrialised universe that the reader can really associate with. This makes these books a little more accessible than some of the high fantasy or more esoteric science-fiction that is available.

This genre spreads over a century with early authors like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne who wrote their books as pure science fiction for their day, long before the term Steampunk was ever thought of. More modern authors like Gail Carriger (The Finishing School and The Parasol Protectorate) or Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan) still maintain the Victorian setting whilst creating wonderful alternate histories for the reader to explore.

The technology of steampunk, whilst often being being quite advanced, as the name suggests, tends to be steam-based, electricity and fantastic, invented technologies (ether etc.) also have their place. Picture Victor Frankenstein animating his monster with Igor closing some huge switch to allow the electricity to flow and you have how technologies other than steam fit into the steampunk universe.

The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfield

In an alternate history 1914, an Austrian Prince find's himself orphaned and on the run in a world on the brink of war. Meanwhile, a young Scottish girl, determined to fly and be a part of the Royal Air Service, masquerades as a boy to take the entrance exams as a Midshipman. A combination of mishap and tragedy brings Deryn/Dylan and Aleksander to a meeting in the high passes of the Alps which saves both of their lives, setting them on the path of adventure.

In this alternate universe the Entente Powers make use of the Darwinist powers of genetic manipulation to create great beasts of War. The Leviathan is a genetically altered whale that flies like an airship of our reality and is equipped with many types of genetically altered creatures as its weapons systems (Flechette Bats & Strafing Hawks) and other purposes (communications lizards and Perspicacious Loris). Aleks and Deryn/Dylan are added to the crew of the Leviathan as a result of their misadventures and set out on a voyage to deliver a mysterious Boffin, Dr. Barlow, her Tasmanian wolf, Taza and her secret cargo to the Ottoman Empire with the might of the Kaiser's forces determined to stop them.

The adventures continue on to New York with Russian fighting Bears, Jewish Iron Golems and an assortment of early 19th century celebrities including Nicholas Tesla, William Randolph Hearst and Pancho Villa. All three volumes are fast-paced with beautiful illustrations that help the reader to visualise the strange technology and situations the characters find themselves in. All in all, a brilliant series for all ages, with the addition benefits of the illustrations and easily accessible vocabulary these books are particularly suitable for younger readers.

Vampires and Werewolves

Another key feature of Steampunk is the way that the supernatural is mixed in with the industrialised world, Vampires and Werewolves are side by side with the mad scientist and robber baron giving an extra level of interest and a flexibility unavailable to more restrictive genres.

The vampires of the steampunk universe tend to be fairly true to the original Bram Stoker prototype, suave and sophisticated romantic figures with more than their fair share of megalomania and enough bloodthirsty ruthlessness to make their dreams a reality. Of course all of the vampires in steampunk stories are not exactly like this, but this is most certainly the vampire baseline.

The Werewolf of these stories tends to be more civilised than the traditional archetype, although not nearly so civilised as the vampires. Frequently in the steam punk universe werewolves find themselves in opposition to vampires with their (super) natural traits being played off against one another by the author. This interspecies animosity seems to make some really good stories.

Mademoiselle Geraldine's

Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger

The Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger

The fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminnick is a great her poor mother’s despair. Sophronia’s interests in mechanicals and climbing a long way from Mrs. Temminnick’s idea of the behaviour suitable for a young lady of quality. The formidable Mrs. Barniclegoose comes to the rescue suggests a most suitable school for young Sophronia after an unfortunate dumb waiter and flying comestibles incident. A school that will take her and the added advantage of Sophronia being far out of sight lead to her being enrolled almost immediately at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But soon realization hits, the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish... everything. Whilst learning the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, they also learn to deal out death, create a masterly diversion, and gather secrets, all in the politest possible ways, of course.

Sophronia take to the intelligencer’s life like a duck to water and makes new friends to share her adventures, Dimity, Sidhaeg (Lady Kingaire) Soap (a Sooty) and Vieve (a teacher’s tomboy niece – appearing in the Parasol Protectorate books as Madame Genevieve Lafoux, the inventor). With these brave companions Sophronia navigates the mayhem of the Flying finishing school, nefarious plots and producing a presentable curtsey in a non-stop series of adventures.

Sophronia and the other Debuts are in for an incredible first year at Madam Geraldine’s.

This series is set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, being a YA series is more accessible and lacks the more adult themes of the Parasol Protectorate whilst still being filled with all the adventure and humour Gail's other amazing books.

The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Sixteen year old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother lost in Victorian London. A terrifying world where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. When she is kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, part of "The Pandemonium Club", Tessa learns that she is a Downworlder, with supernatural abilities. Tessa has a rare ability; the power to transform, at will, into another person. And worse is to come, the Magister, the shadowy master of the Pandemonium Club, is determined to lay claim to Tessa and her power for his own. Tessa finds protection in the form of the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who promise to help her to find her brother in return for Tessa using her power to aid their goals. Soon Tessa becomes fascinated by two best friends: James (Jem), delicate and caring and Will, whose black moods and sharp tongue keep everyone at a distance. The search for Tessa's Brother leads them into a plot meant to destroy the Shadowhunters and momentous decisions fall upon Tessa's shoulders... not least of which is her choice between Jem and Will.

The second book, "Clockwork Prince" maintains or even increases the pace of the first volume, with Tessa becoming more and more immersed in the Clave (Shadowhunters organisation) and still attracted to both Will and Jem.

The Magister is still casting his ominous shadow over London and the Trio become more determined to put an end to his menace. Their investigations into the Magister take a step outside London, visiting Yorkshire to uncover important, disturbing secrets about Will's family. It seems that the Magister is the key to unlocking both Will's and Tessa's secrets.

As Tessa's wedding looms, darkness begins to surround the Shadowhunters. A new demon has appeared, one seemingly linked to the Magister, who plans to use his army Infernal Devices, to eradicate the Shadowhunters once and for all. The Magister is missing only one final ingrediant to complete his evil design, he needs Tessa.

Both Jem and Will will do anything to save her, because although Tessa and Jem are engaged, Will is still filled with a consuming love with her. When the Magister manages to seize the medicine that keeps Jem alive, with his best friend and love rival at the edge of oblivion, Will must risk everything to save the girl they both love.

The warlock Magnus Bane joins with the Shadowhunters to create a device that could help defeat The Magister and save Tessa. Tessa comes to realize that the only person who can save her is herself, to do this she must discovery her own true nature and become all that she can be. Tessa discovers that she could become more powerful than her wildest dreams, but can one girl, even one who can command the power of angels, stand against an entire army?

Fantasy Sub-Genres

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