Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday Review: A Clockwork Christmas

A Clockwork Christmas
By Stacy Gail, PG Forte, Jenny Schwartz. JK Coi
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: December 5, 2011
Four Stars

A Clockwork Christmas is an anthology that includes four steampunk novellas with a Christmas setting.

Crime Wave in a Corset by Stacy Gail
Cornelia Peabody is an exceptional thief. She has risen from a horrifically abusive and poverty stricken childhood to a life of comfort and independence which she protects obsessively. She thinks she will never again find herself at someone’s mercy, forced to yield to their control. But Cornelia made a major error. The priceless Fabergé egg she stole thinking it was the property of Cambridge University belonged to the dying twin sister of Roderick Coddington, Professor of Engineering, Cambridge University, Massachusetts. Coddington is determined that Cordelia return the egg or pay for its theft with her life. He uses his engineering skills to fashion a timepiece that he fastens to her arm, a timepiece that does not give the time but rather counts down “the minutes and hours to midnight, Christmas morning,” the minute the timepiece will electrocute Cornelia should she fail to return the egg.
As they move through the week before Christmas, Cornelia and Roderick unwillingly come to know each other, and the chemistry between them is as explosive as the device attached to Cornelia’s wrist. Will seven days be long enough for them to let go of their distrust of one another and open their hearts to the possibilities of love?
This is the most Christmassy of the four stories, and I liked it on that ground alone. The attraction/repulsion dynamic between the heroine and hero heightened the emotional appeal of the story, and I found myself rooting for the thief and the professor to have their HEA. I also loved the details of the clothing and the inventions.
One cursory glance at the pristine mantle of snow on the back stoop had Cornelia heading for the kitchen’s dumbwaiter, making quick work of the buttons on her burgundy velvet dress as she went. With a whisper of fabric it billowed to the ground along with the bulky crinoline, leaving her in black silk stockings, garter with matching high-cut drawers and a black and burgundy whalebone hourglass corset. The chill brought out gooseflesh along her arms and the mess of scars across her back. She gritted her teeth to keep them from chattering, and she took just enough time to snatch up the dress’s shrug before climbing into the dumbwaiter’s small space that she could now easily fit. Jaw tight with aggravation as much as the cold, she shouldered into the shrug and hit the appropriate button. In an instant, the dumbwaiter door slid shut and the platform on which she crouched zoomed up as the steam-powered pistons hidden behind the walls hissed and wheezed.
This Winter Heart by PG Forte
Set in in alternate universe in which the South won the Civil War, this is a reunion story. Eight years ago, Dario Leonides, of a leading family in Santa Fe, The Republic of New Texacali, rejected his wife when he discovered her secret. Ophelia Leonides, left with no resources when her inventor father dies and his legitimate family refuses to honor his bequest to her, is forced to approach her estranged husband for help not only for herself but also for the son of whose birth he is ignorant.
Dario’s anger is unabated, and he is doubtful that he is the father of the boy Ophelia claims is his. Filled with self-hatred at his inability to remain indifferent to Ophelia, he is deliberately cruel to her, threatening to send her away again and to take her son from her. Only when he is within a breath of losing her forever does he opt for honesty with himself and with his wife.
I struggled to finish this one. It is well-written, and fans more devoted to the subgenre than I will doubtless be able to suspend disbelief more easily. I couldn’t get beyond the heroine being an automaton—even one with heart and soul. I didn’t like Dario and was bothered by the imbalance of power, but I could understand his conflict.

She was nothing more than a mechanical contrivance wrought by human hands, created for no other reason than to tempt him. He did not doubt it for a minute. Nor did he doubt his religion would deem her very existence a sin. What was she, after all, but a graven image, a blatant attempt to ape the Almighty?
Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz
Wealthy suffragette Esme Smith of Swan River Colony, Australia needs a scoundrel who is willing to work for her and give voice to her political views in the men’s clubs where she is denied access. Her uncle believes American Jedediah Reeve with his fancy clothes and gambler’s skills may be the man she needs for the job.  Jed, an inventor and son of a successful politician, is amused by the misreading of his character, interested in the situation, and captured by Esme’s beauty, intelligence, and vivacity. But Esme and Jed must deal with a true scoundrel, one who is a blackmailer as well as a political enemy before they can achieve their HEA.
I liked this story a lot. The Australian setting is a bit different, Esme and Jed are endearing characters, and the political intrigue adds interest. But one snippet alone would have made the story a winner for me. I grew up listening to stories of my maternal grandmother, a beautiful woman who would have been not many years younger than Esme, keeping a hat pin handy to protect herself from unwanted attentions. So I loved this scene that made me smile as I remembered Mama.
Esme simply descended the stairs dressed in a walking suit of English tweed, her white frilled collar fixed with a gold pin in the form of a stylized lion, roaring. Her chestnut brown boots and leather gloves matched the narrow-brimmed hat she’d perched on her coiled hair. She was aloof, practical and distantly gracious.
“How sharp are your hat pins?” he asked, following his own line of thought about possible revenges.
She blinked, then smiled. “I would never be so unsubtle. Although…” She reached up and slid a pin from the pert hat. “I ordered these from an American suffragist catalogue called ‘Modern Tools for Modern Women.’ It’s rather like a Swiss Army knife.”
An array of clever gadgets unfolded from the unsharpened end, including tweezers, scalpel blade and a needle
Far From Broken by JK Coi
Colonel Jasper Carlisle is away from home on a secret assignment for the War Office when his wife, the beautiful prima ballerina Calliandra, is captured, tortured, and left for dead.  Ironically, it is Jasper’s work for the War Office that allows him to see that Callie is cared for by Dr. Helmholz, a miracle worker with prosthetics. Callie is not grateful. She rages against Jasper for not letting her die and feels only disgust for the changes in her body.
They were monstrous. She stretched out her arm, but then drew it back and dug her fist into her churning belly. She couldn’t imagine standing and moving on the unnatural combination of iron posts, balls, and gears they’d fitted her with. Oh God. She would never dance again.
Jasper must deal with soul-crushing guilt and accept that his wife has been permanently changed psychologically as well as physically by her experience, and Callie must let go of the rage that fills her before they can begin to rebuild their life together.
And while Jasper has destroyed Callie’s three of Callie’s torturers, the one who betrayed him is still out there, still determined to destroy Jasper and Callie. The War Office’s plans to use the extraordinary strength Callie’s bionic parts have given her to their advantage in the covert war Britain is engaged in with France. Jasper must accept Callie as a partner and equal rather than a weaker mate to be protected.
Coi’s contribution is the darkest in the anthology. Even the ending is shadowed by the plans the Machiavellian War Office has for the couple. They will be together at home or at war, but the reader is left with the feeling that any respite from danger will be brief.
I wasn’t a steampunk virgin before I read A Clockwork Christmas. In fact, I requested the anthology from the publisher via NetGalley after reading JK Coi’s Iron Seduction and finding it fascinating. But I am an inexperienced reader of steampunk, and the anthology made me aware of the variety that exists. All four novellas take place in the 19th century and have the gadgets, steam technology, eccentric inventors, and adventure that are characteristic of steampunk, but only Coi’s story is set in Victorian England. The tone and style of the four selections vary widely. This variety provides a good introduction since it allows the novice reader to sample a range. Steampunk will probably never replace European historicals and romance-women’s fiction hybrids as my favorite subgenres in romance fiction, but I will be checking out more steampunk romances. I recommend that others new to the subgenre give it a try. But don’t expect classic Christmas romances from this anthology. All references to Christmas could have been omitted without changing the stories significantly.
Have you tried steampunk romance? How adventurous are you in your reading?
 Note: I had every intention of posting this review Friday and following it with another review of a new Christmas read Saturday to complete Happy Christmas Reads Week, but problems with a disc in my neck made typing and posting painful. I have been online only briefly for the past several days. I am better and I plan to post the fifth review Thursday and return to regular Tuesday/Friday posts on Friday.


irisheyes said...

I'm glad you're okay, Janga! I was a little worried there for a couple of days.

I have yet to read a steampunk novel. I've tried to figure out exactly what it is from all the various posts out there but I think I just need to bite the bullet and read one to figure it out for myself. LOL Someone described them once as similar to the Bob Conrad Wild, Wild West show from the 60's, which I loved.

Maybe starting with a novella is the way to go.

Janga said...

Thanks, Irish.

I somehow had the idea that all steampunk romance was quite similar. What this anthology did was show me that steampunk stories can be as different from one another as a Julia Quinn historical romance is from an Elizabeth Hoyt historical romance. I recommend the anthology to readers new to steampunk because I think the likelihood of finding something you like among these different stories is great. Or you may find you like them all for different reasons. :)

quantum said...

Glad you're feeling better Janga.
I know from experience (sports injury) just how unpleasant disk problems can be!

I have read 1.5 of Maureen Betita's Caribbean novels. The author tells me that they are Pirate Punk which is her own brand of Steam Punk.

I have quite enjoyed the pirates so it would be interesting to sample other authors with 'A Clockwork Christmas'.

Like you, I doubt that this genre will ever seduce me away from my favourite historical or contemp romance authors.The anthology does not seem to do outrageous violence to the laws of physics, but in general I have the impression that this genre is too close to SciFi to really set me alight.

As a scientist I always see the flaws in for example, time travel through portals to other worlds or parallel universes. I believe that possibilities do exist in physics but they are theoretical and have never been demonstrated by experiment for the macroscopic objects of normal perception.

Still, they might make a change for a fun read on a rainy day!

Janga said...

Thanks, Q.

I think Maureen's books defy simple classifications, but whatever labels suit or not, I love what she's doing with older heroes and heroines and with limitless imagination.

My favorite time travel is still Madeleine L'Engle's Time quintet. I reread them not long ago and their blend of history, physics, theology, and grand storytelling still fills me with wonder.