Pape, Cindy Spencer. Steam and Sorcery (2011). 305 Pages*. Carina Press. $5.99**
Don’t let the cover stop you. The contents of the story are much better than the cover suggests with its cheesiness.
From the Publisher
Sir Merrick Hadrian hunts monsters, both human and supernatural. A Knight of the Order of the Round Table, his use of magick*** and the technologies of steam power have made him both respected and feared. But his considerable skills are useless in the face of his greatest challenge, guardianship of five unusual children. At a loss, Merrick enlists the aid of a governess.
Miss Caroline Bristol is reluctant to work for a bachelor but she needs a position, and these former street children touch her heart. While she tends to break any mechanical device she touches, it never occurs to her that she might be something more than human. All she knows is that Merrick is the most dangerously attractive man she’s ever met– and out of reach for a mere governess.
When conspiracy threatens to blur the distinction between humans and monsters, Caroline and Merrick must join forces, and the fate of humanity hinges upon their combined skills of steam and sorcery…
Mayfair, London, February 1851
“We live in an age where people can travel on ships that fly through the air.” The sharp rap of an umbrella point on the wooden floor of the carriage punctuated the sentence. “Where a machine can calculate the distance between the stars in less time than it takes you to tie your cravat….”
I wasn’t really sure what to expect, when I first started reading this. I’m vaguely familiar with Harlequin, but not their Carina Press imprint. However, since I’m taking part in a steampunk reading challenge, I opted to try out Steam & Sorcery, and I don’t regret it.
Supernaturals exist, though polite society does not speak of them. Secret organizations work for the crown and protect the populace from vampyres, rogue weres, and other supernatural beings whenever possible. Street urchins must either learn to fight, or die prematurely. Steam technology has allowed many advances which would otherwise have been anachronistic.
Enter Sir Merrick and his team of fighting urchins. When investigating the disappearance of girls from one of London’s shadier neighborhoods, he comes across a surprising group of gifted youths who dispatch vampyres which would have otherwise killed him. Intrigued by them, and concerned about one boy in particular who has some very special powers, he takes them in, only to realize that he is ill-equipped to care for youngsters.
Luckily, his spinster-aunt knows just the woman to help him care for these children. Miss Caroline Bristol has been a governess for quite some time, but she has not had steady employment, due in part to her attractiveness; her employers can’t seem to keep their hands off her, which causes her dismissal so frequently that she has begun to keep insurance for these instances. When she’s offered a job with the attractive Sir Merrick, she hesitates, concerned that the handsome bachelor will be a problem.
With me so far? Because this is where it gets interesting.
Someone has broken into a top-secret facility and stolen the punch-cards with a formula which would allow vampyres to appear human, and it’s Sir Merrick’s job to find out who and get them back. Unfortunately, Caroline won’t keep her nose out of it, which makes things awkward for them both, as there is an immediate attraction. Sir Merrick wants to protect her, and Caroline wants to be there to watch his back, and in the meantime, they both want to tear each other’s clothes off.
Of course, there’s more going on, especially with the urchins, who are so endearing that you really want them to have a happily-ever-after. Some of them are more fleshed out than others; you learn more about Wink than Tommy, and a fair amount about Jamie but not a lot about Piers or Nell, but the story would get too bogged down if there was much about all of them.
The plot is interesting, the writing balanced enough that you’re drawn in and interested without being bored or overwhelmed at any point in time. The focus of the story is definitely on the romance, rather than on the mystery, which becomes a sort of secondary plot, and the thing which forces them together, rather than the focus of the story.
I see steampunk and magic mixed a lot– like in Gail Carriger’s Soulless— and I feel that the two work fairly well together. Here, especially, the magic adds that extra layer which is necessary to pull the story together; why else would Merrick take in street urchins?
Overall, what I got was a fun story with interesting characters. It drew me in and kept me reading, and while I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about the story, wondering what would happen next. It’s a fast read, one I got done in a few hours, but it doesn’t leave you feeling like it’s a short read, or an incomplete story. I’d love to read more about what happens to Tommy when he becomes a Knight one day, or more about some of the other Knights, or even about the children, and what becomes of them in the future. It’s the sort of book which could become part of a series without any of those oh-so-obvious devices which force sequels upon you because things are unresolved.
From a romance standpoint, there is explicit sex, and use of adult language. The characters are not married when they have sex, which can be an issue for some readers. There is at least one supporting character who is a lesbian, and multiple mentions of “doxies” and the word “Quim”**** is used more than once. It is not a story for those who prefer seduction to sex, or for those who like their sex scenes couched in euphemism. Personally, I didn’t have an issue with any of that, but I know tastes vary when it comes to the contents of your romance novel.
It’s earned a 4/5 because I really, really enjoyed it. The biggest flaw was that the climax was a bit rushed, and what should have been the main storyline became secondary to the romance.
* This number is approximate; it’s a digital release and does not have page numbers, but at 250 words/page and 76,400 words, it’s approximately 305 pages.
** Disclosure; I got this pre-release from the publisher.
*** Despite using both “magick” and “vampyres,” spellings which typically make me roll my eyes and mutter about pretentious authors, I didn’t find myself irritated by it here. I think it was because of the setting, when such spellings would have been acceptable, rather than a newfound tolerance for those words.
**** I’d never heard “Quim” so it was startling, and I had to stop reading long enough to look it up. That was… err… awkward?