Kiss Of Steel (Bec McMaster, London Steampunk #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Kiss of Steel is a steampunk adventure that borders on the edge of supernatural romance. There is a quite a bit of imaginative steampunk setting, and there are many interesting facets to the world, but the dominant feature of the story is the protagonist’s love life, and the love scenes teeter on, then careen over, the edge of what I would consider pornographic. This is a the first in a series of novels, but I didn’t feel like that contributed negatively in any way to the book. The plot actually makes a good deal of sense, and aside from the protagonist’s love interest having an instant magical attraction for her that doesn’t make any sense, the plot is logical and comes to an eventually satisfying conclusion without any horrible cliffhangers or contrived plot points. If you are a fan of steampunk or fantasy and also like romance, I would definitely recommend this book, as it is one of the better examples of this type that I have read, although my experience isn’t that vast.

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Mainspring (Jay Lake, Clockwork Earth #1)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Mainspring is an adventure with an intriguing and innovative style, melding a magical steampunk clockwork world with traditional Judeo-Christian spiritual elements. Unfortunately, this initially promising premise is ruined by jarring and disturbing sexual elements and a plot that reads more like a travelogue than a coherent interlinked story. With the exception of the protagonist, there aren’t any strong characters, and with the exception of a distinct beginning and end, the events in the story don’t really develop in any logical progression other than the fact that things generally get weirder the further into the book you go. I can’t recommend this book despite a somewhat promising setting because the execution was too poor and the elements that the author deliberately included were too disturbing.

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The Two-Space War (Dave Grossman and Leo Frankowski, Two-Space #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Two-Space War is a the first in a series of military sci-fi/fantasy books about an infallible poetry-loving captain and his tromping around the galaxy battling foes in his wooden sailing ship that sails through the stars.  I was very conflicted after reading this book on whether or not to recommend it.  The universe is fairly unique and engaging, and, for a military sci-fi book, the characters are fairly sharp and fun.  Unfortunately, the authors employ the book as a soapbox to promote their horrific social philosophies, and every other paragraph consists of mawkish poetry.  I went back and forth on whether or not I should recommend this book, and in the end I decided that I value creativity, imagination, and a decently told story more than I detest poetry and that refusing to acknowledge and learn about political views that you disagree with just makes you closed-minded and prone to developing beliefs not rooted in reality yourself.  I will reluctantly recommend this book with the caveat that the reader should either have a deep appreciation of poetry or be willing to skip every other paragraph like I did, and that the reader will either have to be a bigoted misogynist or be willing to read the writings of one for the purpose of comparing them to one’s own ideals.
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Crystal Rain (Tobias S. Buckell)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Crystal Rain has one of the most unique and imaginative settings I have seen in a sci-fi novel: basically, a Caribbean-inspired steampunk civilization battle the evil machinations of a rival Aztec civilization and its bloodthirsty, human-sacrifice-seeking living gods.  It’s really even stranger than it sounds.  Due to the fact that the antagonists are obsessed with bloody human sacrifice, potential readers should be aware that there is quite a bit of horrific violence, but it really is necessary for the setting to work, so I didn’t feel it was gratuitous.  Even though the premise is fairly bizarre, the author does an admirable job of creating sympathetic, relatable characters, and the overarching plot moves along well and has a logical progression.  My main complaints are that there are perhaps a few too many characters, and the story would be a bit more compelling if the pace were a bit quicker.  I would definately recommend this book to anyone who likes a great big sprawling sci-fi experience with a unique setting and a lot to offer to even the most jaded sci-fi fan.
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Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel (Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A victorian romantic man/woman buddy cop duo battle the forces of evil in this steampunk mystery thriller.  I really want to find something in this genre that is decent.  I went into this book full of hope that finally I would find something that would vindicate my attempts at finding any interesting fantasy set in this time period, but my hopes were dashed yet again by this tepid, unimaginative, uninteresting, generic fantasy.  This pretty much hits every annoying cliche you could dig up for things written in the genre, from constant descriptions of clothing to the inclusion of the mandatory purposeless sexual assault on the heroine.  The protagonists are uninspired, the villains are horrifically evil for no reason, and what should be the fascinating setting of Victorian London plays so little role in the story that replacing it with anything else would require at most a find and replace search of random Victorian elements they chose to include, like replacing carriage with taxi, flying sentient motorcycle, or harnessed animatronic manatee.  I would not recommend this book, and it further blunts my already much-diminished hopes of ever finding anything worthwhile in this genre.
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