Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book review: Lady of Devices - Shelley Adina

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world.

At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. When her father gambles the estate on the combustion engine and loses, Claire finds herself down and out on the mean streets of London. But being a young woman of resources and intellect, she turns fortune on its head. It’s not long before a new leader rises in the underworld, known only as the Lady of Devices.

When she meets Andrew Malvern, a member of the Royal Society of Engineers, she realizes her talents may encompass more than the invention of explosive devices. They may help her realize her dreams and his . . . if they can both stay alive long enough to see that sometimes the closest friendships can trigger the greatest betrayals . . .

This book contains two types of stories I love—the fish out of water story, and the rich-kid-turned-ass-kicking-lord-of-the-underground story. I know, that last bit was a little long, but that’s exactly what happens to Lady Claire in this fun steampunk romp through Victorian London. All of our favorite steampunk trappings are there—airships, steam trains, lightning guns (oh yeah, dude, LIGHTNING GUNS)—but the heart of the story is Claire’s transformation from the viscount’s daughter who wants more from her life than simply finding a husband, to a vigilant protector of a group of ragamuffins at whom high society wouldn’t even bat an eye. I loved the way Adina structures her story and makes Claire lose everything before she can build her life in the streets. 

Not to say that Claire takes to it immediately. There’s quite a bit of expected internal struggle as she adjusts to a life of hardship. To her credit, she refuses to succumb to the low road of pickpocketing and theft as her group of children has done, instead keeping her head high and showing the kids that there are better ways to life. That’s one of this book’s best qualities—showing that no matter how awful the circumstances, a Lady still makes her own luck, as Claire points out. 

One of the major drawbacks to this book is that it suffers a bit from Trilogy Setup-itis. The first book in a trilogy often has no choice but to be a setup book, in that it introduces the world and the main players with a bit of plot thrown in. While Claire’s story is captivating, and it did keep me turning pages, the conflict is more internal than external. It’s more about Claire’s struggle to maintain her independence and settle into this newfound role as “Governess” to a group of street kids. She builds her reputation almost purely by accident. But Claire’s most redeeming quality (she has many, btw), is this: though things keep happening to her, she continually takes what she’s given and makes something better out of it. That aspect of The Lady of Devices makes it a great read for both steampunk lovers and those new to the genre.

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