Fiction, Short Stories, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk

Final Flight

Cover image for Final Flight by Beth Catoby Beth Cato

eISBN 9780062411280

“This is sedition, Mr. Hue. We’re not merely subverting the command of a Clockwork Dagger, but Queen Evandia herself. Recollect the so-called traitors we often see hanged near ports. Many of them die on hearsay alone. How will we be judged?”

No sooner had he rid himself and his airship of the troublesome medician Octavia Butler, and the spy Alonzo Garrett, Captain Hue finds the Argus commandeered by the Caskentian government for a secret mission. With Clockwork Daggers and royal soldiers aboard the ship, Captain Hue finds that he has no choice but to fly towards the Waste, bearing a cargo that could change the course of the war. But the further they fly, the less certain he is they will ever return, and worse, the Crown seems to have designs on his bright young son, Sheridan.

Final Flight marks a brief return to some minor characters who appeared in The Clockwork Dagger, and tells the story of a man forced to choose between his loyalty and the lives his obedience may cost. His son, his crew, and the people of the Waste will all pay the price of whatever decision he makes when he realizes the terrible cargo that has been brought aboard his ship. Worse, its presence on board necessitates the removal of the Argus’ aether magi, lest the artifact drive them mad, and so the ship is flying blind into dangerous territory. The calculating Mrs. Starling is also paying an unusual amount of attention to Captain Hue’s fourteen-year-old son, Sheridan, a canny young man who is only a year away from being eligible for conscription into military service. One step out of line could cost Captain Hue the person he loves most, making the stakes of this little adventure extremely high.

The Kindle edition is rather shorter than you initially expect; the second half of the file is a tantalizing sneak peek at Beth Cato’s upcoming novel, Breath of Earth, which is about a lone female geomancer on the eve of San Francisco’s catastrophic 1906 earthquake. But that minor disappointment aside, Final Flight provides one more adventure-filled glimpse into the world of The Clockwork Dagger.


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Speculative Fiction

ECCC Fiction Preview

It’s Tuesday, and normally I would have a new fiction review for you, but I spent my weekend at Emerald City Comic Con, and consequently didn’t get much reading done. But! ECCC included an awesome set of panels called the Writer’s Block, and as a result I got to meet a bunch of great science fiction and fantasy authors, and add a whole bunch of recent or upcoming titles to my TBR pile. Here are some of the books I’m excited about, starting with those that are already out, and progressing to those that are being released in the coming weeks or months:

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas (03/01/16) – Angry Robot Books

Cover image for The United States of Japan by Peter TieryasI’ve read at least a couple of alternative history novels that posit Germany winning World War II, and I know that there are way more out there. Tieryas’ alternate history focuses on the results of a victory by the Japanese Empire, and is partly inspired by Philip K. Dick’s classic The Man in the High Castle.  Add in some giant mecha and this is basically alternative history meets some of my favourite anime series. Tieryas spoke on the ECCC panel The Science Behind Science Fiction, and he sparked my interest with his discussion of the research that went into ensuring that he honoured the tragedy of “all those who suffered during the events of WWII.”

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel  (04/26/16) – Del Ray

Cover image for Sleeping Giants by Sylvain NeuvelI’m trying to read more Canadian fiction this year, and I’m especially interested in Canadian genre fiction,  so I was excited to encounter this novel by French-Canadian linguist Sylvain Neuvel . After accidentally discovering a buried giant mechanical hand while exploring as a child, Rose Parker becomes a cutting-edge physicist focused on unraveling the mystery of her discovery. The novel incorporates a variety of documents, including transcripts that give it a heavy focus on dialogue. I was lucky enough to pick up an ARC, so I hope to review this one soon, as we are only a couple weeks from the release date. Update: Read my full review.

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato (08/23/2016) – Harper Voyager

Cover image for Breath of Earth by Beth CatoI really enjoyed Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger series, which did a great job of combining magic into steampunk fiction. Her next novel, due out in August, seems to take a similar path, blending magic and alternative history. The US and Japan have banded together into the United Pacific, with their eyes set on a vulnerable China. The protagonist is a powerful geomancer who must hide her powers because she is a woman. But it is 1906, and one of history’s most powerful earthquakes is about to be unleashed, and unscrupulous geomancers are determined to harvest that power for their own ends.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (09/13/16) – Scholastic

Cover image for Ghosts by Raina TelgemeierPopular graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier is known for her autobiographical comics Smile and Sisters, as well as her adaptations of the Babysitters Club books into comic form. Her most recent book, Drama, also drew significantly on elements of her own life. Her forthcoming graphic novel, Ghosts, ventures more purely into fiction, with the story of two sisters who move from Southern California to a coastal town in Northern California because the younger sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis. I was able to snag a preview of the first 23 pages; Ghosts continues to incorporate the sibling relationships Telgemeier writes so well, but will also include elements of magic realism! Update: Read my full review.

The Rift Uprising by Amy S. Foster (10/04/16) – Harper Voyager

The Rift Uprising PreviewA classified experiment has torn open thirteen multiverse portals, called rifts, at locations around the world. The Allied Rift Coalition is formed to police the portals, and this task force includes the creation of enhanced child soldiers, who are implanted with special chips at age seven, and become active Citadels at fourteen. Ryn is one such Citadel, and has been posted at the rift in Battleground, Washington State for three years. Ryn is supposed to be the perfect soldier, but when a young man crosses through the rift and begins asking questions, she finds herself having doubts of her own. Part of what piqued my interest here is the fact that Foster had her teenage children read The Rift Uprising, and also work-shopped it with their AP English class. She didn’t seem to have much patience for YA fiction that doesn’t acknowledge the realities of actual teens, so I am curious to see what kind of novel that has produced. I was able to pick up a preview of the first chapter, but it is hard to tell much from that.

Those are just five of the novels I heard about this weekend, and I saw four of the authors speak at ECCC as well. But enough talk, it’s time to start reading!




Fiction, Novella, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk

Wings of Sorrow and Bone

Cover image for Wings of Sorrow and Boneby Beth Cato

ISBN 9780062411266

Disclaimer: While I have previously received free copies of Cato’s works through the Harper Voyager Super Reader program, I purchased my own copy of this title.

“For a dead man, he was still terribly loud in her memory.”

Having escaped the clutches of her abusive father with the help of Octavia Leander in the events of The Clockwork Crown, Rivka finds herself trying to start a new life in Tamarania under the watchful eye of her grandmother, the formidable Mrs. Viola Stout. Rivka dreams of designing and constructing mechanical devices, but her lack of formal education, folksy Caskentian accent, and cleft palate all make it extremely unlikely that she will find an appropriate apprenticeship in Tamarania. When she wheedles her way into the workshop of the wealthy and powerful Mr. Cody, she hopes to find a way to gain some knowledge and work experience as a machinist, but instead she discovers that Cody’s famous chimeras are the result of a brutal and inhumane process that causes terrible suffering. Forming an uneasy alliance with Alonzo Garrett’s manipulative sister, Tatiana, the two girls attempt to square their career ambitions with the unsavoury work going on in Cody’s laboratory.

Wings of Sorrow and Bone is a novella set in the world of Beth Cato’s Clockwork Dagger books. It takes place after the fact, but can be read alone, though there are some spoilers for the events of the preceding novels; Cato struggles a bit to strike the right balance between bringing new readers into an existing world, and telling a new story.  Two minor characters from the main duology—Viola Stout’s granddaughter, Rivka, and Alonzo Garrett’s sister, Tatiana—assume the roles of protagonists, becoming further fleshed out in the process. Wings of Sorrow and Bone has no romantic subplot, and focuses largely on the career aspirations and tentative friendship of two teenage girls, both of which are challenged when the girls encounter some of the darker realities of the professional world they hope to enter into. Mrs. Stout serves as a mentor and ally, but largely remains on the sidelines as the two girls try to find their way.

The world Cato developed in the Clockwork Dagger duology blends magic and science in unique and imaginative ways, but Wings of Sorrow and Bone deals with one of the more disturbing applications of this unusual mix. In Tamarania, a nation that largely reveres science and disdains magic, the politician Mr. Cody combines the two to create chimeras, unnatural creatures forged together from mechanical components and living parts taken from gremlins. The chimeras then fight in an arena, serving as a popular form of entertainment. Since gremlins are largely regarded as pests, no one protests this misuse. In The Clockwork Crown, protagonists Octavia and Alonzo become unwillingly complicit in this outrage when Alonzo bargains his piloting skills for a favour from Mr. Cody. However, dealing with it lies outside the scope of their main mission, and Cody’s depredations continue on. This, then, is social science fiction in the old tradition, using a fantasy world as an allegory for real-life ills, in this case, animal rights abuses. It falls to Rivka, Tatiana, and Mrs. Stout to try to find a way to put a stop to the work of a rich and powerful man, whose inventions are popular form of mass entertainment. Given Cody’s relative power, and the short length of this novella, I didn’t see how Cato was going to bring this plotline off in a believable fashion, but she manages it with astonishing aplomb, and a nod to one of my favourite childhood books, no less.


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Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk

The Clockwork Crown (Clockwork Dagger #2)

clockwork-crownby Beth Cato

ISBN 978-0-06-231398-0

Disclaimer: I received a free advance review copy of this book as part of the Harper Voyager Super Reader program. This title will be published on June 9, 2015.

“The Lady’s Tree moored its roots to the very spirit of the earth. Through the Tree, Octavia could heal with prowess beyond any other known medician. Lately, however, the Lady’s magic had changed. Octavia had changed. Her power through the Lady had increased, and she wasn’t sure if it was truly for the better.”

Having escaped numerous assassination and kidnapping attempts from Caskentians and Wasters alike in The Clockwork Dagger, Octavia Leander and Alonzo Garrett travel south to his homeland of Tamarania, where they hope the great libraries of the Southern nations will cast light on the mystery of the origins of the Lady and her Tree, and Octavia’s growing powers as a medician. As they attempt to parse history from mythology, Octavia begins to suspect that her unusually strong powers come with a price she was never told about. With Clockwork Daggers and agents of the Waste still in hot pursuit, they turn their eyes back to the Waste, where the Lady’s Tree is hidden, seeking answers from the source itself, even as Octavia is stricken by a creeping rash that no prayer to the Lady can heal.

Since Octavia’s powers are drawn from the Lady, it is perhaps not surprising that there are many deus ex machina solutions in both The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown. However, in this volume, the device is less bothersome, because magic is the cause of at least as many problems as it solves. Octavia’s mysterious ailment seems to be magical in nature, and to spread when she uses her powers. As her powers continue to grow beyond anything recorded in the history of medicians, the life songs of the people around her become so overwhelming she fears losing her mind. And as she delves into the history of the Waste, she learns that the curse the Dallowmen claim Caskentia placed on their land may be real after all. Visiting Mercia for the first time, she also comes to suspect that the pollution and illness that thrives in Caskentia’s capital may not be natural either. For every problem a prayer to the Lady solves, two more pop up to takes its place.

The direct intercession of the Lady is interesting as more than a deus ex machina, however. Her increasing communications with Octavia turn the Lady into a character in her own right, presenting Cato with the interesting problem of developing a goddess as an interesting player in the story. The Lady becomes more than just the distant and even theoretical source of Octavia’s power, and instead is presented as a being with an agenda and interests of her own. This development is complicated by the fact that Octavia is beginning to doubt that her own agenda is compatible with that of the Lady she has prayed to all her life, provoking a crisis of faith. These changes bring significant depth and dimension to The Clockwork Crown.

There are many plot arcs at play in this volume, and as a duology rather than the more usual trilogy, Cato has a lot of ground to cover, and events to tie up. She manages to tag all the bases, but doing so involves a lot of running around; in the course of the book Octavia travels from Caskentia to Tamaranian to Mercia to the Waste, all in a relatively short period of time. Octavia and Alonzo are frequently separated, and he doesn’t get as much page-time in the sequel, but their understated romance still has some significant development. While Clockwork Dagger favourite Mrs. Stout makes a cursory appearance, she unfortunately has a much less significant role to play in the events of the sequel. These reductions make way for a surprising new companion, much heard of but never seen in The Clockwork Dagger, who joins Octavia in Mercia and accompanies her to the Waste.

The Clockwork Dagger Duology offers an unusual blend of steampunk backdrop and faith-based magic system that gives the series a more fantastic feel. The characters develop along satisfying arcs and form nuanced relationships.  It is almost a shame that the series is over just as Cato seems to have really found her stride.


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Fiction, Steampunk

The Clockwork Dagger

Cover image for The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Catoby Beth Cato

ISBN 978-0-06-231384-3

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher through the Harper Voyager Super Reader program.

Pray, by the Lady let me mend thy ills.”

Octavia Leander is a recent graduate of Miss Percival’s academy for medicians. Under Miss Percival’s tutelage, Octavia has gone from an orphan with no future to being one of the most skilled healers in all of Caskentia. At only twenty-two, she is already a veteran of the warfront, where she worked to heal soldiers injured fighting for Caskentia in the ongoing conflict with the Wasters from beyond the mountains. With an armistice recently declared between Caskentia and the Waste, Octavia can finally leave the army behind, and set up a practice in a peaceful village far from the ravages of war, and the pollution of the big city. But as she journeys by airship towards the village of Delford, Octavia finds herself targeted in a series of mysterious and conflicting events, with foes who cannot seem to decide if they want to kidnap her or kill her. With the help of ship’s steward Alonzo Garrett, and her cabin mate, Mrs. Stout, Octavia hopes solve the mystery of her pursuers, and make it to Delford alive.

Beth Cato’s new steampunk adventure, the first in a duology, features a young woman setting out into the world on her own for the first time. Although she has served at the front, Octavia can still be somewhat naïve, and very altruistic. Her roommate, the older and wiser Mrs. Stout tries to protect her, but Octavia is headstrong and independent, and unwilling to be reined in. Although she is powerful medician, the fact that this is magical gift rather than a learned skill is brought home by how little Octavia really seems to understand the scope of her powers. Although she feels hurt by the rejection of the other Percival girls, who resent her difference, she has very little awareness of how others outside that insulated world will perceive her. Her obliviousness can be somewhat frustrating, but is balanced out by Alonzo, and Mrs. Stout, who are a little more experienced.

It takes a while to settle into Cato’s steampunk world and adjust to language that is sometimes trying just a little bit too hard to be old-timey and instead simply seems awkward. For example, it can be jarring to encounter a contraction in an otherwise formal sentence alongside archaic word choices. On the other hand, Cato’s old-fashioned curse words and exclamations are rather delightful. Once you are ensconced, Cato has created an intriguing and unusual world that combines science, religion, and magic in interesting ways that are not entirely explained. While Octavia believes fervently in the Lady, and views herself as simply a conduit for the Lady’s healing powers, others regard the Lady as a dying religion, and think that medicians are healing through some science that even they do not fully understand. Learning the truth about her powers seems likely to form a significant part of Octavia’s journey in the second installment.

The first part of the The Clockwork Dagger is a little bit slow, spending a lot of time on world building and character development. There are a few false starts, as Octavia struggles to figure out what is going on aboard the airship, and plenty of red herrings. However, the action picks up considerably in the later part of the book until it is difficult to put the story down. Although there is a lot of cool technology, and some interesting creatures, Octavia solves most of her problems with her magical abilities, which some readers may find tiresome after a while. The action is brought to a conclusion by a literal deus ex machina, which fits to a certain extent given that Octavia is struggling to understand the full extent of her powers as a medician, which derive from the Lady. The ending is rather tidy, but there is still plenty to explore in The Clockwork Crown, due out in September 2015.


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