Back in 2011, Carina Press released A Clockwork Christmas: A Steampunk Christmas Anthology. This anthology contains Crime Wave in a Corset by Stacy Gail, This Winter Heart by PG Forte, Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz, and Far from Broken by JK Coi.
I was surprised that there isn't that much talk of Christmas (or any other holiday) in the novellas. Crime Wave is the most Christmas-y book, with This Winter Heart coming in second. The other two books keep Christmas strictly in the background. I was also surprised at how little steampunk is actually in the books – generally the authors picked one steampunk element to focus on instead of creating a fully developed steampunk world. All of these novellas are available for sale separately.
I assigned an average grade of C to the collection as a whole, but the entries varied widely in quality. Here's the breakdown by novella:
This novella was steampunk at its most superficial – there are very few steam punk elements and they have no discernable impact on the late Victorian society in which the book is set. The main female character, Cornelia, was interesting and there were some lovely scenes and writing touches, particularly the description of Cornelia's scars and her treatment of young pickpockets. As mild erotica, the image of Cornelia climbing into a dumbwaiter wearing nothing but stockings, garters, drawers, and a corset certainly is a vivid one.
Unfortunately the novella is undercut by huge plot holes. On top of that the hero is controlling, manipulative, patronizing, and deceptive. Although there's no actual rape, he forces kisses and embraces on Cornelia, and spies on her in the bath, and later follows her into the bath (there's a lot of bathing in this book) when she's asked him not to. The characters were not engaging, nothing that happened made any sense at all, and all that was left was descriptions that were well written but seemed awfully modern for the setting. D+
This novella desperately needed to be a full-length novel in order to be properly developed. As it was, the angst was drawn out too long and then the reconciliation, even though it involved extensive groveling, was still too easy. The book did have lovely descriptive language, with vivid descriptions of life in an alternate history involving the Republic of New Texacali. Ophelia married Dario but he cast her aside when he discovered that she was actually an automaton. She returns to Dario seven years later, having had a son. Dario's feelings of betrayal make sense, especially given a string of tragedies that befall him after Ophelia leaves. However, he refuses to believe that she is capable of feeling genuine emotion long past the point of rationality. Meanwhile, no one, including Ophelia, understands how she can have had a son, especially since her inventor had said it would not be possible. Ophelia's fertility is so bizarre, and some of Dario's actions are so cruel and then involve such an extreme and sudden change of heart, that I had trouble believing in the happy ending. What I did believe in was the place – really, this author did a superb job with description and I enjoyed the unusual setting. C+
This is more like it! Here's a partial list of things to love: a suffragette heroine who is passionate about her cause but is neither strident nor man-hating, an engineer hero who respects and values strong women, great dialogue, and a discussion about the feasibility of a clockwork kangaroo vehicle. Additionally, the book had a truly fascinating Australian setting. You have no idea how much I learned just by fact-checking stuff from this book – that alone made the book worthwhile. The steampunk touches were minimal and probably unnecessary, but they added whimsy to the story and also served as an illustration of quickly changing times and values. This author is now on my auto-buy list. The only problem with the book was that I got the impression that I wasn't the only person who wanted the book to keep going, as the author suddenly threw in this crazy plot complication that came out of nowhere and then wrapped the book up abruptly. Despite some weirdness towards the end, I'm giving this a B.
This was another strong entry that I enjoyed but that felt very rushed. Calli is married to Jasper, a spy, and she is tortured by people who are looking for Jasper. When she wakes up in the hospital she has a mechanical eye, a mechanical had, and two mechanical legs. The book chronicles Callie's physical and emotional healing and the healing of her marriage to Jasper. This was a powerful, emotional book and it would have earned an A if it had a little more length – as it is, Callie jumps from stage to stage in her healing process quite quickly as the author runs out of pages. In particular, I would have liked seeing more of how Jasper learns to accept Callie as more of an equal. Both characters are flawed but also admirable and sympathetic, and I liked the fact that Callie is drawn out of herself not only by Jasper but also because of her need to help a fellow amputee. This book earns an enthusiastic B.