Some of you might remember that when Kilts and Kraken came out my review was basically one long squee of delight (Clockwork Dog!). I was excited about reading the sequel, Moonlight and Mechanicals (henceforth referred to as M&M).
M&M had all kinds of problems and I didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Kilts and Kraken, but I admired it for its ambition. In this book, the author takes a lot on, but she can't carry it off smoothly. However, die-hard fans of steampunk will find a lot to admire and enjoy about this ambitious book, which takes on the ramifications of steampunk on political, social, and environmental levels while also dealing with a complicated romance. The book earns itself a terrible grade and yet the author remains on my auto-buy list because I want to see if, with more practice, she can pull off this kind of scope better in the future.
M&M concerns the exploits of Wink, a former street urchin, now adopted daughter of nobility, and Liam, a werewolf policeman, in a steampunk/magical Victorian England. Wink is the inventor who invented George, the clockwork dog who made me so very happy in Kilts and Kraken. I'm pleased to say that we finally find out why she built a clockwork dog, and the answer isn't just “because it's cool”. While Kilts and Kraken worked fine as a stand-alone, M&M is more closely tied to its predecessor, Steam and Sorcery (all these books are part of the Gaslight Chronicles series). It was OK on its own but I definitely felt like I was missing some things. Here are the three most important the plot elements:
1. Wink loves Liam. Liam loves Wink. Liam thinks he can't ever marry because he might become an abuser like his father was. Conner loves Wink. Liam tries to set Connor up with Wink so she can be happy while Wink tries to convince Liam that they should be an item.
2. People and dogs keep disappearing from the Mayfair district. Wink gets Liam to investigate.
3. There are rumors that a society of second-born sons and other disenfranchised members of the nobility might be planning an assault against the Royal Family at the Ascot races.
I believe I can sum up all the problems with the writing in M&M with this exchange of dialogue:
“Don't be ridiculous.” He came even closer, looming over her. “Do you really think I'd let you leave here alone? That I could let you leave here unescorted? It isn't safe. I killed a vampyre here in Mayfair the other night”.
Wink stood, facing him down. “So? I've been killing them since I was nine. What's your point?”
Wink's line is great. It tells you about their history and their relationship to each other and their respective personalities, plus it's funny and tough. The problem is that in addition to her line sounding way too modern, there's the awkward business about her standing and facing him down. I can tell she's facing him down, because of her great albeit anachronistic line! You don't have to tell me that she's standing up to him – just let her do it! There was plenty of awkward writing in Kilts and Kraken, but the book was so fast paced that I barely even noticed. M&M is longer and more detailed and there's no escaping the clunk factor.
There were a lot of other things that bugged me. I wanted to like Wink. She is smart, determined, brave, and interesting. I appreciated that she isn't forced to be either “girly” or “manly” – she likes what she likes. Sometimes she likes to dress up. Sometimes she likes to wear coveralls. Depends on what she's doing at the time. I also appreciated that she has sexual agency and is able to confidently initiate sex as well as take precautions against pregnancy to the best of the time period's abilities (although there's this magic hymen business that I just don't believe at all).
However, Wink is also deceitful and manipulative (see: magic hymen), and she's never called out on that. Rather, her manipulations of Liam are viewed positively, as being for his own good. Dishonesty is a big trigger for me and I thought that when she's caught lying to Liam, he should have greeted this with a big WTF, not a fond chuckle. Liam was a nice enough character, but I never really “got” him and wondered if I missed most of his character development back in the first book of the series. I think it's pretty significant that that's all I can think of to say about the hero of the book. The romance never rang true. The characters seem to be in love because the author has decreed it, not because of a natural, organic development of the characters.
This book was really odd in terms of how characters react to things. Wink describes an incident from her childhood, and it's horrific, and Wink is all, “Wasn't that a funny little anecdote about child molestation?” and Liam is all, “OK, sure.” Wink's father finds her in bed with Liam and she says, and I swear this is the exact quote, “Morning, Papa, did you need something?” And Dad “sighed and smiled”. REALLY? 'Cause my Daddy would have got out the shotguns (to kill the boyfriend with, not to hasten the wedding). At the very least you'd think Wink would be embarrassed to seen in bed naked by her father, sheet or no sheet, and that Wink's dad would have fled the room screaming, “My eyes! My eyes!” Sexual agency is great, but let's have some boundaries, people, OK? Please? The age difference between Wink and Liam isn't that significant but the author points out that Wink is grown up so many times that after a while all you can think about is that they met when Wink was a child and Liam is soooo much older than she is (the author protesting too much comes up several times with regard to different topics). Meanwhile huge plot points appear and vanish. The thread with Connor is the dominant one for much of the book, and then it just disappears.
I realize that I've just described a book that earns a D at best, but I'm giving it a C- because the world building showed true effort and creativity. The steampunk isn't just some nifty gadgets thrown around the pages. It's an important part of the world, and it affects things – the environment, information sharing, and the economy. There are references to how things work, and why Wink prioritizes some inventions over others. This is why I think that people who are major steampunk fans might enjoy the book even with all its faults. If you haven't tried steampunk before, don't start with this one! But if you are already a fan, you'll enjoy the details the author includes to create a grounded setting.