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Friday, January 11, 2013


Author:  Beth Ciotta (aka C. B. Scott, pseudonym for a partnership between Beth Ciotta and Cynthia Serra)
Plot Type:  Steampunk, Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence--4; Sensualiity--4; Humor--3
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Eclipse
          Her Sky Cowboy (11/2012)
          "His Broken Angel" (e-novella, 5/2013)
          His Clockwork Canary (6/2013)
          Her Majesty's Mechanic (Spring 2014)

     This post was revised and updated on 8/1/13 to include reviews of the first novella and the second novel in the series: "His Broken Angel" and His Clockwork Canary. Those reviews appear first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of novel 1:   

          E-NOVELLA:  "His Broken Angel"                   
     The action in this very short novella is set between novels 1 and 2 and features a character we met in book 1: Doc Blue (aka King Bluebell, named by his Peace Rebel father after Martin Luther King, Jr.). Doc is a 21-year-old first-generation Freak with healing skills who betrayed Tuck and Amelia in book 1 and is now searching for redemption.

     At the center of the story is the romance, which has a brief (approximately 48-hours) time frame. This is the fastest meet-lust-love-marriage story I've ever seen, and I've read thousands of quick-love paranormal romances. The gist of the story is that Doc is called in to heal a teen-age girl who has been badly injured and blinded in a battle on an airship and who is currently being cared for by Doc's estranged younger brother, Jasper, and his crew. When Doc discovers that the girl is Tuck Gentry's sister, Lily, he decides that if he heals her, Tuck will forgive his previous transgressions. Back in book 1, Doc betrayed Tuck because he trusted a fellow Freak, who promised him a reunion with Jasper, but that promise turned out to be a lie. 

     The most problematic part of the story is the high speed romance. After the couple shares a passionate kiss an hour or two after they first meet, Lily starts imagining their future together. Doc resists for about 5 minutes and then gives in. By the second day of their acquaintance, they're planning their wedding, and Doc is thinking, "Maybe he wasn't the perfect man for her, but Doc loved Lily with all his heart." Lily knows "in her heart they belonged together." She tells Doc, "I love you, King. I could name a hundred reasons why, and I bet by the end of the week I could name a hundred more." He responds by telling her that she is "a girl who knows my heart." I can't imagine what Lily's "hundred reasons" would be, beyond the fact that Doc is one hot and sexy Freak. The combination of these preposterous declarations of devotion and the unbelievable high speed of their romance makes their relationship the weakest part of the story, and since it's the main plot, well...what more can I say?

     This novella promises that another love story is in the makingbetween Jasper and P. J. Darcy, a distant cousin of the Darcy siblings. P. J. is one of Jasper's pilots and is obviously in love with him. At the end of the novella, Jasper and his crew are heading out to prove that they did not cause the explosion and fatalities in the airship battle that wounded Lily and killed and injured many more. Jasper has all kinds of emotional hang-ups that go back to his difficult childhood, so that will no doubt be an angst-filled story.

     One last nit-pick: The novella has some sloppy copy-proofing errors, particularly in word usage. Here are two examples: 
     "...they were all born with kaleidoscope eyes, a uniformed trait... (No, the eyes don't wear uniforms; the word should have been "uniform," without the "ed," or, better still, "identical.")

    "Now she knew her destiny lied with one of Tuck's crew." (No, her destiny did not "lie" to anyone; it "lay" with him. "Lied" means "made a false statement," while "lay" means "to cause to be in a particular state or condition." To avoid the whole lie/lay situation, the word "was" would have sufficed.)

          NOVEL 2:  His Clockwork Canary                   
     In the second book, we follow the youngest Darcy brother, Simon, as he searches for the clockwork propulsion engine that powered the Mods through time from 1969 back to Victorian times. This story begins just a few weeks after the death of Simon's father in a huge explosion, and Simon is full of hurt and anger over a newspaper reporters' front-page description of his father as a madman who brought ridicule on himself through his ineffective inventions. When that very same reporterwho uses the by-line "Clockwork Canary"insists on  joining Simon on his quest and promises that he has inside information, Simon grudgingly allows him to come along. 

     The Canary, though, isn't what he seems. Indeed, he is really a sheWilhelmina Goodenough (aka Mina, Aka Willie G), a first-generation Freak who has disguised herself for ten years as a male Vic because she knew that no newspaper would ever hire a Freak. Willie and Simon have a teen-age romantic history. Back when Willie was 16 and Simon was 19, they had a brief, passionate affair that was supposed to culminate in their elopement to Gretna Green.  Unfortunately, their assignation never took place, and each blames the other for betraying their relationship. Willie is determined that Simon will not figure out her true gender or identity, but he does so almost immediately, and their sexual attraction picks up right were it left off. As a Freak, Willie has two supernatural powers: time-tracing and extraordinary night vision. Time tracing means that she can read a person's memories by just touching their skin. 

     Beyond her fake identity, Willie is keeping an even bigger secret. She is being blackmailed by a mysterious man who calls himself Strangelove. This is actually Lord Bingham, the sociopathic, power-mad flatliner we met in book 1. Bingham/Strangelove is determined to become the technology kingpin of the world, and he has information-gathering minions all over the world. Bingham knows Willie's true identity and he threatens to destroy her family (which consists of her mentally unstable father and her reprobate brother, Wesley) if Willie doesn't spy on Simon and report his activities to Bingham. This story line plays far in the background for much of the book, with just a few scattered scenes starring Bingham as he sexually abuses his robotic housemaid and generally acts like the madman that he is. The end result of Bingham's blackmail of Willie plays out in the inevitable climactic showdown between the good guys and bad guys at the very end of the book. At that point, we also learn the true identity of the "Stormerator," the weather-controlling Freak who caused Tuck and Amelia so much trouble in book 1.

     As Simon and Willie track down clues as to the whereabouts of the engine, they visit Mina's father, who provides some new information about Mina's mother, who was a technologically talented Mod. Mina is shocked to learn that her mother had a major role in the engine's disappearance.

     The love story is the focal point of the book, with the search for the engine in close second place. Towards the end, Amelia and her Sky Cowboynow newlywedsmake an appearance and wind up helping Simon and Willie find the engine. We also get an indirect update on Jules' adventures as he tracks down the Mod engineer, Dr. Maximus Merriweather, who has even more knowledge about the Mod's time-traveling journey back in time. He also has a daughter, so I'm pretty sure that's who Jules will be falling for. 

     The biggest plus for book 2 is that the author includes a historical time line and glossary, making the mythology much easier to understand. I wish she had done that in book 1. Beyond that, the story line is O.K, but not nearly as exciting as book 1not a single airship battle and only a few gunshots. The hero and heroine are completely different from the pair in book 1. Simon is a brilliant, eccentric engineer and inventor, but he's definitely not an alpha male street fighter like Tucker Gentry. Unlike the sheltered Amelia, Willie has lived on her own in a male world for the past decade. Her male life style has made her a stronger person. She has had to surmount unbelievable obstacles just to keep her male gender and Freak race hidden, and in addition to that, she's been supporting her father all that time. This book tells a much quieter story than the first one, but that story is a compelling one that involves the building of trust and the recognition of love. 

     I do have one stylistic criticism, and that is the author's extreme overuse of the word "whilst," which is the British equivalent of "while." The problem is that this is practically the only British term that is used in the book, and it is used hundreds of times, frequently unnecessarily. Its use is an annoying affectation that should have been ditched by the editor. After a chapter or two of having the word    pop up every page or twosometimes multiple times on a single pageI became supersensitive to its constant presence, and it became an irritating distraction. 

     Given that there are only three Darcy siblings, I'm guessing that novel 3 (Jules' story) will culminate in an HEA for each of them, but there will probably be a few more novellas (or perhaps, novels) for other characters' love stories one for Jasper and P. J. and one for Phineas (Phin) Bourdain, Jules' air-pilot BFF, and Dr. Bella Caro, the Freak bionics expert who put Jules' legs back together after they were blown apart in an explosion during the Peace War.

     I'll begin by stating that in the first book, figuring out the world-building in this series is not easy, by any means. The author definitely does not do an info-dump of background; instead, she drops pertinent facts into the narrative and dialogue as if she's using an eyedropper. The first solid information doesn't come until about 3/4 of the way into the book. Since there is absolutely no plot-spoiler reason for this holding back of facts, I'm going to go ahead and explain the mythology in this section of my review. Luckily for readers, book 2 has a historical time line and an Alternate World Glossary, so the going is much easier.

     The series begins in England in 1887. Members of the Darcy family, who are at the heart of the series, have been labeled by society as being eccentric and slightly batty. One reason for this is that they are related to Briscoe Darcy, an inventor who created a time machine for the Grand Exposition of 1851 and then used it to disappear in a spectacular, rainbow-colored explosion at the height of the Exposition. As it turned out, Briscoe's machine worked, and he travelled forward in time to 1969, where he was captured and imprisoned by a highly suspicious U.S. government.

     If you remember your history, 1969 was a time of war protests by hippies chanting, "Make love, not war." These peace protesters, fearing that the world was headed for an apocalypse, created a copy of Briscoe's time machine that they used to travel back in time to 1856, where they planned to ensure that there would be no World War I, World War II, or any other type of war, thus guaranteeing that the world would not end in a 20th century cataclysm. Here's some information about the time travelers: "Upon their arrival, the Peace Rebels had numbered sixty-nine plus, a mix of Brits and Yankees, a combination of men and women—mostly men—and a few smuggled babies (who constituted the plus). All rebellious fanatics of peace from several fields of expertise, all under the umbrella of the arts and sciences." (p. 102) They had been "convinced that, in their time, the end of the world was fast approaching. Events such as a cold war, a missile crisis, Vietnam, and nuclear reactors advancing the globe toward annihilation. (p. 201) Unfortunately, the 20th century peace fanaticsnicknamed Peace Rebels—were not welcomed by the English Queen or by anyone else in authority. Eventually, their pacifistic preaching and Utopian mind-set backfired and sparked the four-year transcontinental Peace War (1860-1864).   

     People in this world are sharply divided in their opinions about the anachronistic technology that has leaked into the general population. Basically, they have divided themselves into three groups: 
>>Old Worlders like the Queen, who wish the Peace Rebels had never arrived. They fear technology and change simply because it is different.
>>New Worlders like the Darcy family (an obvious Pride and Prejudice reference), who want to use futuristic technology to create a Utopian world in which people do good things for their neighbors and for the world at large. 
>>Flatliners like the primary villain of the series—cold-hearted, money-loving pragmatists who look out for their own well-being no matter who is in power or what is happening with technology.
     As the years passed, some of the twentieth-century some Peace Rebels married other Peace Rebels, giving birth to offspring called Mods  Other Peace Rebels married 19th-century Victorians (aka Vics), and their children are called Freaks. Freaks are generally looked down upon by people in this world because of their half-breed heritage, and they are feared because of their preternatural abilities. Each Freak is born with some type of supernatural talent, and each can be recognized by his or her kaleidoscopic, rainbow eyes. Their magical gifts range from mind reading to super strength to brilliant intellect to weather manipulation to healing, and more. As the Freaks age, their powers strengthen and intensify. 

     Freaks are not allowed to marry Vics, and they are prohibited from voting and attending college. Many vocations are closed to them, and they suffer verbal and physical abuse by the Vics. Three decades have passed since the Mods arrived, and the eldest of the Freaks are approaching the age of thirty. Some of these mature Freaks are furious at the civil limitations and social constraints forced upon them by the government, and they have joined together as the Freak Fighters to lead the Freak Rebellion, which is just getting started as the series begins. As the heroine of book 2 explains, "Suppression and intolerance are fueling discontent amongst Freaks. Causing some to branch out as mercenariesusing their supernatural gifts for dubious gain. Whilst otherslike the Freak Fightersband together to instigate change for the better. The remainder simply try to blend, to be invisible, denying who they are even to themselves." (His Clockwork Canary, p. 118)

     I must admit that this mythology is quite fresh and inventive, but it would have been nice to have had more background information up front. As it is, I felt somewhat lost for much of the book, hoping that someone would spill some concrete facts about the events that various characters kept broadly alluding to in passing. The whole hippie-peace part of the mythology is kind of weird, particularly when some of the Freaks dress in Mod fashion styles, listen to Janis Joplin songs, and flash the peace sign in Victorian England.

     This series puts me in mind of Theresa Meyers' LEGEND CHRONICLES, a paranormal/steampunk series in which three brothers search for a magical book and find their supernatural mates along the way. In that series, as in this one, each book covers the same time period, but follows a different sibling on his part of the search. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in Myers' series.

          NOVEL 1:  Her Sky Cowboy          
     As book 1 opens, Amelia Darcy's father blows himself up in an ill-fated experiment with rocket power. While her twin brothers, Simon and Jules, are home for the funeral, all three siblings receive personal invitations to enter a contest to locate the most important "lost or legendary technological invention of historical significance" that can be found. Since the family is nearly destitute, all three go off in different directions in search of an artifact that will win the huge monetary contest prize and save the family. This book follows Amelia as she flies off on her father's kitecycle, a winged bicycle powered by steam. Shortly after take-off, Amelia nearly collides with a much larger aircraft and crashes her kitecycle into smithereens. The captain of the aircraft is Tucker Gentry, a disgraced former U.S. Air Marshall who has been on the run from American authorities since he escaped from their jurisdiction. Tuck is suspected of grand theft and murder, but since he is the story's hero, we know from the beginning that he is totally innocent of those crimes.

     Amelia and Tuck soon fall for one another, and Tuck agrees to help Amelia win the prize money. The artifact that Amelia is after is one of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions, which is supposedly hidden away in a remote cave in Tuscany. The trip from England to Tuscany is, of course, filled with both romance and danger. The danger originates from the villainous Lord Bingham, who believes that Amelia is after the prototype of Briscoe's time machine, which was modeled after one designed by da Vinci. Bingham sends a black-hearted Scottish air pirate to abduct Amelia from Tuck's ship, and his presence is a threat all the way through the book. 

     Having led an extremely sheltered life, Amelia is very immature and hopelessly naive about people and conditions in the real world. She considers herself to be "a New Worlder, a Utopian, someone intent on steering humanity away from the wars and atrocities that, it they continued unchecked, would ravage the globe for decades, reaching a tumultuous boiling point in 1969." Amelia has any number of TSTL moments—never listening to good advice and always getting herself into dangerous situations from which Tuck and his men must rescue her. Tuck's world view, on the other hand, was shaped by his father, who debunked the Peace Rebels' fanaticism and advised his son to "Live for today...Not in fear of tomorrow." (p. 201) Tuck is a Dudley Do-Right kind of guy (but sexier), with a strong sense of fair play and extremely high standards of morality (except when it comes to bedding the virginal Amelia). He's almost too good to be true.

     Steampunk elements abound in this book, from the various mechanical means of transportation to animals and men with custom-made metallic parts. Amelia's pet falcon has metal claws and beak; Tuck flies through the air on a live horse with mechanical wings. Many of the gadgets have typical steampunkish names: Tuck's gun is an Annihilator; his airship is powered by blasterbeefs; Amelia uses an astronomical compendium to navigate.

     If not for the mishandling of the world-building, I would consider this to be a relatively well-written book. Once one gets enough facts to understand what the characters are talking about, the story moves along quite nicely, with romantic scenes alternating with action scenes. The final resolution of the Amelia-Trent romance is a bit too easy, but still acceptable. Now that I know what's going on, I feel better equipped to approach the upcoming e-novella, which will tell the love story of Doc Blue (a Freak) and Lily (Tuck's sister). The second novel will follow Amelia's brother, Simon, as he tries to win the contest prize money and finds his true love along the way.

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