A Study in Silks ~ Emma Jane Holloway

  • Title: A Study in Silks
  • Author: Emma Jane Holloway
  • Series: The Baskerville Affair #1
  • Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.

In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.

Review:  A Study in Silks kicks off a new lightly steampunk series, The Baskerville Affair. I say lightly steampunk, because although the world is powered by steam and clockwork creations abound, the world really does not feel all that different from traditional historical romance. Hmm, romance is not really the right word, either, maybe historical chick lit? Clearly, it is difficult to pin down exactly which category owns this book, and well, defining books by genre has very little practical use, so I’ll move right along.

One can definitely define this book as a mystery. The main character, Evelina Cooper, has an inquisitive mind and a touch of magic, neither of which help her blend into London society any better than her dubious heritage. She is a guest in the family home of her best friend, with whom she is preparing for her introduction to debut into society when a series of mysterious events begin to unfold. Being niece to the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, Evelina, of course, sets out to discover the truth and hopefully protect those close to her.

I have mixed feelings about the use of Sherlock Holmes within the books. Other than solidifying Evelina’s natural inclination toward solving mysteries, I am not sure that it really serves much purpose in progressing the plot of the story. It almost feels as if the author is trying to create the effect of the celebrity cameo, a device which I find trite. Perhaps Holloway intends to use this relation as a resource in future books. Only times will tell.

For a book that is not really a romance, the story relies heavily another over-used trope, the love triangle. Throughout the book, Evelina finds herself torn between her affections for her BFF’s brother and someone from her questionable past. Both characters are depicted as intelligent, dashing, and full-of-life. They are also both a bit full of themselves and prove themselves unworthy of Evelina by the end of the book. I truly hope that Ms. Holloway does not try to use them as potential romantic interests in future books. I feel that both kind suitors leave behind burnt bridges in regards to Evelina’s affections. I have to admit that I love this. It is refreshing to read a story where the female lead is not defined by finding her true and everlasting love by the end of the book. Well done, Ms. Holloway.

Going back to the mystery, it is pretty ambitious, if a little convoluted. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt, considering this book is clearly also setting up deep intrigue for books to come. I appreciate that the author was unwilling to scrimp on the complexity of the story in favor of world building. I do so love a good enigmatic plot.

No matter how good the plot, it will remain unsatisfying without decent characters. Evelina is a character that I can like. She is smart, resourceful, and independent. I look forward to following her adventures as they unfold throughout the series. I also think there is more to her sidekick, er, I mean BFF.

My overall impression of the book was favorable. I am definitely interested to see where the author takes the series from here.

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A Study in Silks ~ Emma Jane Holloway

  • Title: A Study in Silks
  • Author: Emma Jane Holloway
  • Series: The Baskerville Affair #1
  • Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: Review copy
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.

In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.

Review:  A Study in Silks kicks off a new lightly steampunk series, The Baskerville Affair. I say lightly steampunk, because although the world is powered by steam and clockwork creations abound, the world really does not feel all that different from traditional historical romance. Hmm, romance is not really the right word, either, maybe historical chick lit? Clearly, it is difficult to pin down exactly which category owns this book, and well, defining books by genre has very little practical use, so I’ll move right along.

One can definitely define this book as a mystery. The main character, Evelina Cooper, has an inquisitive mind and a touch of magic, neither of which help her blend into London society any better than her dubious heritage. She is a guest in the family home of her best friend, with whom she is preparing for her introduction to debut into society when a series of mysterious events begin to unfold. Being niece to the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, Evelina, of course, sets out to discover the truth and hopefully protect those close to her.

I have mixed feelings about the use of Sherlock Holmes within the books. Other than solidifying Evelina’s natural inclination toward solving mysteries, I am not sure that it really serves much purpose in progressing the plot of the story. It almost feels as if the author is trying to create the effect of the celebrity cameo, a device which I find trite. Perhaps Holloway intends to use this relation as a resource in future books. Only times will tell.

For a book that is not really a romance, the story relies heavily another over-used trope, the love triangle. Throughout the book, Evelina finds herself torn between her affections for her BFF’s brother and someone from her questionable past. Both characters are depicted as intelligent, dashing, and full-of-life. They are also both a bit full of themselves and prove themselves unworthy of Evelina by the end of the book. I truly hope that Ms. Holloway does not try to use them as potential romantic interests in future books. I feel that both kind suitors leave behind burnt bridges in regards to Evelina’s affections. I have to admit that I love this. It is refreshing to read a story where the female lead is not defined by finding her true and everlasting love by the end of the book. Well done, Ms. Holloway.

Going back to the mystery, it is pretty ambitious, if a little convoluted. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt, considering this book is clearly also setting up deep intrigue for books to come. I appreciate that the author was unwilling to scrimp on the complexity of the story in favor of world building. I do so love a good enigmatic plot.

No matter how good the plot, it will remain unsatisfying without decent characters. Evelina is a character that I can like. She is smart, resourceful, and independent. I look forward to following her adventures as they unfold throughout the series. I also think there is more to her sidekick, er, I mean BFF.

My overall impression of the book was favorable. I am definitely interested to see where the author takes the series from here.

**Disclaimer: Reviewer was provided with a digital advance review copy of this book by the publisher via Net Galley.

Hard Magic ~ Larry Correia

  • Title:  Hard Magic
  • Author:  Larry Correia
  • Series:  Grimnoire Chronicles, #1
  • Genre:  Steampunk, Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  Audio Book
  • Source:  Own Copy
  • Reviewed by:  Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description: Jake Sullivan is a licensed Private Eye—with a seriously hardboiled attitude. He also possesses raw magical talent and the ability to make objects in his vicinity light as a feather or as heavy as depleted uranium, all with a magical thought. It’s no wonder the G-men turn to Jake when they need someone to go after a suspected killer who’s been knocking off banks in a magic-enhanced crime spree. Problems arise when Jake discovers the bad girl behind the robberies is an old friend, and he happens to know her magic is just as powerful as his, and the Feds have plunged Jake into a secret battle between powerful cartels of magic-users–a cartel whose ruthless leaders have decided that Jake is far too dangerous to live. . . .

Review:  I listened to this one after the supremely narrated Ready Player One read by Wil Wheaton. (Amazing job. If you haven’t read or listened, go get it. Now. This review will still be here.)  It colored my perception while listening . . . I don’t actually think there is anyone on the planet better at accents than Bronson Pinchot. But, sometimes the excellence of the accents makes it harder to understand the dialog. In other words, this is the one that made me wish for audio books with subtitles. That being said, you always know who is speaking and it sounds just almost like a dramatization. It is *that* good.

As is typical with a first book in a series, this one starts off a bit slowly. We get introduced to each of the main characters piece by piece, with absolutely no idea how (or even really *if*) they will all come together. Each one is interesting in his/her own right and the magic system created is fascinating. We have travelers, fades, heavies, healers, mouths – and others I am completely unable to recall. Their gifts are all different and the world is working on jailing or isolating or whatever it is we do with people when we are scared they might have it a bit easier than we do. Hence, poor Faye has been sold by her family and Jake is actually in jail.

The story itself takes place between the World Wars. The first 2. In the 1930s. The Japanese are the really bad guys here – the Germans have basically lost. So, we are rounding up all the ‘actives’ to work together to stop the Imperium. One of my favorite things about this book is that the good guys are good – not perfect, but good – and the bad guys are bad. There are a couple characters that cause you to scratch your head and wonder in which camp they fall, but overall black and white.

As is with most steampunk type books, there is a bit of history retelling going on here. We revisit historical characters and give them a little bit more personality and a little bit different character. Among them are people like Pershing and Browning (I mean, after all, Correia could be described as a little bit fascinated with guns . . .) and even Hitler. Ok, Hitler isn’t really re-imagined – just how he got there. I don’t typically enjoy those type things, but they worked for me here. The characters were fun and interesting and the personalities added a little bit to the actual history.

I really enjoyed this series. The characters are well drawn and the magic system is well thought out. Yes, there are some whose powers completely overshadow others, but ultimately, the good guys are still over powered by the bad guys. It is also interesting how they use things like the ability to travel along with an animal to their advantage. Bronson Pinchot is amazing as a narrator. I give this book 4 stars.

Forged in Blood I ~ Lindsay Buroker

  • Title: Forged in Blood I
  • Author:  Lindsay Buroker
  • Series:  Emperor’s Edge 6
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy, Steampunk
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  3 out of 5

Description:  The emperor has been ousted from the throne, his bloodline in question, and war is descending on the capital. Forge, the nefarious business coalition that has been manipulating the political situation from the beginning, has the ultimate weapon at its disposal.

 If it was difficult for a small team of outlaws–or, as Amaranthe has decided they should now be called, rebels–to make a difference before, it’s a monumental task now. If she’s to return idealistic young Sespian to the throne, earn the exoneration she’s sought for so long, and help her closest ally win the respect of the son who detests him, she’ll have to employ an unprecedented new scheme…preferably without destroying the city–or herself–in the process.

Review:  Soooo. This one took me much longer to get into than the last 5. It may well be because it didn’t have the impetus of reading them back to back to back. Therefore, I had to pick up and get back into the characters and the ongoing story. I considered re-reading the first 5 before picking this one up – and I even intended to do so. However, I have had such a reading ‘tude going on that I was just not of a mind to re-read anything.

Even though it took me a bit, I did enjoy this one. We get a bit more a feel for Sicarius and who and what he is. I didn’t think I would, but I really enjoyed getting into his brain. Much less of the sillyness that is Maldynado – and I think I missed that a bit. For most of the book, two teams are split up trying to accomplish different goals toward the same end – and I missed their camaraderie.

I don’t know that I am a fan of the typical fantasy plot set-up – slow going at the beginning, build up to discover what is happening toward the middle – until we get to the big, really climactic finish. I mean, most of the stories these days are told in series, and when each book follows the same model, it makes it hard for me to enjoy. I have already had the slow build up – I read the first book. I deserve some action now, doggone it! I shouldn’t have to wait until the end. And, oh yea, when I *do* get to the end, it really isn’t the end – but a darn cliffhanger which means to get to the end of the darn story I am going to have to wade through the beginning of yet another book. (Um, in case you, dear reader, cannot tell, I really don’t care for the slow beginnings.)

Which brings me to the end. Lindsay did not lead us astray here – she warned us of the cliffhanger at the end of book 6. This would be why I did not pick up this one until the next was out. Here is the problem. I was hooked – hook, line and sinker – right up to the last sentence. The VERY LAST SENTENCE. It made me mad. The cliffhanger actually made me mad. I don’t like it. I don’t like where the story must go from here. I don’t think I want to travel that path.

In truth. I bought the next book. I read the epilogue. (So, shoot me. I wanted to know where the story went – though I was fairly certain I knew.) I still don’t know if I will read that book in its entirety. I am still angered by the plot device caused by the cliffhanger.

That single paragraph – on which the book ends – took the book down to 3 stars from 4. Sorry. But, there is the truth of it.

Kiss of Steel ~ Bec McMaster

  • Title: Kiss of Steel
  • Author: Bec McMaster
  • Series: London Steampunk #1
  • Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Paranormal
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Most people avoid the dreaded Whitechapel district. For Honoria Todd, it’s the last safe haven. But at what price?

Blade is known as the master of the rookeries—no one dares cross him. It’s been said he faced down the Echelon’s army single–handedly, that ever since being infected by the blood–craving he’s been quicker, stronger, and almost immortal.

When Honoria shows up at his door, his tenuous control comes close to snapping. She’s so…innocent. He doesn’t see her backbone of steel—or that she could be the very salvation he’s been seeking.

Review:  This was a fun paranormal steampunk adventure. While not overly deep it had a really solid plot and interesting characters.

Review:As the first book in the series, it was a nice start toward world building. I thought it featured an interesting take of vampire/were lore. The author did a really good job of setting up of the nature of this world without allowing the plot to be distracted by monkey-button details. I would have liked her to have gone deeper, but I suspect more will unfold through the rest of the series.

I found both of the lead characters to be engaging. Honor was a good blend of strength and vulnerability and I do so enjoy a flawed hero, such as Blade. McMaster also cast some interesting secondary characters. It will be interesting to see how they develop, especially within the context of the political intrigue set in motion.
I really like the cover. While it is not quite in the context of the story (Honor would never show that much leg out on the foggy docks), it is sassy and eye-catching. It does capture the dashing tone of the book well. The color scheme is nicely done, hinting well at the vampiric nature of the hero.

What this book lacked in depth I think it made up for in entertainment value. It left me wanting more, but in a good way.

Heart of Iron ~ Bec McMaster

  • Title: Heart of Iron
  • Author: Bec McMaster
  • Series: London Steampunk #2
  • Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Paranormal
  • Format: Audiobook and eBook
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  In Victorian London, if you’re not a blue blood of the Echelon then you’re nothing at all. The Great Houses rule the city with an iron fist, imposing their strict ‘blood taxes’ on the nation, and the Queen is merely a puppet on a string…

Lena Todd makes the perfect spy. Nobody suspects the flirtatious debutante could be a sympathizer for the humanist movement haunting London’s vicious blue blood elite. Not even the ruthless Will Carver, the one man she can’t twist around her little finger, and the one man whose kiss she can’t forget…

Stricken with the loupe and considered little more than a slave-without-a-collar to the blue bloods, Will wants nothing to do with the Echelon or the dangerous beauty who drives him to the very edge of control. But when he finds a coded letter on Lena—a code that matches one he saw on a fire-bombing suspect—he realizes she’s in trouble. To protect her, he must seduce the truth from her.

With the humanists looking to start a war with the Echelon, Lena and Will must race against time—and an automaton army—to stop the humanist plot before it’s too late. But as they fight to save a city on the brink of revolution, the greatest danger might just be to their hearts…

Review:  This was a fun paranormal steampunk adventure. While not overly deep it had a really solid plot and interesting characters.

ReviesHeart of Iron is the second book in the London Steampunk series. This book features an all-new tale of intrigue in the paranormal steampunk world created by Bec McMaster. While this book had enough adventure to satisfy me, I would say it leans heavily toward the paranormal romance category.

This book revolves around Lena, sister to Honoria the primary character from the first book, and Will, right hand man to Blade, the Devil of Whitehall and Honoria’s husband. Lena finds herself involved in a dangerous plot and Will is determined to keep her safe, even from himself. Suspense and romantic tension ensue. Lena is a bit of a prissy character, but with a core of strength within her, making her a good match for Will’s tortured and savage verwulfen soul.

On the romance side, McMaster does a great job of creating that heart-wrenching passion between her romantic leads. The intense chemistry between Lena and Will was smoking hot. This is not what usually draws me into a book, but I don’t romance when it is well-written, as it was in this case.

The adventure, on the other hand, IS what draws me into a story. I won’t lie, I wish there had been more action in this book, but that is because the author does a fantastic job with it. For a book that is mostly focused on romance, I was delighted with the tangled web of subplots created by McMaster, building the intrigue throughout the story. The action scenes enhance the pace of the book. It is THIS aspect of the series that has drawn me in, and will likely keep me reading.

I also enjoyed McMaster’s nod to Jane Austen, highlighting the limited options for women in society, albeit, ever so slightly different than those posed by Ms. Austen. This goes along with the setting of the time period, and yet the author plays it out in a way suited for a steampunk world.

I consumed this book as a combination of audio book and ebook, using Whispersync for Kindle/Audible for the first time. I had originally purchased the book for my Kindle, but thought that the audio book would make the accents come alive. The narrator did a great job of capturing the prissy tone of Lena, but alas, she fell short when it came to Will and Blade. This was disappointing for me.

As for the cover, I found it to be less striking than the other covers in the series. Maybe there is just too much going on and the characters don’t pop out. Also, the female character on the cover looks so aloof, like she is bored by the situation and the man holding her. It is not an awful cover, but certainly not one that draws my eye. I also don’t understand why the audio book has a different cover which looks like it is trying to capture the same feel as the book cover.

Regardless of the covers and audio book productions, I am really enjoying this series by Bec McMaster. I look forward to the next book of this series and future works from her.