Steamed: A Steampunk Romance
by Katie MacAlister
Review by Paul Haggerty
Signet Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451229311
Date: 02 February 2010 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Life sometimes takes unexpected detours, especially for those rare people that are always having the strange and unusual happen around them. For Jack Fletcher, you'd expect that great adventures would be old hat by now, but he's still thrown for a bit of a loop when he's working on a quantum computer in his lab and what, in hindsight, can only be described as a total expected accident occurs when his sister comes to pay him a visit. Next thing he knows, he and his sister, Hallie, are in the cargo hold on a steam powered airship, with a drop dead sexy Victorian lady captain in a bustle and a corset pointing a ray gun at him. Even in a world without electricity, sparks can still fly.
Jack is amazed to find himself in what he insists on calling a steampunk universe. While it might resembled something out of a novel of that genre to him, to the people that live there it is just life as usual. And his casual disdain for reality in preference for treating the whole situation as some form of massive consensual cosplay at a fantasy convention doesn't make it any easier on anyone involved.
Captain Octavia Pye is on her first voyage as the captain of His Imperial Majesty's Airship Tesla, and the last thing she needs is to find a couple of stowaways on board. Especially when one of them is a handsome young man that is either a criminal, a revolutionary, or if she's very lucky, just a lunatic. Because Captain Pye is having more than just the usual problems with a new command. Octavia has a large number of secrets that she'd really rather didn't come out. Unfortunately Jack seems to be a lightning rod for attracting all forms of attention from any number of quarters.
There's an instant attraction between the two which Jack would absolutely love to explore in great detail, and which Octavia rightly believes is going to cause no end of trouble. And with Jack, with every breath, asking questions about the Tesla, the Aether that powers it, and the Empire to which it belongs, and Hallie disbelieving the whole situation ... loudly ... and just wanting to wake up, Octavia is forced to spend far more time around Jack than she'd prefer. Blend in a madcap airship crew including a love sick Olivia-addicted Spanish chef and another man who just might be ninja, revolutionaries that Olivia has far more connection with than the Empire would like, the Moghul Empire, which is currently attacking Italy and has no respect for Imperial property, old boyfriends that just keep popping up whenever they're most inconvenient, and you have a recipe for action/adventure, bodice ripping, science fiction, Victoriana romance in the strangest proportions.
Steamed is at first blush an adventure, with the requisite hot sweaty sex scenes. But MacAlister hasn't skimped on the plot, characters, or world building. The world in which Jack and Hallie suddenly find themselves is one in which the steam-powered science makes sense. The Empire to which Octavia and the crew of the Tesla are a part doesn't exist in a vacuum, and despite the fact that it seems to be a relatively benign one, it also seems to have a violent disregard for the citizens it's supposed to be defending whenever it's most detrimental to our heroes. The revolutionaries, for all the legitimacy of their cause, aren't in it for the common good of all the people either. Frankly, as in tumultuous periods through history, it really looks like whichever side wins, nothing much will change but who signs the proclamations and the death warrants. But in addition to the straightforward plot, there are hints of deeper backstory, downright blatant hints of stories yet to come, and healthy dose of humor to bind the action together.
As with all books, there will be parts that you just have to shake your head at and wonder if it's supposed to make sense, or if you just need to accept it for the sake of moving the story forward. Other parts seem to exist solely to give the characters a chance to demonstrate their peculiarities. And others seem to be there as part of the "hey, this is my world, let me show you this corner over here" story telling tradition. But overall, Steamed is a fun book set in a world that has just begun to be explored and I wouldn't mind seeing what happens next.