The best steampunk books

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A subgenre of speculative science fiction set in an anachronistic 19th century society, dealing with advanced technology in the altered past.

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

The metropolis of New Crobuzon sprawls at the centre of its own bewildering world. Humans and mutants and arcane races throng the gloom beneath its chimneys, where the rivers are sluggish with unnatural effluent, and factories and foundries pound into the night. For more than a thousand years, the parliament and its brutal militia have ruled over a vast array of workers and artists, spies, magicians, junkies and whores. Now a stranger has come, with a pocketful of gold and an impossible demand, and inadvertently something unthinkable is released. Soon the city is gripped by an alien terror - and the fate of millions depends on a clutch of outcasts on the run from lawmakers and crime-lords alike. The urban nightscape becomes a hunting ground as battles rage in the shadows of bizarre buildings. And a reckoning is due at the city's heart, in the vast edifice of Perdido Street Station. It is too late to escape.

"China Miéville, poster boy for the so-called "new weird", is one of the most interesting and promising writers to appear in the last few years in any genre. Perdido Street Station is a fantastic yarn that follows the roads set by M John Harrison in his Viriconium world and brings an enormous energy and creativity to the table. A reinvention of modern fantasy with guts, brains and plenty of glory. Plunge in." The Guardian

"Perdido Street Station is a well written and absorbing story aimed at breaking the rules for a number of different fantasy concepts. There are some minor issues regarding information overload and the use of profanities which can quickly remove the sense of immersion, but these are easily overcome by the beauty and creativity of the world that Mieville has created. Perdido Street Station is a very intricate and complex novel that provides a refreshing challenge to the way in which epic fantasy is traditionally explored." Fantasy Book Review

Mortal Engines Quartet by Philip Reeve

Fever Crumb is a stunning, stand-alone prequel to Philip Reeve's brilliant science fantasy quartet. It is set many generations before the events of Mortal Engines, in whose dazzling world huge, predatory cities chase and devour each other. Now, London is a riot-torn, ruinous town, clinging to a devastated landscape and hiding an explosive secret. Is Fever, adopted daughter of Dr Crumb, the strange key that will unlock its dangerous mysteries?

"Though I’m still trying to figure out whether its Reeves amazingly detailed imagination or the headstrong Fever Crumb is responsible for it, this book has taken its place in the pinnacle. My favourite. For now. " Fantasy Book Review

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Brendan Doyle is a twentieth-century English professor who travels back to 1810 London to attend a lecture given by English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This is a London filled with deformed clowns, organised beggar societies, insane homunculi and magic. When he is kidnapped by gypsies and consequently misses his return trip to 1983, the mild-mannered Doyle is forced to become a street-smart con man, escape artist, and swordsman in order to survive in the dark and treacherous London underworld. He defies bullets, black magic, murderous beggars, freezing waters, imprisonment in mutant-infested dungeons, poisoning, and even a plunge back to 1684. Coleridge himself and poet Lord Byron make appearances in the novel, which also features a poor tinkerer who creates genetic monsters and a werewolf that inhabits others' bodies when his latest becomes too hairy.

"After I was introduced to Tim Powers through his Cold War fantasy, Declare, I attempted to track down his earlier works at libraries and used bookstores. Several proved impossible to find. Among these was the novel that first made him famous: The Anubis Gates, so eventually I gave in and bought a new copy. Now, having read it, I understand the reason for its rarity: no one in their right mind would relinquish a copy of such a marvelous book!" Fantasy Book Review

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell

In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence. A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins encircle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.

"Ack-Ack Macaque shows just what is possible by combining new idea and creating a unique world and a set of characters, a monkey, who would have guessed! Gareth L. Powell will be an author to look out for." Jasper de Joode, Fantasy Book Review

The City and the City by China Mieville

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other. With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984 , The City & The City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

"And yes, this is a great story. Mieville has delivered and lived up to the hype generated by his early work, in particular the Bas-Lag series. While this is a vastly different book to that epic series, there is no change in quality." Charlie White, Fantasy Book Review

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

The computer age has arrived a century ahead of time with Charles Babbage's perfection of his Analytical Engine. The Industrial Revolution, supercharged by the development of steam-driven cybernetic Engines, is in full and drastic swing. Great Britain, with her calculating-cannons, steam dreadnoughts, machine-guns and information technology, prepares to better the world's lot...

"This collaborative effort from William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (the only to date) is a prime example of the ‘Steampunk’ genre and a bold imaginative ‘alternate history’ novel. It is set in London in 1855 where the computer age has arrived a century ahead of time with the great steam-driven (Charles) Babbage Engines powering the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to this huge leap in technology Great Britain with her calculating-cannons, steam dreadnoughts, machine-guns and information technology bestrides the globe like an unopposed colossus." Fantasy Book Review

Captain Nemo: The Fantastic Adventures of a Dark Genius by Kevin J Anderson

The young Verne and his best friend Andre Nemo stow away on a ship bound for the high seas, but Jules' father catches Jules and forces him to come home in total disgrace. Nemo goes on to have all the adventures, battling pirates, fighting sea monsters, being shipwrecked, ballooning across Africa etc. Jules eventually turns these real life tales of his friend into his popular novels.

"This hugely ambitious project takes the reader behind Jules Verne’s enigmatic, mysterious loner Captain Nemo (called Andre Nemo here). Anderson provides us with an exhilarating tale that spans a lifetime from childhood dreams and fantasies with friends Jules Verne (a masterstroke by Anderson) and Caroline Aronnax, to life on the high seas and adulthood." Fantasy Book Review

The Scar by China Mieville

A colossal fantasy of incredible diversity and spellbinding imagination. A human cargo bound for servitude in exile... A pirate city hauled across the oceans... A hidden miracle about be revealed... These are the ingredients of an astonishing story. It is the story of a prisoner's journey. Of the search for the island of a forgotten people, for the most astonishing beast in the seas, and ultimately for a fabled place - a massive wound in reality, a source of unthinkable power and danger.

"The Scar was a total delight to read and really had me enthralled from page 1 to 578! The Bas-Lag universe that is just magnificent, and this, combined with his engrossing way of story-telling, really makes The Scar a must read. His genre “weird fiction” is just wonderful."

A Tale of Langdon St. Ives by James P Blaylock

It is the summer of 1883 and Professor Langdon St. Ives – brilliant but eccentric scientist and explorer – is at home in Aylesford with his family. However, a few miles to the north a steam launch has been taken by pirates above Egypt Bay; the crew murdered and pitched overboard. In Aylesford itself a grave is opened and possibly robbed of the skull. The suspected grave robber, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, is an old nemesis of Langdon St. Ives. When Dr. Narbondo returns to kidnap his four-year-old son Eddie and then vanishes into the night, St. Ives and his factotum Hasbro race to London in pursuit...

"The Aylesford Skull is for me a piece of art. James P. Blaylock has created a truly magical story, where most authors who write steampunk go for a direction of a more bold and brash steampunk setting he takes on another route by writing a more or less common story but elevating it with hints of steampunk and a supernatural aspect into it. For me it is truly magnificent display of how to elevate a story to the next level. It is a great story fully accented by enough hints of steampunk and magic." Jasper de Joode, Fantasy Book Review

In Dark Service by Stephen Hunt

Jacob Carnehan has settled down. He's living a comfortable, quiet life, obeying the law and minding his own business while raising his son Carter ... on those occasions when he isn't having to bail him out of one scrape or another. His days of adventure are - thankfully - long behind him. Carter Carnehan is going out of his mind with boredom. He's bored by his humdrum life, frustrated that his father won't live a little, and longs for the bright lights and excitement of anywhere-but-here. He's longing for an opportunity to escape, and test himself against whatever the world has to offer. Carter is going to get his opportunity. He's caught up in a village fight, kidnapped by slavers and, before he knows it, is swept to another land. A lowly slave, surrounded by technology he doesn't understand, his wish has come true: it's him vs. the world. He can try to escape, he can try to lead his fellow slaves, or he can accept the inevitable and try to make the most of the short, brutal existence remaining to him... unless Jacob gets to him first and, no matter the odds, he intends to. No one kidnaps his son and gets away with it - and if it come to it, he'll force Kings to help him on his way, he'll fight, steal, blackmail and betray his friends in the name of bringing Carter home. Wars will be started. Empires will fall. And the Carnehan family will be reunited, one way or another...

"Stephen Hunt has produced a well plotted and paced adventure that captures the imagination and entertains throughout. Despite its length, In Dark Service never sags or slows down. Told from many different perspectives, it avoids large info dumps and ciphers. There is a real immediacy and heightened sense of drama that sweeps the reader up." Daniel Cann, Fantasy Book Review

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