The best steampunk books

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

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Recommended titles
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

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

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 MiƩville, 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

Recommended for ages: Adult

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

Recommended for ages: Adult

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

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

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

Recommended for ages: Adult

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

Recommended for ages: Adult

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

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

The Scar by China Mieville

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.

Recommended for ages: Adult

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

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

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

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

Larklight Trilogy by Philip Reeve

Art and his family are invited on a fantastic free holiday to the exotic Asteroid Belt, in a remote part of space near Mars. Taking the train, they arrive to discover that nothing is quite as it seems - the hotel slips curiously back and forth through time, and the guests behave rather strangely too. What is behind these bizarre goings-on? It's up to Jack Havock, Art and his sister Myrtle (against her will) to get to the bottom of things. But the giant sand clams and man-eating starfish which roam freely nearby are nothing compared to the True Enemy, which is cunning, sinister, and almost unstoppable and may resemble a hat.

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Evil is most assuredly afoot - and Britain’s fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade... and a librarian. These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences - the Crown’s clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling - will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest - and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray. For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Books and Braun - he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices - must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot - or see England fall to the Phoenix!

"The steampunk element is not to be missed, from lococycles to automatons, ornithopters and cyborgs with firearms hidden in prosthetics. A most shocking and electrifying ride through Victorian London." Fantasy Book Review

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

Grandville Mon Amour by Bryan Talbot

In short this is a great read that will appeal to lovers of great graphic novels and stylish steampunk stories alike. By all accounts the series is going to run to five books, and if Bryan Talbot keeps the momentum going then they’ll be a ground breaking work.

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

The Steampunk Adventurer’s Guide by Thomas Willeford

The Steampunk Adventurer’s Guide is great fun and simply a really good idea. Willeford clearly loves his craft and with his story accompanied by artwork from Phil Foglio it is attractively packaged. Along with all of this, Willeford also manages a discussion on ‘What is Steampunk’ and an appendix of suggested reading, viewing, gaming, music and more.

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

The Mensch with No Name by Edward M Erdelac

My favourite Hasidic gunslinger, the Rider, is back. Sure the Rider is the only Hasidic gunslinger I know, but that certainly doesn’t take make him any less awesome or any less dangerous. In Merkabah Rider: The Mensch With No Name (I’m going to call it TMWNN from here on) Edward M. Erdelac gives us the next four episodes in the Rider’s quest to hunt down his blasphemous, scheming mentor, Adon. We start to learn more about Adon, what he has been up to, what schemes he has hatched, and that the consequences of failing to stop him may be disastrous for all the planes of existence. The Hour of Incursion is coming.

Recommended for ages: Adult

The Shadow Conspiracy by Brenda Clough

1816, the year without a summer. A group of geniuses descended on Geneva and, in an attempt to save the body and mind of Lord Byron, perform dreadful and forbidden experiments that change history forever. The Shadow Conspiracy will appeal greatly to lovers of steampunk, science fiction and alternate history. Featuring very strong female characters (something that the BVC consistently encourages), brilliant ideas and thought-provoking subject matter, it is an anthology that I highly recommend. What really happened in the villa on Lake Geneva that long ago year without a summer, 1816? Read it and find out.

Recommended for ages: Adult

Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld

Two opposing forces are on the brink of war. The Clankers - who put their faith in machinery - and the Darwinists - who have begun evolving living creatures into tools. Prince Aleksandar, the would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, comes from a family of Clankers, and travels the country in a walker, a heavily-fortified tank on legs. Meanwhile Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy, works for the British Empire, crewing the ultimate flying machine: an airship made of living animals. Now, as Alek flees from his own people, and Deryn crash-lands in enemy territory, their lives are about to collide...

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

The Falling Machine by Andrew P Mayer

The Falling Machine is the debut book written by Andrew P. Mayer and the first book in the Society of Steam series. I have always found steampunk a very interesting genre and when I found out that The Falling Machine combines two of my favourite elements; steampunk AND superheroes, I just had to read this book.

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

A Wild West Tale by Mike Resnick

The year is 1881. The United States of America ends at the Mississippi River. Beyond lies the Indian nations, where the magic of powerful Medicine Men has halted the advance of the Americans east of the river. An American government desperate to expand its territory sends Thomas Alva Edison out West to the town of Tombstone, Arizona, on a mission to discover a scientific means of counteracting magic. Hired to protect this great genius, Wyatt Earp and his brothers. But there are plenty who would like to see the Earps and Edison dead. Riding to their aid are old friends Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. Against them stand the Apache wizard Geronimo and the Clanton gang. Battle lines are drawn, and the Clanton gang, which has its own reasons for wanting Edison dead, sends for Johnny Ringo, the one man who might be Doc Holliday’s equal in a gunfight. But what shows up instead is The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo, returned from the dead and come to Tombstone looking for a fight.

"It should be said that The Buntline Special is a humorous take on an alternate Wild West and with this Mike Resnick has proved to be successful. The rewriting of the original events and characters produced a lively tale. This Wild Weird West invites for more exploration." Jasper de Joode, Fantasy Book Review

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

The Weavers of Saramyr by Chris Wooding

I found this a superb fantasy novel, if a trifle lacking in depth occasionally as the author forced plot upon us at a speed that seemed to not give the full consideration and build up it deserved. Several potential earth shattering revelations were thrown in glibly which could have benefited from a few more chapters built around them. Still, it did not detract too much as characterisation and descriptive acumen wove a tightly narrated tale that promised much and delivered often. For this reader, at least, the Skein of Lament will be eagerly sought after.

Recommended for ages: Adult

Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding

Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, leader of a small and highly dysfunctional band of layabouts. An inveterate womaniser and rogue, he and his gang make a living on the wrong side of the law, avoiding the heavily armed flying frigates of the Coalition Navy. With their trio of ragged fighter craft, they run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves. So a hot tip on a cargo freighter loaded with valuables seems like a great prospect for an easy heist and a fast buck. Until the heist goes wrong, and the freighter explodes. Suddenly Frey isn't just a nuisance anymore - he's public enemy number one, with the Coalition Navy on his tail and contractors hired to take him down. But Frey knows something they don't. That freighter was rigged to blow, and Frey has been framed to take the fall. If he wants to prove it, he's going to have to catch the real culprit. He must face liars and lovers, dogfights and gunfights, Dukes and daemons. It's going to take all his criminal talents to prove he's not the criminal they think he is...

"All in all a highly enjoyable and FUN read. It is light hearted and alongside Phillip Pullman’s superlative Dark Materials trilogy this is one of the best Steampunk novels out there. It is the beginning of a projected series by Wooding and these books also look to be stand-alone too. Well worth a read if you want fun and an exciting ride on the Vardia skies." Fantasy Book Review

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

Mainspring Universe by Jay Lake

Jay Lake's first trade novel is an astounding work of creation. Lake has envisioned a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun. It is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky, and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of the Moon, and the great Equatorial gears of the Earth itself."Mainspring" is the story of a young clockmaker's apprentice, who is visited by the Archangel Gabriel. He is told that he must take the Key Perilous and rewind the Mainspring of the Earth. It is running down, and disaster to the planet will ensue if it's not rewound. From innocence and ignorance to power and self-knowledge, the young man will make the long and perilous journey to the South Polar Axis, to fulfil the commandment of his God.

"Mainspring has a marvellous and highly original world, and the story was great to read. Lake has a good writing style that really involve you in the novel. An original blend of science fiction and fantasy set in an alternate 19th century Earth." Jasper de Joode, Fantasy Book Review

Recommended for ages: Adult

The Good, the Bad and the Infernal by Guy Adams

With freak weather turning on people, weariness, mistrust, people hiding from their pasts you know something big is going to happen... Sadly it all ends on a cliff-hanger. This does manage to set things up nicely for the next instalment. I thoroughly enjoyed a fantasy novel that was brave enough to tackle the Western genre, and from what I have read so far, this is a series that has much promise.

Recommended for ages: Adult

Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I enjoyed his first series of books although I personally thought that the series slightly struggled to live up to the heights reached the first book. By the time I had finished this book I was excited, delighted and slightly disappointed in equal measure.

Recommended for ages: Adult

The Northern Sunrise by Rob J Hayes

It all moves quickly, with a few twists, lots of humour and dangerous problems to navigate. The steampunk technology is exciting and seamlessly fits the story. Interestingly, the background and world this is set in has a distinctly French feel to it, which is a pleasant change. I particularly enjoyed Isabel and Jacques’ attempts to fool the aristocracy. There are chases, duels, romance, airships and a fortune to be won or lost. With this effort Hayes has proved he is a fantasy author to look out for.

Recommended for ages: Young adult and up

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An image of Jay KristoffJay Kristoff
2012-09-18