Tag Archives: steampunk

Review: Boston Metaphysical Society

love me some steampunk and gaslamp fantasy.  And webcomics.  So I’m always happy to check out a new series or comic in one of those genres, especially one that’s appropriate for both adult and youth audiences so that I can write about it here.  This week I checked out M. Holly-Rosing’s Boston Metaphysical Society, which is both a webcomic and a series of prequel novellas.  I quickly was sucked in to the comic and enjoyed the story immensely.

It’s more on the supernatural side of steampunk – the characters deal with demons, ghosts, and monsters but there are also lightning-powered weapons and airships.  It also has flavors of historical fiction and alternate history, and you’ll probably recognize some of the characters from your school days: Tesla, Bell, Edison, and Houdini.

The art in the comic reminds me of the style in the Batman graphic novels I loved as a kid, but a little more sepia-toned to give it that Victorian feel.  The art is very well suited to the themes and storyline, and the people are drawn as fairly proportional people in clothing that makes sense for their jobs and culture (i.e. no women in strange, anatomically impossible poses with their chests falling out, but you will see some corsets and even bustles).

The characters range from the guy with an enormous upper-class superiority complex to a quiet, flawed hero with a past, to the under-appreciated genius whose station in life keeps him from being the tremendous success he should be.  There is also a talented young medium who the hero reluctantly lets assist him out of desperation.  She’s the only female character in the webcomic so far, and only a sidekick, but I have high hopes that in the future of the series she’ll get an even bigger role and continue to defy the conventions of her society.

The accompanying novella to the comic, The Demons of Liberty Row, is a prequel that gives background info on the early days of the Boston Metaphysical Society.  It’s written in a style similar to the comic so it’s just a little bit dark, and it leans towards the melodramatic.

The Demons of Liberty Row was an engaging story with interesting characters, but at first I kept finding myself distracted by the need for a heavier hand at editing.   Things like typos, repeated words, irregular use of commas, and long, run-on sentences with frequent use of semicolons made it hard to follow and focus on the story.   The ratio of exposition and description to dialogue and action was also a little high for my taste.

About fifteen pages in, though, I mostly was immersed and stopped being quite as distracted.  I was able to enjoy the really cool devices and doodads all over the home of genius Granville Woods.  I would totally give my right arm to have something like Granville’s amazing house filled with gadgets, workshops, and secret passages.  I also liked his spunky young niece, Sarah, and hope she features again.

My favorite part of the novella was how well it brought the steampunk and gaslamp fantasy genres together.  It has tons of cool gadgets and a healthy dose of mad scientists (both the sort with questionable morals and the simply angry sort).  But it also has plenty of supernatural and spiritual elements that make it a unique cross-genre story.

I would recommend starting with the webcomic, and if you are the kind of person who really likes more background info, then look into the novellas.  The comic and stories contain some violence and a bit of gore, but nothing overtly sexual or over-the-top bloody.  I consider it geared towards adults but appropriate for ages twelve and up, or possibly younger if you have a kid who likes spooky stuff.

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Girl Genius – webcomics, comic books, and novels

As a follow-up to last week’s list of favorite webcomics, I checked out one of my brother’s recommendations, Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio.  I had seen their (Hugo-winning) books on display in the dealer’s room at various cons but had never gotten around to actually reading any – and I had no idea that they now have a free online webcomic to read in addition to the print books.

Today I checked out Girl Genius, and it’s awesome.  The storyline sucked me in right away.  The art is lovely, with diverse characters shaped mostly like real people, not creepy disproportionate stereotypical comic book people.  The storyline is fun, and chock full of mad genius-y goodness, terribly dastardly villains, and a bona fide Girl Genius.  The authors describe it as ‘gaslamp fantasy’ rather than Steampunk, which I think is a very fitting description.

I would definitely recommend this for the tween-and-up crowd, and perhaps even for kids as young as ten if your kid is already into reading comics or very precocious.   I’m looking forward to working my way through the archives and catching up on Agatha’s adventures.  It’s good reading for adults, and shows a solid strong female character for younger kids looking for good (and unusual) role models.

You can read it online as a webcomic, or purchase the comic books and novels.  There are also apps (I love the paper doll app) and other fun merchandise.  Check all of the goodness out here.

Are you a Girl Genius fan?  Do you have other recommendations for great comics with strong female characters or that show how cool science is?

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Book Review: Etiquette and Espionage

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In case you couldn’t tell from the profile pic, I am, among all the other things I squee about on a regular basis, a pretty big fan of Steampunk.  I also fully admit that since I tend to enjoy all books, I enjoy plenty of YA books – I don’t really go in for the snooty ‘I’m to grown up for YA‘ thing.  Plus, you know, I have a preschooler, so the books in our house gravitate away from ‘grownup’ material pretty frequently.  Like if I have to read a Llama Llama book one more time I might scream.  But I digress.

I have really enjoyed all of Gail Carriger’s books, which not only involve steampunk but also the supernatural.  The main cast contains werewolves, vampires, preternaturals, and plain old humans.  Her books are fun, slightly ridiculous, and have very likeable characters.  Also, many of the characters have completely ridiculous names, which I find oddly endearing – normally that kind of thing would just annoy the snot out of me.

They’re not exactly high falutin’ literature, but these books are solidly in my ‘reading for enjoyment’ category.  I thoroughly enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series about the indomitable preternatural Alexia Tarabotti.  And now I find that I am actually enjoying her YA series, set a few decades earlier in the same universe, even more.

The first book in this series, Etiquette and Espionage, follows fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminnick away to a finishing school.  She is sent away by her mother, who can’t deal with her daughter’s troubling mix of mischief, brains, and tendency to speak her mind.

The school turns out to be a very different kind of finishing school than either Sophronia or her mother anticipated.  In addition to learning the finer points of fashion, landing a husband, and keeping a proper household, the young ladies at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality learn how to be spies and assassins.

The school is housed in a giant dirigible.  It is staffed by a vampire, a French inventor, a werewolf-soldier, a nun, a woman of ill repute, a fluff-headed headmistress who has no idea that her school is not a regular finishing school, impish lads in the engine room, and a whole lot of mechanical servants.

Sophronia starts and ends the book in heaps of trouble, and I’ll let you read it to find out how and why.  Overall, it’s a very fun read – but if you don’t appreciate steampunk, teenagers, silliness, and British humor, give it a miss.  I would especially recommend this to anyone looking for a YA book with a strong female protagonist, that is not in the current dystopian fashion.  It’s not Hogwarts, but Mlle Geraldine’s is certainly a school I would have had fun attending.


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