Ink, Iron, and Glass: A Review

cover art for Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn ClareWith the right tools–a special pen, specific ink–the right person can create an entire world thanks to the science of scriptology. Detailed manuals, called worldbooks, outline the parameters of the world from how gravity works there to whether or not the air is breathable.

There are no limits to how complex a worldbook can be–something scriptologists and the world at large learned when Charles Montaigne created Veldana–the first populated world created with scriptology. After Jumi, a talented scriptologist in her own right, helped her people secure their independence Veldana remains the only populated scriptologist world.

Now in 1891 Jumi’s daughter Elsa is looking forward to the day when she can take on a larger role helping her mother maintain the Veldana worldbook and pursuing her other scientific interests.

Those plans change abruptly and violently when Veldana is attacked and her mother is kidnapped. Forced to flee Veldana Elsa finds herself in the real world with no way to get home or even know if the Veldana worldbook still exists.

With no option but to move forward Elsa travels to Sicily with her mother’s mentor to regroup and find help. Among the pazzerellones Elsa learns about the madness that fuels innovation here–a singular interest in scriptology, mechanics, or other sciences that manifests as madness, particularly for the rare few polymaths whose interests cross multiple disciplines.

Uncertain who to trust or where to begin, Elsa seeks help from the other madboys and madgirls she encounters including calculating Porzia and mechanist Leo. With the right tools Elsa can write almost anything she can imagine into existence but she still doesn’t know if that will be enough to save her entire world in Ink, Iron, and Glass (2018) by Gwendolyn Clare.

Ink, Iron, and Glass is Clare’s debut novel and the start to a duology.

This novel is a refreshing blend of adventure and excitement with a heroine who is both pragmatic and scientifically inclined. Clare’s world borrows from real historic events to build the bones of her alternate history filled with scientific madness and steampunk elements including automated machines, talking houses, and more.

The main sticking point with Clare’s complex and well-realized world (and for me it was a big one) is the concept of an affinity for the sciences being construed as madness. There are no negative connotations to this madness–nor is there any discussion of what mental illness might look like in this world–but the intense gendering of the madness by calling those who have it “madboys” or “madgirls” was incredibly frustrating and served no purpose in the larger context of the story. If you poke too hard at this aspect of the world and the conceit that all great innovation is tied to madness and a complete lack of focus on the big picture (the idea being that the mad ones can focus on nothing but their chosen sciences) the premise starts to fall apart.

Despite an exceedingly large ensemble cast, Elsa spends much of the novel in her own head as she works through using her mechanical and scriptological talents to pursue her mother’s kidnappers and mount a rescue. While this offers insight into the nuances of scriptology it makes for a narrative that is often surprisingly dry despite madcap chases and boisterous secondary characters.

Ink, Iron, and Glass is an entertaining story with fascinating if sometimes hastily sketched characters and world building. Fans will be eager for the sequel after the shocking conclusion of this volume. Recommended for readers who enjoy plot-driven stories and have a fondness for steampunk settings.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Reader by Traci Chee, Invictus by Ryan Graudin, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*


Everland: A Review

Everland by Wendy SpinaleLondon is in ruins, blitzed by German bombs and riddled with deadly disease. The Horologia virus never spares anyone for long.

Gwen has managed to survive but supplies are running out and it’s becoming harder to hide herself and her younger siblings, Joanna and Mikey, from the enemy soldiers, known as Marauders, who are occupying the city.

Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretschmer–Hook–leads the Marauders and scours the city for a cure to the Horologia virus. The Marauders abduct children for experiments but none have returned.

When Joanna is taken, Gwen is desperate to get her back. Ill-prepared for a rescue mission on her own, Gwen is soon taken in by Pete, a reckless boy who leads a gang of Lost Boys hidden in London’s underground tunnels. With help from Pete and his sidekick Bella, Gwen hopes she can save her sister before time runs out in Everland (2016) by Wendy Spinale.

Everland is Spinale’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

If you haven’t guessed yet, Everland is a steampunk retelling of Peter Pan. Spinale blends a gritty, wartorn London with steam-powered technology in this action-packed tale. Limited world building helps explain the bare bones of the story including the motives behind Germany’s invasion and Hook’s role in it. However less immediate details are absent making this novel feel strangely timeless and lacking a sense of place despite Spinale’s detailed descriptions.

This novel is narrated by Gwen with chapters from Hook interspersed throughout. Gwen’s narration is sharp and brisk as she struggles to keep herself and her siblings safe. Hook’s narration is strikingly similar though darker in tone.

Although Gwen is around sixteen, she reads much younger. The novel itself is peppered with predictable plot twists and heavy handed foreshadowing although fast-paced action helps to distract from these issues.

Readers approaching this novel as a retelling will enjoy seeing the ways Spinale reinvents familiar events and characters from the original text including clever steampunk elements. Unfortunately, in staying so close to the source material, this novel often misses opportunities to push a familiar story into truly new directions. Everland will appeal most to readers with a strong fondness for the original Peter Pan as well as steampunk fans.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, Never, Never by Brianna Shrum, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The Glass Magician: A Review

The Glass Magician by Charlie N. HolmbergThree months ago Ceony Twill returned Magician Emery Thane’s heart to his body and returned to her studies to become a Folder with renewed enthusiasm. After traveling through Emery’s heart, Ceony knows beyond certainty that she loves him. She even suspects he will one day feel the same after a fortuity box promised as much when she read the paper magician’s fortune.

Such relations are strongly discouraged between teacher and apprentice. Despite their growing bond, Ceony has begun to doubt the accuracy of the fortuity box she saw those months ago.

When a magician from Emery’s past surfaces, all of Ceony’s tentative hopes are threatened. The magician thinks Ceony has knowledge that will help further his quest for revenge. And he’s willing to go any lengths necessary to get that knowledge.

Desperate to protect those she cares most about, Ceony will have to take an offensive stance if she hopes to stay alive while keeping her dangerous discovery from ending up in the wrong hands in The Glass Magician (2014) by Charlie N. Holmberg.

The Glass Magician is the second book in Holmberg’s Paper Magician trilogy which began with The Paper Magician.

Holmberg once again brings readers into her unique version of London where all types of magic center on the manipulation of specific materials. Set three months after book one, this story offers an adequate recap of previous events while moving the story forward.

Although The Glass Magician remains interesting and enjoyable, it’s much harder to ignore the lack of world building (why, exactly, does magic work the way it does?) and other flaws. Ceony’s rash behavior is especially glaring throughout.

The story here, largely a remix of the events of the first book, will still have appeal for readers looking for subtle fantasy and a quiet romance. The Glass Magician remains an optimistic and quick diversion. Readers who make it through this installment will likely be eager to read the series to its conclusion in The Master Magician.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Other Teddy Roosevelts by Mike Resnick, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer


The Paper Magician: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. HolmbergLong before her admission to the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony Twill wanted to be a Smelter.

Instead, the nineteen-year-old is told that she will be a Folder apprenticed to Magician Emery Thane. Worse, once Ceony bonds to paper her fate will be sealed. She will never be able to manipulate any other magic.

Nothing about Ceony’s apprenticeship with Magician Thane is quite what she expected. Instead of a cold and disinterested teacher, Mg. Thane is kind and keen to show Ceony that even lowly paper magic can have its wonders.

Ceony also learns, firsthand, that there is a darker side to magic when an Excisioner–a magician who manipulates flesh–rips Emery’s heart from his chest. Desperate to save her teacher, Ceony sets out after the Excisioner on a journey that will lead Ceony far from the safety of her apprenticeship and deep into the secret chambers of Emery’s heart in The Paper Magician (2014) by Charlie N. Holmberg.

The Paper Magician is Holmberg’s first novel and the start of her Magician trilogy which continues with The Glass Magician and The Master Magician.

The Paper Magician is a charming fantasy with strong crossover appeal. Elements of alternate history and steampunk aesthetics comes together to create a frothy and engrossing novel.

Ceony is a thoughtful and pragmatic heroine. Although she is decidedly unenthused about her future as a Folder, Ceony is smart enough to know an opportunity to wield magic–any magic–is not one to be taken lightly. When her circumstances abruptly change after Emery’s heart is stolen, Ceony also demonstrates pluck and resolve as she sets out to rescue it and save her teacher’s life.

Although outlandish at times (particularly while Ceony is inside Emery’s heart) and not always perfectly paced, The Paper Magician remains a strong debut and a solid series starter. Ideal for readers of all ages. Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, steampunk and Victorian sensibilities.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Other Teddy Roosevelts by Mike Resnick, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer


Rebel Mechanics: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Rebel Mechanics by Shanna SwendsonSixteen-year-old Verity Newton is certain that her university-quality education and the numerous novels she has read will be preparation enough to work as a governess among the upper class magisters who rule Britain and its American colonies with magic in 1888.

Soon after arriving in New York City, Verity learns that unrest is growing and a group of colonists calling themselves the Rebel Mechanics hope to use ingenuity and mechanical inventions to unseat the magical might of the magisters.

After securing a job as governess to one of New York’s premier families, Verity finds herself caught directly between the magisters and the mechanics. Although she is sympathetic to the rebel cause, she also realizes there is more to the magisters than anyone might think–particularly when it comes to her new employer Henry.

When Verity is drawn into the fledgling rebellion as a spy, she learns that anything goes when it comes to revolution–and love in Rebel Mechanics (2015) by Shanna Swendson.

Swendson blends historic details and steampunk sensibilities perfectly in this novel to create a fun alternate history New York filled with magic and powerful inventions. Verity’s sense of wonder at everything she sees in the city will capture similar feelings from readers.

Verity starts out as a naive heroine with little life experience and a lot of uncertainty about her place among the magisters or the mechanics. Although she makes a few blunders along the way, Verity learns from her mistakes and her character development is perfectly paced throughout the novel. Despite her naivete she is a pragmatic and thoughtful narrator who refuses to let things like bandits or revolutionaries fluster her.

Although Verity’s love interest for much of the novel is not ideal, the story is still filled with enough swoony moments and excellent characters to forgive Verity’s lack of good taste. Henry, a magister with rebel sympathies and Verity’s unlikely employer, is guaranteed to be fan favorite.

Rebel Mechanics offers a perfect blend of fantasy, action and romance that is sure to leave readers smiling. This book is currently a standalone (with a largely self-contained plot to prove it!) but we can only hope Verity and her friends will eventually return with new stories and adventures.

Rebel Mechanics is a delightful steampunk novel filled with adventure and magic. Highly recommended for readers looking for an effervescent read as well as fans of fantasy/steampunk or historical fiction/alternate history novels.

Possible Pairings: The Shadows by Megan Chance, Scarlet by A. C. Gaugen, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Clariel by Garth Nix, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

You can also read my exclusive interview with Shanna about the book!

*An advance copy of this book was provided for review consideration by the publisher*


In which I have thoughts about steampunk as a genre.

I love Steampunk. There is something very appealing about the steampunk aesthetic that combines modern technology with very Victorian sensibilities. I like that the books have a historical feel without quite being historical but also fantasy elements without quite being that either.

You can browse my “steampunk” tag to see all of the related reviews and posts (there are some book lists and Linktastic! posts as well). Yesterday I reviewed Etiquette & Espionage which is my most recent steampunk read.

Keeping in mind my deep and abiding love for the genre in general and the Leviathan series in particular, I’ve noticed something.

Steampunk books usually involve an English setting and in order to get in the right head-space, the narrative also involves a certain tone–you know, an English/Victorian tone. (It sounds made up but, trust me, if you read enough steampunk books you will see it.)

The problem I’ve noticed is that in adoption that tone and talking about those things that are inherent to steampunk (the clothes, the manners, the steam-powered inventions) it feels like a lot of steampunk books also become somehow flippant. Not that the writing is low quality or that anything about the book is cut-rate. It just feels, sometimes, like because the book is genre fiction (sub-genre fiction really since steampunk is so specific) that it isn’t allowed to take itself seriously. Instead of a deadpan (as it were) presentation of events we get a tongue-in-cheek kind of story.

Then I consider the fact that I didn’t notice that flippancy in Leviathan or its sequels. Which brings to mind other gender issues. Does Leviathan come across as more serious because it’s written by a male author? Does it come off that way because of a male protagonist? Does the focus on a military airship necessarily preclude elements that might create a flippant tone in other novels?

I don’t really have any answers here but it’s just something I noticed and wanted to talk about.

Do you ever think books don’t have permission to take themselves seriously? Does it matter? Is this all in my head?

Let’s talk it out in the comments!

Is all of this just in my head?


Etiquette & Espionage: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail CarrigerFourteen-year-old Sophronia is used to her mother’s disapproval and punishments. Even the idle threats of being sent to live with vampires hold little sway when Sophronia is faced with a situation in which she can attempt something daring instead of being painfully, boringly proper.

What Sophronia could not have guessed is that Mumsy would take matters further by sending Sophronia to a finishing school. Nor could she have anticipated exactly what that will mean when the initial pronouncement is handed down.

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is unlike any finishing school Sophronia could have fathomed. While she can’t be completely sure, Sophronia is fairly certain Mumsy didn’t have this kind of finishing in mind when she sent Sophronia away.

But then who is Sophronia to argue when there are friends to be made with fledgling evil geniuses, inventors with whom to collaborate and all manners of conspiracies to investigate. Manners and dress will certainly be in the curriculum. But so will diversion and deceit in Etiquette & Espionage (2013) by Gail Carriger.

Etiquette & Espionage is the first in Carriger’s YA Finishing School series. It is set in the same world as her bestselling Parasol Protectorate series for adults.*

Carriger has already mastered the skills required to write a supernatural, steampunk, historical fantasy. Her alternate history with elements of steampunk and fantasy tropes blend together exceptionally well with the Austen-like tone of her narration.

The world is well-realized and fascinating although often under explained. It’s impossible to say for sure but it seems likely some shorthand was used in world building (or at least world explaining) since so much groundwork has been laid in the earlier Parasol Protectorate books.

With virtually zero romantic entanglements and numerous high-action sequences Etiquette & Espionage is ideal for readers of any age. The story handles several topics (race and class divisions, friendship, wealth and status) very well adding a nice dimension to the plot. At the same time, unfortunately, the pacing often feels off with an immense amount of  setup in the first half of the novel only to lead to a plot resolution that feels rushed in the final pages.

Etiquette & Espionage is a fine start to a series with a cast of characters that are appealing in every sense even if their world might take a bit too long to come fully into focus.

*Etiquette & Espionage functions as a standalone but readers of both series will likely recognize characters in common.

Possible Pairings: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman,  My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer