Review by D.A Lascelles
Steampunk is becoming a big thing these days. While it might not yet have achieved the lofty heights of the Vampire as a standby for writers to fall back on, it is certainly gaining a lot of credence as a popular genre for readers and writers to explore. Lady of Devices is an excellent example of the genre. Seeming to combine the best traits of YA fiction – a plucky young heroine in a complex love triangle – with the standard tropes of Steampunk fiction – clockwork and steam powered machines in a gritty Victorian setting.
The story follows the exploits of Claire Trevelyan, a young lady of the aristocracy recently graduated from St Cecilia’s Academy for Young Ladies with an interest in all things engineering and science based. The problem she faces is the inherent sexism of the Victorian period which, even in an enlightened steampunk setting with more independence for women than in the real world, still considers such matters inappropriate for a lady of her class. Her central goal is therefore to achieve acceptance at a University to study engineering and the obstacles in her way include not only the stifling morals of the period but also her father’s bankruptcy and suicide and a riot that forces her out of her family townhouse and onto the streets.
Of course, being a lady of vast ingenuity (not to mention ably equipped with Capascin bombs) she is not set back by these minor inconveniences at all and this first book in the trilogy relates how Lady Claire rises from this parlous condition to become the leader of a small gang of homeless children and an underworld legend with the sinister moniker of the Lady of Devices. As she tries to hide her underworld activities from society, she also takes a job as secretary to an engineer, Andrew Malvern, hired by the roguish Lord James Selwyn to investigate the properties of coal. As a result of this, she ends up caught between the two men as the inevitable love triangle closes about her.
The story is entertaining and gripping and Claire is excellent as a heroine – suitably wilful and intelligent as a YA heroine should be and yet still managing to not take these to such lengths as to be too much of an anachronism. The world is well realised and manages to merge traditional steampunk standbys such as steam-powered cars and vacuum delivery tubes with appropriate period attitudes and decoration. For example, the concept of there being a political divide between two factions calling themselves the ‘Bloods’ (those who are of noble birth and wish to maintain the status quo) and the ‘Wits’ (those who condone intelligence and skill above birth) is a great idea and works well with this story as Claire finds herself firmly in the middle of the two ideologies as a Blood with Wit tendencies. This fact, like many other differences between Adina’s Victorian Britain and the real world one, are ably presented to the reader in the form of the characters our heroine meets rather than being pushed at us in the form of infodumps.
An historian may have some minor gripes with the presentation of the period or some of the details of aristocratic titles but by and large any details like these may be explained by deliberate differences in the world rather than errors and when one is reading fiction it is best not to worry too much about historicity. Overall, Lady of Devices is an excellent book well worth reading and I am personally looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.