Genre: YA Steampunk
Secondary genre: Alternate history, romance
Series: The Inventor’s Secret vol. 1
I was so excited when I picked this book up. A steampunk novel with a female main character, set in an alternate America in which we lost the Revolution. Alas, I can tell you now that it did not live up to my expectations.
I found Charlotte, the main character, to be spoiled and bland. She lives with a group of other youngsters in a series of caves; their parents sent them away to protect them from “The Empire,” which has forced the descendants of the Patriots into slavery. By sending their children away, they hope they can grow up free and fight for the rebellion.
Okay, I thought. It’s a flimsy excuse, but I won’t poke at it too hard. I kept reading.
The oldest members of their little enclave decide to leave when a strange boy, Grim shows up in their midst. They must get to the bottom of his mysterious appearance, and since he doesn’t remember anything, they have to do it for him.
My suspension of disbelief started to fray a bit here, since they were leaving an 11 or 12 year old in charge of an unknown number of children, but okay.
I finally lost my sense of disbelief wholly when they arrive at the floating city of New York…which is kept aloft by (presumably) steam power, and is made of…metal and stone? Um…
Charlotte is meant to be a “strong female character.” We know this because she is rude, carries a gun, and can’t keep her mouth shut. But there are at least three points in the book where she stands around, bored, waiting for someone to give her orders. She has no agency of her own and makes no decisions for herself, even at the end of the book when she is left in charge of the catacombs while the other teens go off on their first missions.
Adding to the let down, the author tried to shoehorn in diversity by mentioning in the last quarter of the book that a character (who has been there effectively since page one) is possibly black? It’s not stated in so many words, but is heavily implied.
By the end of the book I was so frustrated and just done that I have already decided not to continue with the series, despite a cliffhanger ending. The romance subplot is minor at best, and I really hated Charlotte’s love interest because of how hot and cold he ran; and when he was showing interest, he acted extremely entitled about it, as though Charlotte owed him her love. I spent the bulk of the book thinking about how I would re-write it to make it better.
If you’re looking for steampunk romance with diverse characters and floating cities, Gail Carriger does it better.