Thanks to Urban Dictionary, I can better explain steampunk. (Ah-hem.) Steampunk literature “is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan, ‘What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’”
AH! See, I get it now! I didn’t get it until I got the chance to read my very first steampunk novel, The Clockwork Dagger by Arizona author Beth Cato. There was some further confusion when I realized a “clockwork dagger” is not actually a shiny knife covered in Rolexes. Nay, a clockwork dagger is one of the queen’s spies and assassins. But I’m really getting ahead of myself.
Octavia Leander was orphaned as a child but brought up under the tutelage of Miss Percival, who taught Octavia to be a medician, otherwise known as a “healer.” Octavia showed extreme promise. That’s because she’s a super-duper medician, devoted to the Lady: a higher power personified by a mysterious, lost Tree.
When Octavia comes of age, she is sent on a journey. She will take an airship and become the medician of a small town far away from Miss Percival and Octavia’s upbringing. Octavia is excited at the chance to save people and travel. Her excitement is heightened as she boards her airship and meets hottie-hot steward Alonzo Garrett (who has a secret). Octavia is also tailed by the overly friendly Mrs. Stout (who has some big secrets of her own).
Octavia’s trip is interrupted first by a swarm of mechanical gremlins, one of whom she befriends and names “Leaf.” (I love Leaf!) Then, Octavia’s life is threatened. It would appear someone wants her dead. Her brush with death brings her ever closer to the charming Alonzo. (Yum.) Together, they must figure out why someone would want to kill Octavia. Does it have to do with the rebels who fight against the Queen? Is a clockwork dagger perhaps aboard the ship?
Cato knows how to write, and hey, that’s saying something in a literary world oversaturated with young adult melodrama. She has created a well-rounded, detailed world. I’m especially fond of Octavia’s medician powers, as well as Octavia’s faithful, unquestioning devotion to the Lady. Oh, and Octavia’s outfit! She wears this all-white dress that soaks in stains. (I need one.)
The Clockwork Dagger is action-packed from page one, and the conflict moves along swimmingly and with ease. In fact, even the reader is conflicted. For one, who are we to trust: the rebels or the Queen’s men? Is the Lady as all-powerful and loving as Octavia might think? When is Octavia going to KISS ALONZO? See? Conflict.
This is a book about serious problems, but Cato doesn’t take herself too seriously. There are moments of laughter and romance. There’s nothing depressing about Clockwork Dagger. In fact, I left this book hungry for more. Thankfully, there’s a sequel already in the works. I highly suggest this thrilling debut—my first foray into steampunk—and a welcome addition to an ever-expanding, interesting genre.