Avast children of the steam! Today I am pleased to announce that Alex Woolf is sharing his favourite YA steampunk reads with us.
So put on your goggles, brew a cuppa tea and push play on Abney Park’s Airship Pirates and have a read…
I’ve been asked to put together a list of my top steampunk books for children and teenagers. As it happens, most of the steampunk books I’ve read so far were written for adults. I’ve now learned that there is a whole library out there of fabulous-looking steam-powered stories for younger readers, which I plan to start reading as soon as I find the time. For this reason, the following list is rather short, and in no way comprehensive. Call it a list-in-progress!
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
I read this trilogy before I’d even heard of the term steampunk. Although I read it as an adult, it had a similar heady impact on me as the Narnia books, which I read as a child. It follows two children’s adventures through various parallel worlds and includes talking, armoured bears, vagabond gyptians (gypsies) and a Texan with a hot-air balloon. I loved the second one, The Subtle Knife, in particular.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Someone recommended this book to me, thinking I’d love it – and they were right! It’s set on the eve of World War I, but a very different World War I than the one we’ve studied in history books. In this world, the Axis Powers are armed with Clankers, steam-driven iron machines bristling with guns. Opposing them are the British ‘Darwinists’, whose weapons are specially altered animals. Leviathan is their whale-airship, the most powerful beast in the British fleet. The story, focusing on a boy prince and an aviator girl caught up in the action, is enhanced by some beautifully intricate illustrations. Altogether wonderful!
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
The premise of this book is so ingenious I wish I’d thought of it myself. Imagine it: mobile cities! Big cities hunting down and eating smaller cities for their resources. It’s called ‘Municipal Darwinism’. Added to this, it’s a real page-turner: an adventure involving murder plots, obsession and betrayal. The book features a host of unforgettable characters, including Grike, a veteran soldier who’s more machine than man, Chrystler Peavey, the posh pirate, and Mayor Chrome, the power-mad leader of London.
The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling
This book, by my Curious Fox stablemate, is a high-tension, high-wire adventure set in a gritty alternative Victorian London. The star of the show is Remy Brunel, a circus performer who moonlights as a jewel thief. She is a character you can’t help warming to, not least because of all her delightful contradictions: a noble soul forced by circumstances to work as a criminal; ephemeral as a butterfly yet with a will of iron; obstinately independent, yet she cannot resist the pull of love when it finds her. A top trapeze artiste, Remy defies expectations as well as gravity, and much the same can be said for the book, which begins as a fairly straightforward jewel hunt and then transforms into something much stranger and more intriguing as our unlikely band of heroes race to foil the plans of the evil Lord Abernathy. The book builds to an extremely tense and exciting climax as we follow Remy and her friends into a netherworld of labyrinthine tunnels beneath London, where we encounter some truly weird and wonderful steampunk machines.
Cloud Riders by Nick Cook
I declare an interest with this one, as Nick Cook is a friend, and I read and commented on various drafts of this book before it was published. However, I can say hand on heart that if I’d chanced across this book afresh, without knowing Nick, I’d still have loved it. The hero, Dom, lives with his mother, who runs the Twister Diner in Tornado Alley, USA. After a year-long drought, with the diner about to go bust, a tornado suddenly appears – the first in months – and emerging from it is a mysterious airship, which crashes in Dom’s yard. It’s the start of an amazing adventure through parallel worlds for Dom and his best friend Jules. The book is exceptionally good at charting the emotional journey of the main characters, but what I loved most was the world building, the amazing technology and the rich and atmospheric descriptions. I recommend this to anyone who’s ever wished there were other worlds out there and longs for a chance to explore them.