From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Steamed: A Steampunk Romance by Katie MacAlister

Review by Cynthia Ward

Dr. Jack Fletcher is an experimental scientist, secure in the knowledge that he’s not the hero—a cross between Casanova and Indiana Jones—painted by his reputation. He lives in our world of electricity, nukes, and nanotechnology.

Octavia Pye is a rare female airship captain, newly assigned to His Imperial Majesty’s Airship Tesla. She lives in a world of steam and aetheric technology, serving a British Empire which has expanded to include Prussia.

Their paths cross—and various sparks fly—when a laboratory accident deposits Fletcher and his airhead sister, Hallie, on Pye’s dirigible. Pye concludes they’re air pirates and Hallie is condemned to execution. Fletcher must not only live up to his unearned heroic reputation, but take on the British Empire, to win the captain’s love and save his sister’s life.

The science fiction/fantasy/horror field has a long history of fertilizing other literary fields, creating the supernatural mystery, the techno-thriller, and the paranormal romance. Now, steampunk has crossbred with the romance category.

Katie MacAlister’s Steamed: A Steampunk Romance is one of the first of the new offspring. MacAlister, a New York Times bestselling author of humorous paranormal romance, demonstrates clear familiarity with not just steampunk (which she knowingly teases), but with SF/F. She engages in believable, well-researched world-building, and she slips in her speculative details over the course of the novel, in contrast to those SF/F-ignorant writers who stop their speculative narratives dead with massive info dumps on How This World Came to Be.

This doesn’t mean Steamed belongs in the SF/F section of bookstores. For all its speculative chops it’s a romance, and not only because there’s a romantically upbeat ending. The narrative pays a lot more attention than SF/F traditionally does to attractive features and well-formed body parts. The characters spend a lot more time getting laid. (If SF/F characters knew how much, they’d probably relocate to the romance genre en masse). Also, while jealousy isn’t the major motivator in Steamed, the emotion is more prominent than it would be in SF/F. And—while this is a humor genre detail, and not a romance one—it should be noted that some of the secondary characters are played for very broad humor: the Latin wannabe-lover will make anyone with a trace of Spanish ancestry burst a blood vessel.

If these details don’t bother you, then cross over the genre chasm. Steamed isn’t just real steampunk. It’s good steampunk.

Steamed: A Steampunk Romance
By Katie MacAlister
Signet/New American Library
ISBN: 9780451229311
352 pages | mass market paperback | US$7.99
February 2010

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