Meljean Brook and Gail Carriger have proven that mixing together alternate history, technology, fantasy and romance can bring about the most delightful results. I loved Carriger’s Soulless and Brook’s Iron Duke, and so when I came across Steam & Sorcery, which sounded like it had some similar themes, I was eager to give it a try.
Book Description: Sir Merrick Hadrian hunts monsters, both human and supernatural. A Knight of the Order of the Round Table, his use of magick and the technologies of steam power have made him both respected and feared. But his considerable skills are useless in the face of his greatest challenge, guardianship of five unusual children. At a loss, Merrick enlists the aid of a governess.
Miss Caroline Bristol is reluctant to work for a bachelor but she needs a position, and these former street children touch her heart. While she tends to break any mechanical device she touches, it never occurs to her that she might be something more than human. All she knows is that Merrick is the most dangerously attractive man she's ever met—and out of reach for a mere governess.
When conspiracy threatens to blur the distinction between humans and monsters, Caroline and Merrick must join forces, and the fate of humanity hinges upon their combined skills of steam and sorcery...
Steam & Sorcery starts off strong and seems to be heading on the path to some interesting destinations, but unfortunately it never quite makes it. The story opens as Sir Merrick is working on cracking a case involving the kidnapping of several women in London. Suddenly, two vampires materialize from the darkness, and attack. Just as Merrick is certain that he is about to die, a group of street urchins intervene and skillfully put an end to the vampires. Merrick is startled to discover how young his saviors are, and that they each appear to possess some magical abilities. Disinclined to leave them to the streets, Merrick invites the children to his home, to become his wards.
This was a great beginning to the story, and I couldn’t wait to find out more about these children and their magic, as well as how they came to be such skilled vampire hunters.
Strangely though, after their initial fight with the vampires, the children become rather unremarkable. Yes, they do each have some kind of magical talent; one sees ghosts, one has prophetic dreams and one can create any kind of mechanical device, but these abilities don’t actually play any substantial part in the story. The story also doesn't explore how the kids were able to defeat the vampires, and- to my disappointment- they don't do anything similarly interesting again.
When a governess is hired to take the unruly children in-hand, the plot begins to follow a familiar pattern. Caroline and Merrick are inexplicably drawn to each other, though they do their best to maintain a professional relationship, for a while, at least. Their relationship follows the predictable path, as does the rest of the story. And when Merrick realizes that there may be a traitor among the Knights, working with the vampires, a couple of none-too-subtle clues make it pretty obvious who the culprit is.
The only real surprise for me about the book was that Pape did not make use of all the interesting elements that she had introduced into the story. I really thought she was going to dress up the traditional Jane Eyre plot with the magical children, supernatural creatures and steampunk technology, and I was really looking forward to see how it would all play out. But neither the magical or paranormal aspects were developed and while there was some steampunk technology, these items were just mentioned but not explained in any way.
While Steam & Sorcery did not turn out to be another Soulless or Iron Duke, it was entertaining enough that I easily read through it in just a few hours. The writing wasn't bad and both Caroline and Merrick are likable characters whom I enjoyed reading about. Readers of romance would probably enjoy this story, though anyone looking for a paranormal or steampunk novel will likely be disappointed.
Steam & Sorcery was provided for review by Net Galley