Sunday, 13 March 2011

Aboard the Unstoppable Aerostat Fenris by Cameron Chapman

This is an interesting start to Cameron Chapman's Steam and Steel Chronicles, introducing us to her alternative Edwardian steampunk world on the verge of war. Sixteen-year-old Isabelle has been living rough on the streets of Guryev - for some time, we gather, though we're not sure how she got there, not how she came to lose her parents. It's clear, though, that her upbringing has been respectable and, if she's had to learn to live by her wits, there are very distinct lines that she's been able to draw so far. So she's cautiously grateful when airship captain Stig Rayner offers, against what he thinks is probably his better judgement, to take her home to London, where she hopes to find her brother.

This novella-length first instalment sets up its steampunk environment very effectively - there's a lovely Jules Verne feel to the airship Fenris, for example, you could almost see the brass, and feel the woodgrain of the floor, I immediately wanted scale drawings and cutaways, and to know how the engine worked! There's much potential for exoticism when protagonists are as well-travelled as this pair: Isabelle is familiar with India, we learn, while Stig got his striking tattoo in Borneo. His experience extends to dealing with the Sirens, too, creatures was ethereality belies their predatory nature. As they get closer to their first port of call, the Northern Lights evoke the coldness and clarity and beauty of their airborne world, a contrast to the real fear of pirate attack. And then there's the mysterious cargo...

I'm very pleased to see that Cameron Chapman is already working on the next instalment - there's so much history to discover about her characters, and so much more to explore, and she's created a world I want to immerse myself in (though perhaps I'm glad not to have to try to survive in it myself!). My appetite for airship travel has been whetted and I'm longing to climb back aboard the Fenris. I rather hope the cargo turns up again, too.

7 comments:

  1. I'm having to learn about the steampunk phenomenon. I suppose it all began with Philip Reeve, whose work I absolutely love? Off to the library site now to see if they have a copy of this, so that I can keep up with my teenage reading friends.

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  2. Bit earlier than that, Annie - the first novel to be identified as steampunk was really The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling in 1990 (which I thoroughly recommend - "starring", as it were, Ada Lovelace), and Peake and Michael Moorcroft were precursors. I've never read Reeve - and must rectify that - but I get the impression that he would cite Moorcroft as an influence?

    I adore steampunk, so I was really pleased to have been asked to review this novella.

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  3. My steampunk reading experiences have definitely been mixed, but I like the sound of this one and will look for it at the library.

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  4. I loved The Difference Engine, and have loved steampunk ever since, although I've not had time to read much. This one sounds intriguing, and it goes onto the wishlist.

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  5. I've been hearing about steampunk with interest and this sounds like a good book to start with.
    Joanne

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  6. I think you might detect the literary origins of steampunk back to H G Wells, Jules Verne etc. As a "name" it apparently dates from April 1987 and of course these days it is a major influence on "alternative" fashion (see for example Steampunk Couture, Bibian Blue, Maya Hansen, Vecona) as well as music (Abney Park, Vernian Process, Rasputina etc.)

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  7. Stephen Hunt, whose books I've reviewed her, has just published an article on how he came to write steampunk. As there has been some discussion about whether her fits the genre, I thought I'd add the link: http://torforge.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/the-accidental-steampunk/

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