I was given an advance reader copy of Steel and Bone in exchange for an honest review.
Generally I would give an overall review, but I had vastly different opinions from one story to the next, so you’ll get the rundown on each of them.
The Clockwork Seer
by Katherine Cowley: On an island of oddities, a young clairvoyant struggles for normalcy, but deadly automatons have other plans.
This story wound up with a jerky start, with rather abrupt transitions left and right, but then the story started running smoothly. I enjoyed following the mechanical prophetess, as she strove to follow her own visions through a suspenseful plot. The ending, however, seemed a little pat, even flat.
by Scott E. Tarbet: A slave girl in Zanzibar escapes a beating when a stranger in the marketplace proves her past is more than just a fairy tale.
It is with regret that I say I came away from this story with an impression of hollow trope and nothing else. It tried to be cosmopolitan, featuring many different races and cultures, but didn’t give you a true sense of any race or culture at all–except where they were such caricatures as to make me cringe. The main character seemed motivated only by the author’s poking pen, and no amount of mechanical marvels could save plot, character, or voice from being painfully 2-dimensional.
Stand and Deliver
by TC Phillips: Neither shackles, slave labor, nor the island’s deadliest inhabitants will prevent these brothers from meting out justice to their father’s murderers.
The main characters felt fully formed, lifelike and likeable, and the voice was engaging. It stretched my suspension of disbelief a bit towards the end, which was also a bit pat, but I was thoroughly enough on the characters’ team by then that I gladly forgave them that. Entertaining, with just-so touches of rage and sorrow.
by C. R. Simper: Kit digs her treasures out of trash heaps, but the theft of her invention leads to discoveries money can’t buy.
In Island Walker, I found my favorite main character in the anthology. She was brilliant and captivating, self-possessed, amusing; a determined underdog, to be sure, but without any real chip on her shoulder. Beyond that, there were quirks of character around the corners that marked her out as different from your name-brand heroine. The other characters were also unique and breathing, and the relationship dynamics lived and changed. The plot arc drew me on and sated me at the end, and the unobtrusive writing style showcased well the hallmarks of steampunk–not just zeppelins and steam bots, but the creative and adventurous minds behind them.
A Mind Prone to Wander
by Danielle E. Shipley: Beyond a locked door lies Rowan Charles’ death or his sanity, and the survival or extinction of his people.
Richly visual, beautifully told through the eyes of a tragic main character, this story was… hard to follow. Perhaps that’s because it centers around madness, but as lovely as the writing was, as enthralling as I found the characters, I spent way too much time saying, “Wait… huh? What?” It’s hard to get caught up in the plot when you’re not sure what’s actually happening–or why–from the halfway point and on.
by Sarah E. Seeley: The future of humanity rests in the hands of three time-traveling scientists battling biomechanical creatures in the Jurassic past.
I’d call this a well-written, well-characterized long vignette. It’s conflicts were interesting, the suspense sometimes had me wide- eyed, but its main plot arc, if existent, was extremely weak. It seemed to center around a son’s attitude towards his father, which shifted… all of a millimeter? All the way from You shouldn’t be doing this, I intend to make you stop, to You shouldn’t be doing this, I intend to make you stop. Yeah, more of a big slice-in-the-time-traveling-steampunk-life than anything.
The Mysterious Island of Chester Morrison
by Kin Law: Dodging her chaperone, a debutante stumbles into adventure and romance at the World’s Fair.
Elegant, and slightly stuffy, but deliberately so, with hilarious flights of fancy and ridiculous overdramatic spinnings of the mind. I considered it the most ostentatiously steampunk story in this steampunk antho. I’m not sure whether I much like our well-bred protagonist, but I certainly do love her. It also held this little gem: “Those well-adjusted to a sick world cannot be called healthy.” Now, the plot was much too straightforward for my taste, and the ending something of a yawn, but the voice carried it well.
by John M. Olsen: A dirigible captain goes down with his ship, and wakes to find himself a captive of a sky-dwelling civilization.
There was no connection with the antagonist–I never understood what made him so adamant that their information shouldn’t be shared. He didn’t seem to have any life to him, and honestly, the female main character seemed hardly better. The conflict seemed a bit dull, as did the conclusion. The first scene was well-written and engaging, though, and I cared about the captain’s fate for the first half of the story before the interest gained by the first scene just petered out.
The Steel Inside
by Gail B. Williams: Darkness lurks in Sarah’s forgotten past, kept hidden by those who claim to be her devoted husband and loyal servants.
My first thought was that the first scene really dragged out the main character’s seemingly useless observations and sensations. Fortunately, that was the last negative thought I had about this story. I was swiftly drawn into and on through the story by its sense of mystery. Like the main character, I felt that a lot of details of the tale seemed off. I shared her underlying discomfort as she searched–sometimes fervently, sometimes reluctantly–for answers. And the ending… well, she wasn’t the only one stunned by the revelation. Well-played all around. This ties with Island Walker for my favorite tale in Steel and Bone.