I am a sucker for a good steampunk novel. However, there are a lot of novels out there I simply slog through (see: Whitechapel Gods) and some I fly through (anything by the amazing Gail Carriger). I tend to like things that have a good sense of humor to them. I have enough anxiety to be getting on with, I don’t want some dour, depressing book as escapism. Elizabeth Chatworth’s The Brass Queen is very Carriger-esque and therefore right in my wheelhouse. Beware spoilers – this book came out in January.
In this world, Queen Victoria is a straight up tyrant. No Parliament. No due process. British Red Coats could kill for the slightest reason and the cops were keen to hang any and all criminals. Miss Constance Haltwhistle is a baron’s daughter and a weapons dealer. Unusual combo for a Victorian woman, but with her father in an alternate dimension, she needed to be able to keep her hall and her people cared for. Unfortunately, being a woman, she couldn’t inherit (yes, this was an actual law during Victorian times, though I’m not sure if that’s different now with British peerage), so she had to get married – quickly. As in, by about three days from the time we’re introduced to her.
Things don’t go smoothly. There are invisible people driving giant exo-suits who break up the party she was husband hunting at – her own (very late) coming out party. There’s a terribly dressed American man and some kidnapping. And let’s not forget the biggest roadblock to her husband hunting – Constance herself. She’s…not quite likeable? She’s a strong, independent woman, which I generally like, but the writer kind of casts her as a bit of a harpy. She doesn’t listen to anyone else’s ideas, even when they’re clearly better than her own. She doesn’t apologize when she does something stupid or insane and people end up getting hurt. Some of it can be blamed for having a mad scientist of a father who never let her leave the family estate, but not all of it.
I’m not a fan of the strong woman = harpy thing. It’s…lazy. I’m also not a fan of the strong woman = psychopath thing (think Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye or Alya from Dune). You can have a strong, complex woman who is not a harpy or a psychopath (Mako Mori in Pacific Rim). I digress.
Miss Haltwhistle has to investigate the kidnapping that ruined her coming out party with the unfortunately dressed American man, JF Trusdale, who isn’t all he seems (natch). They stumble and bumble their way through an investigation, thwart naked and invisible Swedes and and up playing a very violent game of polo with a murderous royal (one of Victoria’s grandsons). This is a fun romp through a very different Victorian England. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book and hope that Constance Haltwhistle will become more of a well rounded female character.
If you’re looking for a bit of light, fun steampunk reading, I recommend picking this up. She’s very much in the vein of Gail Carriger, so if you like her books, you should like The Brass Queen. Rating: A-. Some tropes, especially surrounding the main female character, but overall enjoyable. And before you ask, no, this isn’t a prank/April fool’s joke. This is a legit book. Get it through Amazon or another book provider.