This is a book review for books one to four (available as a box set here) of The Magnificent Devices Series by Shelly Adina.
It seems to be the season for discovering great steampunk novels and these impressed me almost as much as the A. W. Exley ones, despite having an entirely different style.
The story follows Claire Trevelyan, our plucky young heroine, who is cast adrift in the snobby world of Victorian London Society when her father invests all their money into the wrong venture and then commits suicide. Shunned by everyone, she finds herself out on the streets and falls in with a rag tag group of children who teach her survival. As they pull together, there’s an equilibrium that forms somewhere halfway between aristocratic ton and alley rat, which is just as well because adventure beckons.
And what adventures they are! From the gritty underbelly of London city to the arid plains of Texico (no, that’s not a spelling mistake) and the frozen wastes of Canada, the romp never ends. From steam trains to air ships to improbable electrics, they’re all employed in a wild and enjoyable ride which I was only too happy to be swept along on.
I loved the characters. Claire is great – smart, stubborn, warm and with a moral compass that’s so rigid it doesn’t always obey the law, you can’t help but want to cheer for her. I loved the children too – it’s not easy to give each character so much personality when you have such a massive cast, but Adina manages it with seeming ease. I was sorry that Snout didn’t go with them on their airship adventures, but I was still happy to follow along with all the others. Even Selwyn…right up until the whole thing with the patent I was secretly hoping he might turn out to be a Darcy type character.
I’m not sure what age group these books were aimed at. While they appear to be marketed as adult novels, I actually think there’s an awful lot there to recommend them to Young Adults too. There’s no naughtiness and while it may be argued that there are some dark topics and themes in it, that’s kind of a standard in young adult novels now (Hunger Games!). I just think that these books follow Claire at the cusp of her transition from adolescent to adult, where she’s confused by the attentions of men and her duties and responsibilities as a grown woman in society. She learns great responsibility and also great sacrifice. She learns a great many things about the world, not least the meanness and also great kindness of others. She’s not the only character going through this transition either – Alice has to learn to let go of the ties that hold her down and learn to make her own way in the world. Tigg and Jake both have to choose between duty and childhood comforts. These are powerful stories for young adults still trying to find their way in a world as confusing as this one.
I adored all the steampunk elements, which blended seamlessly with real places and events, such as Bedlam, Prince Albert and the Crystal Palace. The author should be congratulated for her innovative and imaginative take on what could all too easily become tired elements of the steampunk lexicon – automatons, airships and landaus.
I had secretly hoped for a book five where Claire heads to Prussia with Baron Zeppelin, but it appears that the next couplet of books follow other characters in this series. I’ll still download them and enjoy them just as much, but it would be my only gripe – I wanted a more concrete ending for this first quartet and for Claire. After all we’ve been through with her, it would be nice to have more than hints.
Thoroughly recommended, for teens, young adults and adults alike.