Steampunk is a unique enough genre that we take notice when something fresh and new comes out. One of my recent discoveries is For Steam and Country: Book One of the Adventures of Baron von Monocle by Jon Delarroz. Like our own Ione D series, the book has a young, feisty female protagonist, Zaira von Monocle. Her mother died when she was quite young, and her father is missing and presumed dead as well. She lives on her own, with the small farm she’s inherited as her income. Then she receives an official visitor from the government, Captain von Cravat, who informs her that she has inherited her father’s wondrous airship, Liliana. Furthermore, her father may actually be alive, a captive of the evil Wyranth Emperor. Zaira’s fondest wish is to rescue her father, but the King forbids it. War is brewing, and the country needs the Liliana to prevail against its powerful Wyranth neighbor.
The book is set in the imaginary country of Rislandia which brings me to an important point. Although most steampunk stories (including those Arlys and I write) take place in a fictionalized version of the past, others (such as the popular graphic novel series Lantern City) don’t. Steam and Country occurs in a fantasy setting with no mention of Great Britain or America. Nonetheless, it fulfills the requirements for steampunk by being based in a steam-powered society with such nineteenth-century social institutions such as a benevolent monarch. (Should we perhaps call it “Alt-Steampunk?”) The fantasy setting gives the writer more creative latitude, including the ability to give his characters whimsical surnames such as von Monocle, von Cravat, and du Gearsmith. (At one point another character remarks that Zaira doesn’t wear a monocle. That’s just my name, she replies)
Steam and Country is fast-paced and the characters are engaging. Its teenage protagonist and family-friendly content place it squarely in the “young adult” category. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed it as a “not so young adult,” especially as the action picked up in the latter half of the book. My only complaint is that Del Arroz says little about the technology of the airship itself. Having read the author’s blog, I believe this is a conscious rejection of mainstream hard science fiction and its dictum that everything must be explained. I agree, in the sense that the story itself is paramount. But like most steampunk fans I love gadgetry and what to know a bit about how the airship works. Does it use a lighter than air technology, or something entirely different? Hopefully, we’ll find out more about this in subsequent books.
That one issue aside, I highly recommend For Steam and Country, both to current fans of steampunk and newcomers. Since it is Book 1 in a series, we can look forward to enjoying Zaira’s adventures for some time to come.