If you’re an avid steampunk reader or just delving into the distinctive and exciting world of steampunk we hope this short list helps you find your next must-read book.
1. Soulless, by Gail Carriger
Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.
Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire—and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.
With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?
Soulless is the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.
2. Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.
Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.
Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.
With the Great War brewing, Alek’s and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way … taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.
3. Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville
Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to none—not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.
4. The Little Ships, by J.A. Sutherland
Newly commissioned lieutenant, Alexis Carew is appointed into HMS Shrewsbury, a 74-gun ship of the line in New London’s space navy. She expects Shrewsbury will be sent into action in the war against Hanover, but instead she finds that she and her new ship are pivotal in a Foreign Office plot to bring the star systems of the French Republic into the war and end the threat of Hanover forever.
5. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne
During the year 1866, ships of several nations spot a mysterious sea monster, which some suggest to be a giant narwhal. The United States government assembles an expedition in New York City to find and destroy the monster. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a French marine biologist and narrator of the story, who happens to be in New York at the time, receives a last-minute invitation to join the expedition which he accepts. Canadian whaler and master harpoonist Ned Land and Aronnax’s faithful servant Conseil are also brought aboard.
The expedition departs Brooklyn aboard the United States Navy frigate Abraham Lincoln and travels south around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean. The ship finds the monster after a long search and then attacks the beast, which damages the ship’s rudder. The three protagonists are then hurled into the water and grasp hold of the “hide” of the creature, which they find, to their surprise, to be a submarine very far ahead of its era. They are quickly captured and brought inside the vessel, where they meet its enigmatic creator and commander, Captain Nemo.
6. Storming: A Dieselpunk Adventure, by K.M. Weiland
In the high-flying, heady world of 1920s aviation, brash pilot Robert “Hitch” Hitchcock’s life does a barrel roll when a young woman in an old-fashioned ball gown falls from the clouds smack in front of his biplane. As fearless as she is peculiar, Jael immediately proves she’s game for just about anything, including wing-walking in his struggling airshow. In return for her help, she demands a ride back home … to the sky.
Hitch thinks she’s nuts—until he steers his plane into the midst of a bizarre storm and nearly crashes into a strange airship like none he’s ever run afoul of, an airship with the power to control the weather. Caught between a corrupt sheriff and dangerous new enemies from above, Hitch must take his last chance to gain forgiveness from his estranged family, deliver Jael safely home before she flies off with his freewheeling heart, and save his Nebraska hometown from storm-wielding sky pirates.
Cocky, funny, and full of heart, Storming is a jaunty historical adventure / dieselpunk mash-up that combines rip-roaring steampunk adventure and small-town charm with the thrill of futuristic possibilities.
7. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials), by Philip Pullman
Lyra Belacqua is content to run wild among the scholars of Jodan College, with her daemon familiar always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle—a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armored bears. And as she hurtles toward danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, this more-than-mortal battle.
Philip Pullman’s award-winning The Golden Compass is a masterwork of storytelling and suspense, critically acclaimed and hailed as a modern fantasy classic.
This Yearling paperback edition includes 15 pages of bonus material: some found letters of Lord Asriel, his scientific notes and other archival documents. This edition also features artwork by Philip Pullman at the opening of each chapter.
8. Beneath London: A Tale of Langdon St. Ives, by James P. Blaylock
The collapse of the Victoria Embankment uncovers a passage to an unknown realm beneath the city. Langdon St. Ives sets out to explore it, not knowing that a brilliant and wealthy psychopathic murderer is working to keep the underworld’s secrets hidden for reasons of his own.
St. Ives and his stalwart friends investigate a string of ghastly crimes: the gruesome death of a witch, the kidnapping of a blind, psychic girl, and the grim horrors of a secret hospital where experiments in medical electricity and the development of human, vampiric fungi, serve the strange, murderous ends of perhaps St. Ives’s most dangerous nemesis yet.
9. The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
The Difference Engine is an alternate history novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. A prime example of the steampunk sub-genre, it posits a Victorian Britain in which great technological and social change has occurred after entrepreneurial inventor Charles Babbage succeeded in his ambition to build a mechanical computer called Engines.
The fierce summer heat and pollution have driven the ruling class out of London and the resulting anarchy allows technology-hating Luddites to challenge the intellectual elite. A set of perforated punch cards come into the hands of the daughter of an executed Luddite leader who sets out to keep them safe and discover what secrets they contain.
10. The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook
After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power-and fear-of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.
But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans-and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen, as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.
11. Changeless, by Gail Carriger
Alexia Tarabotti, now Lady Maccon, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears–leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria.
But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her into the backwaters of ugly waistcoats, Scotland, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only A soulless can.
She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.
12. The Girl in the Steel Corset, by Kady Cross
In 1897 England, 16-year-old Finley Jayne has no one … except the “thing” inside her
When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch.
Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she’s special, says she’s one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets, against the wishes of his band of misfits. And Finley thinks she might finally be a part of something, finally fit in—until a criminal mastermind known as the Machinist threatens to tear the group apart….
Included for the first time in print, meet Finley in her first adventure The Strange Case of Finley Jaynethe novella prequel to The Girl in the Steel Corset!
13. Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld
The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.
Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan’s peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.
Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what’s ahead.
14. Retribution Falls, by Chris Wooding
Sky piracy is a bit out of Darian Frey’s league. Fate has not been kind to the captain of the airship Ketty Jay—or his motley crew. They are all running from something. Crake is a daemonist in hiding, traveling with an armored golem and burdened by guilt. Jez is the new navigator, desperate to keep her secret from the rest of the crew. Malvery is a disgraced doctor, drinking himself to death. So when an opportunity arises to steal a chest of gems from a vulnerable airship, Frey can’t pass it up. It’s an easy take—and the payoff will finally make him a rich man.
But when the attack goes horribly wrong, Frey suddenly finds himself the most wanted man in Vardia, trailed by bounty hunters, the elite Century Knights, and the dread queen of the skies, Trinica Dracken. Frey realizes that they’ve been set up to take a fall but doesn’t know the endgame. And the ultimate answer for captain and crew may lie in the legendary hidden pirate town of Retribution Falls. That’s if they can get there without getting blown out of the sky.
15. Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare
True love is shrouded in secrets and lies in the enchanting second book in the #1 New York Times bestselling Infernal Devices Trilogy series.
In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.
With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined.
As their dangerous search for the Magister and the truth leads the friends into peril, Tessa learns that when love and lies are mixed, they can corrupt even the purest heart.
16. Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher
Incarceron—a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology—a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber—chains, great halls, dungeons. A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here.
In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison— a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists. But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device—a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn’s escape is born …
“I loved the book. It’s a crazy, cool, dark world … it’s a great story.” — Taylor Lautner, star of the Twilight movies
This story was first published on This Is Writing.