In my never-ending quest to experience more classic steampunk, I acquired an audio-book copy of Shelly Adina’s Lady of Devices: A Steampunk Adventure. Recently I’ve been complaining about how some of the novels that are classified as steampunk don’t fit the genre. Lady of Devices is not one of those – it’s as steampunk as one can possibly get.
There are, as I’ve noted before, multiple kinds of steampunk. There is fantasy, futuristic, and historical. Lady of Devices is my favorite sort, the latter. The protagonist is a young female aristocrat named Claire Trevelyan who is about to graduate from high school. She loves science and wants to be an engineer, but her parents won’t allow it. They want her to marry a man of “good blood” and become a housewife. As we might expect in a young-adult novel, Claire despises the young aristocrat who comes to court her.
This central conflict fits in well with the setting, an alternate history similar to that posited by Gibson and Sterling’s classic The Difference Engine. The British Empire has elevated men of science to the Peerage; for example, Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. This has caused a division between these new upper classes (the “Wits”) and the hereditary aristocracy (the “Bloods.”) Claire is a Blood who’d rather be a Wit.
Before she can resolve her dilemma, Fate deals her a much more serious problem. Her father, bankrupt and hounded by creditors due to a risky investment scheme, commits suicide. Her mother goes to the countryside with her baby brother leaving her on her own to deal with the disposition of the main estate. Claire applies for jobs, and is thrilled to get the opportunity to work as a lab assistant for the brilliant and handsome Andrew Malvern– but her arrogant former suitor is his financial backer.
Before she can sort this out, an angry crowd of investors demolishes the family home and her few friends abandon her. As she flees trouble in the family’s steam car, she encounters even worse trouble. A gang of delinquent youths attack her and steal her possessions, including the car.
Claire is not the type to be easily defeated. Using her wits and her scientific knowledge, she takes revenge on the youth gang. After earning their respect, she becomes their leader and channels their talents away from thievery. How does she do this? You’ll need to read the book to find out.
My most serious criticism is that some of the science in this book, particularly the chemistry, doesn’t hold up. Steampunk has always called for some suspension of disbelief since it views the natural world through the limits of the Victorian perspective. Still, I would have like it to be a bit more plausible. Secondly, the book is rather short; it’s definitely set up as a sequel, but Adina makes that clear by its designation as “Book 1.” Some male readers may be put off by the book’s female-centric focus on fashion and relationships, but I see it as part of the fun of seeing the world from a different perspective.
Regarding the audiobook version, narrator Fiona Hardingham has a charming British accent and does a decent job on the character voices without getting over-dramatic.
Shelly Adina’s Lady of Devices has a headstrong, sympathetic heroine and a fun and engaging story. I’ll definitely be checking out the sequels. I give it 4.5 stars.