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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
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Books for Adults - Fiction

Cover Art: Steam & Stratagem
Steam & Stratagem
By Christopher Hoare
Tyche Books, 2013, ISBN 978-0-9918369-7-0, $15.95
e-Book ISBN 978-0-9918369-8-7, $6.99

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At twenty-two, Roberta Stephenson is an engineer with beauty and brains, and she’d much rather design and work on steamships than even consider marriage. When she refuses her father’s latest suggestion for a husband, he relents and allows her to manage the Stephenson Engine Works shipyard in Glasgow, Scotland.

Aboard his private yacht in the summer of 1814, Julian, Lord Bond is sailing for England when a French sloop fires several broadsides. He fears his secretly acquired knowledge of Napoleon’s latest invasion plans will sink with the yacht, but just as he becomes resigned to a watery grave, smoke appears on the horizon. An English steam warship swoops in and gravely wounds the French vessel.

Aboard the Spiteful, which she is testing for the Royal Navy, Roberta rescues Julian and his crew. She designed this secret weapon, a warship with superior speed and maneuverability, to sink enemy vessels. The more Julian learns about it, the more he’s inclined to believe this technology is exactly what is needed to counteract Napoleon’s Leviathan. The Admiralty awards Roberta a contract for ten more of these warships. They also ask her to design a larger and deadlier steamship to disrupt Napoleon’s latest plans.

When Roberta thwarts the foreigners who attempt to assassinate them on their way to London, Julian devises a plan that will aid him on his next mission. With her knowledge of and expertise on steam, she would be perfect to play his wife when he next goes undercover on the Continent. But Roberta is unmarried and has no training in espionage, plus several influential and powerful people, including his father, disagree with Julian.

As they work closely together, a mutual attraction grows between Julian and Roberta. But she’s leery of his reputation with the ladies; besides he wouldn’t marry a commoner like herself. Other suitors wait in the wings, not least of which are Julian’s brother, Symington Holmes, and the naval commander who helped Roberta put Spiteful through her paces when they rescued Julian.

Symington is chosen to replace Roberta, and the brothers go to Amsterdam to meet a French nobleman. Only after this man learns what Julian seeks does the Admiralty discover he is not the friend they had been led to believe. With Julian and Symington’s lives at risk, only Roberta can save them.

Set during the Regency Era, this steampunk adventure is a combination of science fiction and historical fiction where nineteenth-century technology plays an integral role in the story.* The story begins like a Regency romance, but the reader soon realizes this book is not typical of the genre. While potential romances are woven into the tale, the steamship and doing what one must for king and country play a far more important role. It was refreshing to see a strong female character who was respected and treated as an equal in a man’s world. Yet, for the most part, the social parameters of this time period are maintained, and Julian, at times, comes across as a typical male. Hoare keeps the reader guessing as to which suitor will win Roberta’s hand, or if she will even marry.

I’ve only recently delved into the world of steampunk, and being a fan of historical fiction, I find I like it. Wooden sailing ships have always held greater appeal for me than steam, but for the first time, steamships intrigued me. Hoare superbly blends the technology with the fiction and subterfuge. His characters have traits you tend to like and dislike, which make them three dimensional. I thoroughly enjoyed this voyage, and I look forward to reading the sequel, which should be as thrilling and fascinating as Steam & Stratagem.
Meet the author

*For those unfamiliar with “steampunk,” I recommend reading the following blogs that attempt to define this genre: A History of Steampunk – Definitions, A History of Steampunk – Origins, and What Is Steampunk?


Review Copyrighted ©2014 Cindy Vallar
 
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