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Rec: Steam and Sorcery by Cindy Spencer Pape

Angel’s Adjectives: slow and sentimental

Steam and Sorcery is one of many romance novels written by Cindy Spencer Pape. Anyone who doesn’t like romance novels will not enjoy this book. I picked it up thinking it was steampunk, but it’s actually romance with a dash of steampunk for flavor. Fortunately, I was a romance novel junkie when I was in high school and college, so I actually did have fun reading it.

This is a sentimental, Victorian tale of romance and childcare with a splash of the supernatural thrown in to make it hip. The writing itself is competent and engaging. The main story was the governess’s relationship with the orphans, getting them to like and obey her, and the growing romance between her and her hawt employer.

What can a writer learn from reading this book?

  1. Ms. Pape did a marvelous job of weaving the supernatural talents of her main characters into a plot with a satisfying conclusion. Each main character contributed something to the solution, and she set this up well from early on.
  2. As you read, you’ll quickly see that the characters were stereotypical gothic romance once you look past the fantasy elements. There’s a beleaguered governess, a gang of feisty street urchins, and a noble knight who has more money than love in his life. Over that, Ms. Pape layered faeries, steampunk robots, and an enduring Order of the Round Table that is still active hunting monsters.
     
    As a long-time gothic romance lover, I found the use of stereotypical character archetypes to be a good thing. It felt a bit like coming home. I knew what to expect because I recognized the formula of governess plus handsome/lonely employer plus troubled children. There’s much to be said for using archetypes and for taking a tried and true formula and giving it a new coat.
  3. Note the length of the book. It’s rather short at just under 80k. This actually hindered the book because it didn’t give Ms. Pape the space she needed to pace the plot properly. It advances with herky-jerky jumps at times, and both main characters act out of character because Ms. Pape simply didn’t have the word count to build up to their emotional and moral conclusions.
     
    Oh, and the sex was quite hot, although I didn’t feel like Ms. Pape cranked up the sexual tension enough so that by the time the main characters have sex for the first time, it feels abrupt and out of character for a virginal 19th century governess who left her previous position because her employer attempted to rape her. Of course, her previous employer wasn’t nearly as attractive as a Knight of the Round Table.
  4. I left the book feeling a great deal of affection for all the central “good” characters. Unfortunately, the bad guys never quite gelled for me. They seemed like such tertiary characters that I paid little attention to them. They were superfluous to the heart of the story.
     
    I didn’t get to know the bad guys hardly at all, so distracted was I by the burgeoning romance. Maybe it’s the horror writer in me, but I think this book could have benefited greatly from a more sinister and haunting antagonist.
  5. The story arc made a slow crawl toward resolution, with a great deal of drama among the members of the household. You would expect this from a romance novel, however, as you read it, note how much attention Ms. Pape gives to the governess’s relationship with the children, rather than with the male lead. I would much rather have seen more of her developing relationship with her employer so that their social and sexual intimacy didn’t feel so forced and out of character for the time period.

I do recommend this book to those who have a love of romance novels, but if you’re looking for a steampunk or urban fantasy novel, then you’ll be disappointed.

From Amazon’s Product Description:

Sir Merrick Hadrian hunts monsters, both human and supernatural. A Knight of the Order of the Round Table, his use of magick and the technologies of steam power have made him both respected and feared. But his considerable skills are useless in the face of his greatest challenge, guardianship of five unusual children. At a loss, Merrick enlists the aid of a governess.

Miss Caroline Bristol is reluctant to work for a bachelor but she needs a position, and these former street children touch her heart. While she tends to break any mechanical device she touches, it never occurs to her that she might be something more than human. All she knows is that Merrick is the most dangerously attractive man she’s ever met—and out of reach for a mere governess.

When conspiracy threatens to blur the distinction between humans and monsters, Caroline and Merrick must join forces, and the fate of humanity hinges upon their combined skills of steam and sorcery…

Buy your copy here, although it appears to be available only in Kindle and Audible Audio version. I read the Audible Audio version and found the reader to be quite skilled.

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