I’m always a little hesitant in picking up any book blazoned with the words ‘Steampunk romance’, but I decided to put aside my reservations and pick up the book Corsets and Clockwork, edited by Trish Telep, from the teen section of the library. I wasn’t familiar with the editor, or any of the authors listed in the short story collection, but that didn’t stop me, and I’m very glad it didn’t.
The words teen romance conjure images of Twilight, and that couldn’t be more incorrect as it applies to this book. The stories feature both strong male and female characters, who cover a spectrum of what it means to be a teenager swiftly approaching adulthood. There’s no criticism given; instead, the characters are free to explore whatever avenues of feminism or masculinity they choose. Most of the stories do choose to focus more on women- women who are able to protect their men, be it physically or emotionally. These are independent women who follow their own minds and transgress social boundaries, truly putting the punk in Steampunk.
Although the stories represent a variety of delightful plot lines and plenty of well crafted twists, many are rooted more in the fantasy aspect than they are in Steampunk. Those looking for technology driven stories may end up disappointed, as many of the worlds seem powered with magic, or leave their tech purposefully vague. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of interesting inventions proposed, or that there aren’t enough airships. There are airships a plenty, and Tesla’s works manage to worm their way into more than one tale.
The collection is not without faults. The characters are strong, but every story featured shows only heterosexual relationships, which is regrettable in a book that otherwise presents many good characters geared towards teenagers. Like other Steampunk collections, the stories are all focused on traditional, western Steampunk- either British or American in origin. More variety would have strengthened the book as a whole.
These critiques aside, there are more highs than lows in Corsets and Clockwork. Even the lows are good tales, like the spectacularly unfitting “Chickie Hill’s Badass Ride,” which remains a fun read, despite having nothing to do with Steampunk. The romance is light-hearted, love sometimes coming too soon- but then again, that’s very much a teenage thing. This is a great collection to get a young adult into Steampunk without just throwing them to the sharks. It’s fun to read as an adult as well, remembering what it felt like to be sixteen, with the whole world at your feet.