What is steampunk?
That’s a tricky question with a lot of different answers! Is it sci-fi? Is it fantasy? Is it alternate history? Is it an aesthetic where you glue gears onto a top hat and drink tea from a crooked teacup?
Depending on who you ask, it could be all of the above! According to Wikipedia, it's a hybrid genre because it incorporates elements of many other genres, including fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, horror, historical fiction, and other branches of speculative fiction. The term was first used in 1987, but it's been applied to earlier works including books about fictional machines by H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.
There are so many cool things about this genre. Here are my Top 5 Favorite Things About Steampunk!
Corsets! (and other cool fashions)
Airships! (realistic or not)
Machines! Steampowered, clockwork, automatons, or other types–the more whimsical, the better!
Magitech! Combining magic and technology into new and exciting inventions.
Punk! This is what separates steampunk from Victorian novels. Punk is rebellious. Punk breaks the rules. Punk tears down oppression and fights for the underdog!
YA Steampunk Books
If you want to learn more about steampunk, the best way is to dive right in! Here are some YA steampunk books that I've enjoyed.
Highlights: lovable female protagonist, slow-burn romance, action-packed, airships
Nyssa Glass is a reformed cat burglar turned electrician's apprentice, settled into a life repairing videophones and radio-sets. However, when her past comes calling, she finds herself on the run for a murder she did not commit. As her quiet life goes up in sparks, she must face killer robots, menacing villains, and sarcastic computers in a race for survival.
Nyssa has her hands full just trying to stay one step ahead of the police, but she still has time for adventure, humor, and even a taste of romance.
Highlights: blood and found family, slow-burn romance, circus, sisters
The secret lies with the Heart.
Born with a magical knack for manipulating emotions, Leodora’s only dream is to ensure her talented little sister dances on the biggest, brightest stage in the Republic: The Curiosity, a grand old theater of tradition and innovation. After escaping a cruel carnival, Leo secures her sister a place in the Curiosity’s chorus line, and herself a job as a professional audience member, swaying the crowd’s mood with her magic. The girls have a home for the first time in their lives.
Then a tragic accident darkens the theater. A greedy businessman begins blackmailing Leo, and financial woes threaten to close the show forever. The Curiosity’s sole hope lies in a mythical power source hidden beneath the maze-like passages and trapdoors of the theater—the Heart. And Leo’s only friend Paxton, nephew of the theater’s stagemistress, is the key to finding it.
While Leo and Paxton hunt for the Heart, the blackmailer’s threats loom larger. Mysterious figures, cryptic clues, and deadly traps hinder the search at every turn. If the friends cannot recover the Heart in time, Leo and her sister will be cast out of the only home they’ve ever known, and the final curtain will fall on The Curiosity.
Highlights: dystopian society, magical machines, dreams, conspiracy
What is real, Eila?
When Eila Doyle first hears the strange boy calling from somewhere deep in her sleep, she begins to question her sanity. In the gleaming steampunk world of Waldron's Gate, citizens aren't meant to dream -- and those who eschew their daily Crumble and dare to do so anyway face madness … and imprisonment in Joffrey Columns, the asylum of towers.
And yet, "Dreaming" of a very specific sort is what Eila does every day at the Ministry of Manifestation with her mind hooked to the great engine, called the Blunderbuss. She's accustomed to using her thoughts to Build all that the city needs … but never before have her thoughts been so dark, so laced with demons and shadows. Now those nighttime visions hint at dark conspiracy, a millennium of lies, and a fathomless secret hiding beneath the quiet streets.
As Eila follows the boy down the rabbit hole, she discovers secrets that were meant to remain hidden. She discovers an unknown caste of underlings, an unknown place underneath the city. And she learns of her terrible destiny as her own dreams and reality blur, as "what is real?" becomes something uncertain.
Highlights: challenging gender norms, scientific experiments, easy read
All she wants is to be an engineer, but her parents—and society—will never allow it. Until riots break out in steampunk London and she seizes her chance...
It’s 1889, and Claire Trevelyan is expected to do nothing more with her life than catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, her talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the laboratory, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. When her father gambles the estate on the combustion engine despite the fact that everyone knows the world runs on steam, Claire finds herself out in the street with nothing to her name but her steam landau and her second best hat. But the embarrassments of her old life just might be the talents that save her now ... and it’s not long before a new leader rises in the underworld, known only as the Lady of Devices…
Highlights: adventure, assassin, fast-paced, diverse world, enemies-to-friends
Blackmail an assassin? Who would do such a thing?
Someone pretty desperate, that’s who. Which is exactly the position Rory finds herself in.
As a scrawny, dreadlocked pickpocket who grew up on the street, life hasn’t given her a ton of options. On top of which, her partner in crime has screwed her over for all her money, so she can no longer pay for the sword master who was supposed to train her—her ticket to a new life.
She’s not prepared to give up on her dream of becoming a great sword fighter, though. Which is why when she stumbles across an assassin’s secret, she immediately sniffs an opportunity. Blackmail can be a pretty effective strategy, after all. If he trains her, she’ll keep her mouth shut.
The risks in blackmailing an assassin are pretty high, but if she can pull it off, she might finally be able to realise her dream.
That is until she realises that the assassin’s she’s blackmailing is nothing like what she thought, and she’s landed herself into far more trouble than she bargained for.
Highlights: circus, enemies-to-lovers, competition, beautiful setting, awesome magic
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
Highlights: magical girls, gods, lesbian romance, dystopian society, airships, sisters
A clumsy school girl with the magic of a goddess. Mechanical beasts attacking her friends. Can she become a divine warrior and save the floating city?
Fifteen-year-old Riwenne is bad at school, chronically late, and lost in a daydream, but she has help from her best friend, Nexita—until the two of them get separated. During the mysterious test on Choosing Day, they both wanted to become priestesses, an important job in the sky city. But only Riwenne became a novice, and Nexita was chosen by the engineers. Now she’s on her own for the first time in her life.
When a talking bird tells her that her best friend is under attack, Riwenne faces her worst fear. She must become a divine warrior and save her best friend from mechanical beasts!
As she juggles warrior training and priestess duties, Riwenne can’t let herself get distracted. She must recruit other warriors and lead the quest to find out the mystery behind the mechanical beasts, but most of all, she must follow her heart.
If she fails, the gods will judge her.
This article was written by Kristen S. Walker.
Kristen S. Walker is a YA fantasy author and blogger, also known as a book hoarder. Check out more of her work by clicking on any of the covers below.