Steampunk: It's what the past would look like if it collided with the future.
One of the things I love most about the genre are the endless possibilities. If you can imagine it, then you can write it. Particularly since my London Steampunk series is set loosely in the time period we call the Victorian Era. It was a time of so much industrial and cultural changes that it's such ripe pickings for a writer.
For me, I came at steampunk from historical romance and an idea that derived from the ton. But imagine if the ton was a darker, dangerous world? Where aristocrats stalked debutantes for their blood? Where debutantes sought to make a respectable thrall contract with a blue blood lord; offering their blood privileges in exchange for protection and every comfort a young woman could desire.
Such absolute power often breeds contempt, and humans are considered little more than a cattle class. In order to protect themselves from the masses, the blue bloods of my Echelon turned to technology. And it might just be the very thing that destroys them...
Into this world comes Lena Todd, a flirtatious young debutante who is only just realising that the world she remembers from her youth, isn't the brightly made stuff of daydreams.
Here's a little scene from Heart of Iron, the second in my London Steampunk series, featuring Lena and the mysterious heart of a secret organisation looking to bring the Echelon down:
Dark shadows waited silently, the faint gleam of lantern light shining off cold steel. Rosalind lifted the lantern and stepped through, spilling light into the enormous cavern and chasing away the shadows. Dozens of enormous automatons sat still and silent, the spark of gaslight absent from their eyes. Dozens more of the metal suits that Rollins had been strapped into. Rows of Percy’s.
“These are the Cyclops.” Pride warmed the other woman’s voice and she handed the lantern to Lena. Stepping forward she ran a hand over the hydraulic hose of the heavy steel arm. The hollow tube of the flamethrower on its arm gleamed.
Leaning under the arm, Rosalind hit a button. With a hiss, the chest cavity opened and the head slid back revealing a hollow space wide enough to fit a man. Rosalind stepped up on the Cyclops’s bent knee and hopped into the cavity. Turning around, she eased back and slid a leather harness around her chest and waist. Two handles rested at arm height. She gripped them, pressing a number of levers and twisting a dial. The steel carapace of the chest slid back into place, a thrumming sound coming from deep within.
“Takes a few minutes to heat the boiler packs,” Rosalind explained, her small, heart-shaped face peering over the top of the chest piece. With an expression of concentration, she toyed with something inside and then the hydraulic hoses hissed, the Cyclops straightening to its full height of ten feet. “They’re fully mobile, with more flexibility and control than a metaljacket and run on a litre of water a day.” With a sudden smile, she forced the arm to lift. “We modelled the flamethrowers on the spitfire’s. Burns like buggery when you hit something with it.” The fingers on the end of the iron arm gave a wiggle, revealing complete dexterity. “Mech work,” Rosalind explained. “The whole thing is mech work.”
“That’s why you need the mechs.”
Rosalind grimaced and the Cyclops sank back down, its engines fading. She slung the steel chest plate open and hopped down. “Aye. The plans were ours.” A brief look in her direction. “But the work’s theirs.” A rusty laugh. “The Echelon forced them into the enclaves to work steel for them and earn out the repayment of their mech enhancements. Not once did they suspect we’d turn their own technology – the skills they taught the mechs – against them. It’s the one thing we humans have never been able to counter. We might have been able to overwhelm the blue bloods in France and put them to the guillotine, but our blue bloods are smarter and hide behind automaton armies. Human flesh can’t fight metal. So we must even the odds.”
“To fight for freedom,” Lena said, with a slightly sarcastic lilt. “It sounds remarkably like fighting for revenge.”
“Do you think the Echelon are simply going to turn around and give us our rights?” A hint of anger stirred Rosalind’ voice. “Perhaps if we ask nicely?”
“People are going to die.”
“They already do. Four hundred and thirty men and women took to the streets to protest against the latest hike in the blood taxes. The Echelon mowed them down with the Trojan cavalry, leaving barely a hundred alive.”
“They wouldn’t have raised the blood taxes if the draining factories hadn’t exploded. Now there’s a shortage and the Echelon need blood fast. Don’t you see? This becomes a cycle of blood and death!”
Rosalind jerked the lantern out of Lena’s hands. “I’m disappointed. I thought you would understand. Especially considering where the plans for the Cyclops came from.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Want to win a copy of Kiss of Steel, the first in my London Steampunk series? Simply ask me something you want to know about steampunk in the comments and I'll be happy to answer! (US and Canada only, please leave an email address so we can contact you).
For a sneak peek at the London Steampunk world, I'm offering an e-novella called Tarnished Knight (set after Kiss of Steel and before Heart of Iron) for free download for the month of May. See here for details.
HEART OF IRON BY BEC MCMASTER – IN STORES MAY 2013
In the mist-shrouded streets of London’s dreaded Whitechapel district, werewolves, vampires and a clockwork army are one step away from battle…
NO ONE TO TRUST…
Lena Todd is the perfect spy. Nobody suspects the flirtatious debutante could be a rebel against London’s vicious elite—not even the ruthless Will Carver, the one man she can’t twist around her little finger.
Will Carver, is more than man, he’s a verwulfen and he wants nothing to do with the dangerous beauty who drives him to the very edge of control. But when he finds Lena in possession of a coded letter, he realizes she’s in a world of trouble. To protect her, he’ll have to seduce the truth from her before it’s too late.
“Deftly blends elements of steampunk and vampire romance with brilliantly successful results…darkly atmospheric and delectably sexy.” –Booklist, starred review for KISS OF STEEL
To purchase Heart of Iron: