Book Review

Book Review: Iron Sky: Dread Eagle by Alex Woolf.

IronSkyThe year is 1845. Since Napoleon’s famous victory at Waterloo, France and Britain have been locked in a long and bloody war for global supremacy. This breathtaking steampunk adventure introduces an alternative 19th century of giant airships soaring through the skies above the English Channel, fantastical, steam-powered automata, aerial steam carriages, floating cities, giant mechanical birds and a new kind of secret agent. Enter the world of Iron Sky…

In this version of reality, an ageing Napoleon is threatening a full-scale invasion of Britain. Opposing him is Sir George Jarrett, head of the Imperial British Secret Service, helped by an all-female team of aerial spies known as the Sky Sisters. The youngest of them is Lady Arabella West. As war clouds loom, airships start to disappear, and rumours spread of a mysterious terror in the skies. Arabella, with the help of her automaton sidekick, Miles, sets out to investigate.

I haven’t read many steampunk books, but those that I have read have been brilliant. When I heard about this new book coming from Alex Woolf I had high hopes, I’d enjoyed everything else of his I’d read and had a feeling that this book was going to be pretty great.

The story takes place over only a short period of time with the bulk of the book occuring in just 3 days. This works really well, keeping the action going and adding a sense of immediacy to the book. After a brief prologue that roots the book firmly into its historical context the plot gets going very quickly. We meet Arabella, our leading lady, as she undertakes a mission in her role as one of the aerial spies Britain is using in its efforts to defeat Napoleon’s efforts to invade once and for all. From the very first pages Arabella’s story is filled with action, this continues throughout much of the book. Whether she is trying to break in to somewhere to acquire information, or lead a reconnaissance mission she has a knack both for getting into and back out of trouble.

Like many reviewers I’m always on the lookout for really great female lead characters. Arabella is most certainly this, and the fact she is one of the Sky Sisters – 5 female aerial spies each with their very own highly specialised skill set was a most welcome discovery. It made me think of two other books I’ve loved in recent years, Code Name Verity and The Beauty Chorus. Whilst all three books feature teams of young women flying planes as part of military efforts they’re all then incredibly different, but I was pleased with the realisation.

In addition to loving Arabella I completely fell for automaton Miles (a Mobile Independent Logical Englishman Simulacrum). I think I’d like my only Miles, his ability to analyse situations instantly and tell you just how bad your plan is would certainly be useful! The other character that really stands out in the book is Commodus Bane. He’s just so completely and utterly awful, I found him really disturbing and found myself trying to hold the book a little further away when he appeared on the pages!

This is a very attractive book. It’s a hardback book with beautiful end pages, a map (I do love a book with a map) and four double-sided glossy gatefold pages covered in design illustrations (for more about how Alex came up with the various airships and other devices make sure you read his brilliant guest post here). It’s clear that a lot of care and attention has been put into this book’s creation and it’s certainly paid off.

My only sadness about this book is that ends just as another really exciting mission is being launched. I’m assuming that this means this isn’t the last we’re seeing of the Sky Sisters, I can’t wait to be able to read more about their adventures!

Iron Sky: Dread Eagle is published by Scribo Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Blog Tour

Blog Tour: Guest Post by Alex Woolf on the steampunk technology in Iron Sky: Dread Eagle.

IronSky

I’m so excited to be welcoming Alex Woolf to my blog today as part of the tour for his new book Iron Sky: Dread Eagle. The rich steampunk world he has created is wonderful, I was really pleased when he agreed to write about how he went about this process. Over to you Alex!

As a child I was fascinated by technology – not exactly by how it worked, or else I might have become an engineer rather than a writer, but more by the way it looked, sounded and smelled. To this day, I still find few sights or sounds more entrancing than the interior of a traditional watch, with all its tiny cogs, gears and springs working together in perfect coordination. And for excitement, nothing can beat a working steam engine with its spinning shafts and terrifying pistons pumping away amid all that heat and steam.

I especially loved the extravagantly inefficient machines of Heath Robinson cartoons, with their many complex moving parts producing something very simple. One of my favourite scenes in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the one featuring Professor Caractacus Potts’ absurdly over-complicated breakfast-making machine.

I must have been a steampunk fan before I even realised it, because these machines are the essence of the genre. What a steampunk machine looks like is ultimately much more important than what it does. It should be extravagant, ingenious and gloriously impractical.

This was my starting point when developing the technology for my steampunk fantasy, Iron Sky: Dread Eagle. Take the eponymous ‘dread eagle’ itself. It’s a steam-powered, steel-feathered flying machine that looks like a giant bird of prey. There is nothing remotely practical or airworthy about it, but in the steampunk world it inhabits, it glides, it soars, it captures airships in its talons, shoots fire from its beak and terrifies all who behold it.

One of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)
One of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)

A machine like the dread eagle is pure fantasy. Because I know that nothing like that could ever exist on Earth, I could play fast and loose with the physics. Other pieces of tech featured in the book are more rooted in reality, while retaining the baroque steampunk look. For example, I had to develop a line of military airships and planes used to fight the war that forms the backdrop to the Iron Sky series. For these ‘aerial steam carriages’ and dirigibles, I’ve stuck pretty close to the actual technology of the 1910s and 1920s, except that the machines are steam- or wind-powered. And of course they look beautiful, with an ornate and slightly gothic Victorian appearance rather than the more streamlined, art deco style of the early 20th century.

The series is set in an alternative 1845. Thirty years earlier, Napoleon unexpectedly won the Battle of Waterloo, and since then Britain and France have been slugging it out for global supremacy. As a result of all this war, technology has boomed and they’ve reached about 1920 or so in terms of technological development – with a few differences. For example, instead of radio waves they’ve discovered this mysterious, invisible fluid called the aether, which allows them long-distance communication.

The aether was a popular theory in Victorian times, and has become a bit of a staple among steampunk writers. The Victorians believed that all the energies and forces we observe, including light, gravity and magnetism, operate within this subtle and universal medium, which they called the luminiferous aether. In my world the aether is much more than a theory: it’s a practical workaday reality. They’ve developed aethercells, which are like radio transmitter-receivers, and ANODE (AetherNet Object Detection Echo) systems instead of radar.

But the aether is useful for much more than communication and detection, as they’re beginning to discover. The French have developed the Aetheric Shield, a device that operates like an invisible forcefield, rendering any airship wearing it invincible, and this is threatening to tip the balance in the long-running war.

Another of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)
Another of the gatefold illustrations from Iron Sky: Dread Eagle showing the Tirailleur-Class Airship. (click to embiggen)

No steampunk fantasy would be complete without an automaton, and in Iron Sky we have Miles, the Mobile Independent Logical Englishman Simulacrum. Miles is a three-foot-high metal gentleman, steam-powered of course, and dressed immaculately in frock coat and top hat. A tiny chimney in his hat releases steam (and is useful for me as a writer as a means of expressing his emotions – ‘puffing anxiously’ for example). Miles is the sidekick of our aviator-heroine Lady Arabella West, and he tends to be pessimistic (he would
say ‘logical’) about their chances of survival at any given moment. Apart from his superb analytical engine brain, he has a few hidden accessories, which are gradually revealed as the story progresses. I won’t say what they are, but they do prove useful in getting Arabella out of a number of scrapes.

Whether any of the machines I’ve created for Iron Sky could ever work in practical terms is beside the point. In fact it’s probably better if they couldn’t, because steampunk is not about efficiency or practicality – it’s the very opposite of all that. Steampunk is about the enjoyment of technology for its own sake – the crazier and more spectacular the better. The sense of wonder I experienced as a child at the sight and sound of intricate clocks and infernal engines. That’s steampunk – and that’s what I’ve tried to recreate in this book.

Thank you Alex for such a wonderfully interesting post! I’ll be posting my review of Iron Sky: Dread Eagle later today so do make sure you pop back and read it.

Book Review

Mini Reviews : Chronosphere Book 1 – Time Out of Time and Book 2 – Malfunction by Alex Woolf.

I really enjoyed Alex Woolf’s Fiction Express book Soul Shadows and I was keen to read more by him. Today is the publication date for the second book in his Chronosphere series – Malfunction so I thought I’d do another mini review post for both that and the first book Time Out of Time

Book 1 – Time Out of Time.
I was hooked within the first page of this book, mainly because it was set during a hoverbike race. The mere mention of a hoverbike left me excited to get stuck into the book and discover the world within it. The plot is interesting straight away, Raffi is on the cusp of adulthood so buys a year in the Chronosphere – time works differently here so that a year lasts only a minute in the real world. It seems like a perfect situation, he can put off growing up for another year but no one will ever know he was gone. Very quickly however he starts to realise that this perfect world isn’t quite so perfect, there are darker things going on and very quickly Raffi gets caught up in them.

Raffi’s a great leading character, I think teens and adults alike will be able to identify with his wish to put off growing up a little longer. I certainly found myself rooting for him from the start, and worrying about what was going to happen to him at various points throughout the book. The group of friends he makes within the Chronosphere are an interesting group, I liked the way we got to know them a little bit and then the rug was pulled from us as a few secrets were revealed. I finished the book looking forward to finding out more about them all.

The world created in this book is fascinating, the technological developments are all really exciting though there are points where the technology becomes quite scary. I liked the way that the science behind the time bending aspects of the book is included, there was a risk this could have been confusing but for me it was balanced just right.

Book 2 – Malfunction.
This second book in the series begins with a brief but comprehensive recap of Time Out of Time before jumping straight into a fast and gripping plot. Since we left the characters behind at the end of the last book their lives have been quiet and idyllic but this peaceful state is about to come to an end. The Malfunction happens and everything starts to go wrong. The temp-al chambers have stopped working so no one can leave or enter the Chronosphere. The temp-al ducts are also not working meaning that the supply chain is broken. Very quickly services start to fail, and then the technology starts to act very strangely. Within a few chapters this magical place to get away from it all is starting to look like a living nightmare.

All of the characters we got to know in Time Out of Time return in this book, we again tag along primarily with Raffi. This book allows us to get to know the characters even better, and by the end of the book many of the questions I brought with me were answered. I particularly liked the way we got to understand some of the “baddies” better, I always like it when characters’ motivations are understandable rather than a character being bad just because s/he is.

I loved this book, and really liked the way we got to understand more about the Chronosphere, both how it works and why it exists. I also liked the examination of the society within the Chronosphere, I always find accounts of societies disintegrating interesting – particularly the way people try to survive.

At the end of the book there is a sneak peak for Book 3 – Ex Tempora. Whilst it is merely 3 pages long it has already got my interest, I shall certainly be looking forward to reading it! Both of these books are interesting and exciting reads, I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

Time Out of Time and Malfunction are published in paperback by Scribo Books in the UK priced £6.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the books all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Fiction Express Mondays : Chapter 11.

I can’t believe it’s already time to talk about the final chapters of the four brilliant Fiction Express books. I will discuss some of the things that happen in the chapters so be warned that if you haven’t read the chapters yet there are spoilers ahead.

Diary of A Mall Girl by Luisa Plaja.
The final chapter opened with plenty of giggles as Molly ended up covering herself and Jasper in red paint. I loved the discussion between the two of them, I could picture it so clearly. Art Boy’s reveal took me completely by surprise, and I cheered when Molly dumped the paint over him (I also laughed a lot when his name was revealed). I felt more and more content as I read the chapter, seeing all the pieces falling into place at last for Molly both with Jasper and with Wendy and Ameera. I thought that everything tied together really well.

Soul Shadows by Alex Woolf.
This chapter certainly started with the same sort of tension I’ve come to expect, the decision for Becker to go and diffuse the bomb seemed the most logical but the wait to see if he was successful was most definitely stressful. I was so relieved when Dr Kirby arrived, though that was so short lived! I never expected him to be part of the whole situation, I was surprised by how utterly let down I felt! I was thrilled to be able to cheer for the heroism of Jetho once more, and his and Shadow-Estelle’s final decision left me misty-eyed. I really liked the ending, it certainly felt fitting for the story.

The Soterion Mission by Stewart Ross.
The final chapter began by focussing on Taja, and once more explored her vulnerability. I liked the way that even though it was the final chapter the world building continued, I found it interesting seeing how Alba varied from the other two differing groups of Constants. The reveal of the vote was as devastating as I expected, as was the discovery of Taja’s fate. I was so pleased that Timur was finally defeated, as was only right. The final pages of Roxy’s story were incredibly emotional and the last page left me in floods of tears, particularly that killer last line.

The Last Symbol by Rebecca Morton.
The chapter started with the reveal that it was Aster and a group of Officials who disturbed Miko’s initiation, Aster’s actions only reinforced my idea that I disliked him. A lot. The rapid pace of Aster’s attempted coup interspersed with the Blues thinking Miko had betrayed them had me trying to read faster and faster so I could find out what happens. I loved that Drina came to Miko’s rescue, and that he and his mother worked together to navigate the computer. I really liked Miko’s plan, I only wish I could carry on reading and see how the rebuilding of their society worked.

It has been an amazing 11 weeks, reading and voting on these four wonderful books. They’ve made me laugh and cry, and at times feel nervous about clicking through to read the next page. I’d like to thank Fiction Express for the idea of weekly eFiction and the four authors for writing stories that have made me spend each week looking forward to the next chapters!

Book Review

Fiction Express Mondays : Chapter 10.

Voting has closed over at the Fiction Express website so it’s time for me to share my thoughts about the new chapters. Please be aware I discuss some of the things that happen in the chapters and the voting choices so if you haven’t read the chapters yet there are spoilers ahead.

Diary of A Mall Girl by Luisa Plaja.
This week’s chapter opened with Molly kissing Liam, unsurprisingly they quickly realised this was poor timing. I loved seeing Jamie’s protective side again in this chapter, the discussion between him and Molly was really lovely and made me wish once more that I’d had an older brother when I was growing up. I was pleased to see Molly finally standing up to Wendy, it felt like it had been coming for a good while. I thought it was interesting that Jewel’s reaction to being outed was so different to Jasper, it’s nice that someone isn’t angry with Molly. I was really entertained by the end of the chapter, it’s really very unfortunate the way Jasper keeps getting trapped in confined spaces!

Soul Shadows by Alex Woolf.
The chapter this week started quite sadly, with the death of Shadow-Carl. The result of the vote was kept until partway into the chapter – once our bunch of adventurers were reunited with some of the rogue blackshirts the decision was made that they would go to the armoury and then on to Barbara’s office. I think the Super Shadow is a truly scary creation, I’m very glad I’m reading this rather than watching it – I’d definitely need a cushion to hide behind. I was completely shocked by Sandor’s revelation that he has a girlfriend waiting back at home, I was sure he and Estelle were going to get together. The final vote is pretty tough I think, I really hope the winning choice allows them to escape in one piece!

The Soterion Mission by Stewart Ross.
This week saw Taja volunteering to return to Alba with Yash and pretend to be Roxanne, so that Cyrus and Roxanne could go to the Soterion. I liked the development of Taja in this chapter, I find her a really intriguing character. I was saddened by the reveal that Roxanne has entered her death month, though not entirely surprised. I loved the way Cyrus and Roxanne managed to persuade more of the Albans to defect to their cause, I like the idea of a band of rebels! When I got to the vote I couldn’t believe what I was having to decide, I realised though that it was so hard because I cared so much about all of the characters which can never be a bad thing.

The Last Symbol by Rebecca Morton.
The chapter started with Miko going to see Prophate in person, and realising that he was on a one way trip. The scene where Miko and Aster entered the Enhancement School was horrible and just confirmed for me yet again how evil Propate is. The insight Miko gets into what happens to the enhanced is pretty unpleasant. The result of the vote meant that Jamese took the decision to warn all of the co-conspirators, I was so frustrated when it was revealed that Prophate was yet again one step ahead. The reunion of Drina and Jamese followed by the reveal of Prophate’s true identity really built the tension for the end of the chapter, I truly have no idea how this is all going to be resolved!

My choices for next week’s final chapters are:

  • Diary of a Mall Girl – Molly should find a light switch, make sure Jasper’s OK and talk to him as they wait for the return of Art Boy.
  • Soul Shadows – They should let Becker try to defuse the bomb.
  • The Soterion Mission – Timur’s javelin should kill Sammy.
  • The Last Symbol – Xenon and a group of the enhanced should be standing there.

What do you think? How did you vote for the final time?

Book Review

Fiction Express Mondays : Chapter 9.

Voting has closed over at the Fiction Express website so it’s time for me to share my thoughts about the new chapters. Please be aware I discuss some of the things that happen in the chapters and the voting choices so if you haven’t read the chapters yet there are spoilers ahead.

Diary of A Mall Girl by Luisa Plaja.
Last week’s vote sent Molly to do her work experience at Jasper’s mum’s music school, a choice that saw her upset Wendy again and miss out on the chance to interview Art By for the law firm’s magazine. We finally got to hear the whole story behind Jewel and Jasper’s mysterious family, I found that I really felt for both of them, and their mum. My heart sank when Ameera managed to drop Molly in it with Jasper, it had all been going so well that I’d forgotten she knew who the mysterious dad was. With just two chapters to go I hope everything gets sorted!

Soul Shadows by Alex Woolf.
The chapter this week starts with Soul-Carl mentioning a potentially nasty side effect of touching a newly formed shadow, I knew it was going to play a part in this week’s chapter. Estelle’s decision to follow Robert’s plan felt a little sudden, but then I think this probably went well with the amount of pressure she’s faced in such a short amount of time. I felt really let down when it turned out Robert had lied, I’d really hoped there was light at the end of the tunnel for Estelle and Sandor. Like Estelle I found Derek’s end pretty satisfying and Jethro made me cheer for the second week in a row. Things are all starting to feel a bit desperate, I can’t begin to work out how Estelle and Sandor are going to get free for good!

The Soterion Mission by Stewart Ross.
Timur’s discovery that within Alba there were Constants willing to work with Zeds seemed to appeal to his power hungry psyche, I loved how quickly he could see himself as a god. I thought the discussion between Roxanne and Cyrus about why they were on the mission was quite poignant, these quieter moments are a lovely contrast to the harder parts of the story. I liked that we finally got to find out about the third book and how this added to their discussion, what a set of books to have! The twist when they finally reached Alba was a real surprise though when I thought about it it went well with what had come before. It feels like everything’s building up well for a great final couple of chapters.

The Last Symbol by Rebecca Morton.
The vote meant that Drina didn’t stick with the story Tyron had cooked up, instead telling the truth leading to him being enhanced. There were plenty of twists and turns this week, and Miko had to make some really difficult choices. I liked the way he was starting to think about the bigger picture and trying to push through his own agenda without Prophate realising it. I really don’t know which way the vote will go this week but I think Miko’s going to have a hard time regardless of which option wins.

Time for me to be honest, I spent all of yesterday thinking there was something I needed to do, I remembered at about 10.15 this morning that it was read and vote. So I missed the boat this week, but here’s how I would have voted:

  • Diary of a Mall Girl – Molly should make excuses, leave Liam and go to confront Art Boy.
  • Soul Shadows – They should use the ventilation duct to go to the electrical room, switch off the electrified fence, then escape to the roof, climb over the fence and escape.
  • The Soterion Mission – Yash and his archers should try to sneak Roxanne and Cyrus to the mouth of the Soterion cave without anyone noticing.
  • The Last Symbol – Jamese should pass on Miko’s message to all of the people on the list she gave to Miko.

What do you think? How did you vote? How do you think the stories will end?

Book Review

Fiction Express Mondays : Chapter 8.

Voting has closed over at the Fiction Express website so it’s time for me to share my thoughts about the new chapters. Please be aware I discuss some of the things that happen in the chapters and the voting choices so if you haven’t read the chapters yet there are spoilers ahead.

Diary of A Mall Girl by Luisa Plaja.
The chapter this week continued on at Liam’s party. There was no grand revelation by Ameera, instead the vote saw Liam finding Molly and Jasper hidden away together. This came after Wendy had locked them in the attic so they could sort out whatever it was that was wrong between them – I liked that they decided to start afresh and actually appeared to be on the same page about their fledgling relationship. The chapter was full of more romantic wranglings with different characters’ feelings changing rapidly. It seems that things have the potential to stabilise now – I wonder which pairing will have another change of heart! Molly’s mum’s slightly erratic behaviour returned to the fore in this chapter, for once I’d actually guessed right what was going on. I liked Molly’s ideas for taking revenge on her mum’s former employers – it was nice to see her being so protective of her mother. Overall this was another thoroughly enjoyable chapter.

Soul Shadows by Alex Woolf.
The readers last week went for the fairly bold choice of allowing Shadow-Carl to change the mast so that it emitted the friendly radiation. My delight at his success was unfortunately short-lived when the Blackshirts arrived to stop them. I was pleased to discover that the police weren’t in on it, but I was unsurprised when Derek revealed that he had intercepted them – I really felt Estelle’s frustration with the situation. When the solution came in the shape of the brilliantly named Jethro I wanted to cheer. I love the way the reader still feels so unsure about who to trust in this story, I think it allows us to get a better idea of how Estelle and Sandor must feel. When I got to the decision for where next week’s chapter should go I honestly did not know which option to pick.

The Soterion Mission by Stewart Ross.
The decision was made that our friendly bunch of Constants should try to make their way across the bridge. I liked Roxanne’s plan for how to deal with Jumshid, and when it was revealed later that it was inspired by Peter Pan I liked it even more. Whilst it was right that Jumshid should be defeated I was a little sad to see him go, he was by far the most likeable of the Zeds. I continued to enjoy the way everything keeps going wrong for the Zeds, Timur seems to be suffering loss after loss. I’m a big fan of storytelling, so I really enjoyed that scene, particularly Roxanne’s realisation of what fiction is for. The ending of the chapter came as a bit of a surprise, but then it wouldn’t do for the Constants to have it too easy for long now would it?

The Last Symbol by Rebecca Morton.
The readers clearly had had enough of Hedley, they voted for him to die and Drina to return to Zenith to try and help Miko. I liked that she chose to be on his side, I’m all for sibling loyalty and support (plus as an older sister myself I know that this is how I would react). Poor Miko is in a horrible position, I liked the way he was trying to find a solution that suited everybody – I’m sure it’s this strength of character that caused him to be given the symbol in the first place. I began the chapter disliking Prophate for being so manipulative, as the chapter progressed I just thought he was more and more evil. Tyron continues to be hugely unpleasant, I liked watching Drina fool him, I only hope it pays off.

My choices for next week’s chapters are:

  • Diary of a Mall Girl – Molly should go to her mum’s old law firm.
  • Soul Shadows – Estelle should trust Robert Mitchell and agree to his plan.
  • The Soterion Mission – Timur should learn that within Alba there exists a group of citizens willing to work with anyone, even Zeds, prepared to help them unlock the secrets of the Soterion.
  • The Last Symbol – Drina should stick with the story she planned with Tyron.

What do you think? How did you vote?