Have you ever heard of steampunk fantasy? What about gaslamp fantasy? If you haven’t, don’t worry about it–I’m about to introduce you to this rare genre in this month’s Book Unicorn category of the Sapphic Reading Challenge.
Steampunk fantasy and gaslamp fantasy are both subgenres of speculative fiction (or, to be more specific, of science fiction). The books usually take place in a Victorian-style setting, which gives them a historical flair (think bustle skirts, bowler hats, and goggles). Basically, they are alternate history that explores what would happen if technology and science had developed in a different way, never moving beyond steam power. There’s usually modern or fantastical technology such as time machines or robots, but it’s all steam-powered.
While steampunk centers around alternate developments in technology, gaslamp fantasy adds supernatural or magical elements.
Read up on the rules of the Sapphic Reading Challenge
If you are only discovering the Sapphic Reading Challenge now, the good news is you can still join! It’s a year-long challenge, so it runs until December 31, 2021. Read up on the rules of the Sapphic Reading Challenge and then start reading!
12 sapphic steampunk fantasy or gaslamp fantasy novels
I put together a list of 12 sapphic steampunk fantasy or gaslamp fantasy novels that I hope you’ll enjoy!
The Lost Temple of Psiere by K. Aten
As the heir to the throne, Royal Connate Olivienne Dracore cannot escape having a Shield team protecting her wherever she goes. But with the addition of Shield Commander Castellan Tosh, she has a team that doesn’t just guard her person but also aids in her job as a historical adventurist. She knows without a doubt that together they can unravel the Divine Mystery of who the Makers were and why they created the great temples.
With the conclusion of their last mission, Olivienne acquired the map needed to find the mysterious third great temple of Psiere. And there is no one better to accompany than her beloved Cmdr. Tosh. But before they can leave to brave the dangers of the unknown, first they must brave their own oathing ceremony. They will need each other for the coming mission because as with all things related to the Makers, mystery often begets mystery and danger is always just a wrong step away. Especially when the prize is something that could change Psiere forever.
A Touch of Truth by Nita Round
People have gone missing and no one knows where they’ve gone. The only clue left behind is blood, lots of blood, and a single silver brooch.
Magda Stoner, captain of the airship Verity, has questions, and the Order for which she works has no answers to give. She has been directed to enlist assistance from Lucinda Ravensburgh, a tower witch and truthsayer.
Lucinda sees truth in everything she touches, a gift, or curse, enhanced by the magic of the tower in which she resides. It’s a gift that comes with great responsibility and a duty to those she serves. When Magda asks for aid, Lucinda cannot refuse.
Whilst Magda and Lucinda seek the evil behind the disappearances, all manner of threats imperil their lives. Ascara is the warrior who must protect them as their search becomes more and more dangerous.
At the moment Lucinda touches the silver brooch, all three lives are changed forever. Three must become one if these strong women are to succeed when traversing the path of justice. But the path they tread is littered with lies, deception, betrayal, and dark forces.
No matter what, the Trinity of Truth must form and hold strong.
Demon in the Machine by Lise MacTague
At the height of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, steam power and magic join forces to create wonders the world has never seen. But those wonders have a dark side—one that will soon force a reckoning few could have anticipated.
Half-demon Briar is content with her structured life as an archivist, a far cry from the chaos of her background and upbringing. Briar’s simple and predictable existence is rocked when she discovers something sinister powers one of the grand, new inventions of her era.
Isabella Castel, the only daughter of Viscount Sherard, is far from the brainless socialite she pretends to be. Isabella is everything Briar is not: passionate, creative and impulsive, but with secrets to rival even Briar’s own. Two more unlikely partners should not exist, yet if the women cannot find a way to work together, they will lose far more than their reputations.
Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger
Imogene Hale is a lowly parlormaid with a soul-crushing secret. Desperate to understand her own desires, she takes work at a local vampire hive, only to fall in love with the amazing lady inventor the vampires have imprisoned in their potting shed.
Genevieve Lefoux is lonely, brilliant, and French. Obsessed with her cogs and devices she refuses to risk her heart. With culture, class, and the scientist herself set against the match, can Imogene and her duster win Genevieve’s love, or will the vampires suck both of them dry?
Skin Deep by Violet Penrose
London, 1871. Dr. Alice Victor is an engineer of automata—advanced biomechanical constructs—a field dazzling in its possibilities but still in its infancy. When she meets the alluring Lady Glyde, her laboratory gains a benefactor and Alice a secret lover.
The lady and her husband have recently returned from Africa, and when Alice discovers they are secretly harboring members of a Malawian snake cult, it becomes clear that their ambitions for her work are far more sinister than it first seemed. Alice soon finds herself caught between pleasing her new lover and her loyalty to her colleague and best friend. As tension mounts, Alice must decide how far she is willing to go in her search for forbidden happiness.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?
Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.
The Adventure of the Incognita Countess by Cynthia Ward
It’s the easiest assignment a British intelligence agent could hope for. Lucy Harker needs only see the secret plans of the Nautilus safely across the Atlantic. As German spies are largely a fantasy of newspapers, she anticipates no activities more strenuous than hiding her heritage as Dracula’s dhampir daughter.
Then among her fellow Titanic passengers she discovers the incognita Countess Karnstein—and it seems the seductive vampire is in Germany’s service. Can Agent Harker stake Carmilla before her own heart—and her loyalty to the British Empire—are subverted by questions as treacherous as a night-cloaked iceberg?
The Beast At The Door by Althea Blue
In this steampunk fairy tale, Patience is no proper young lady. Faced with the prospect of marriage, she runs away from home, from wealth, and a looming life of lies. She finds a garden guarded by a fantastic beast.
The beast also guards a young girl like herself, alone in the world. Ada is wise and beautiful. Their burgeoning friendship is by threatened outside forces. Only a clockwork menagerie of monsters can save them from an unfriendly world.
The Magistrate (The Prisonworld Trilogy Book 1) by Keira Michelle Telford
Poverty is rife in twenty-fourth century London, England. Crime rates are at an all-time high, and living conditions for many are bleak. Capital punishment and public hangings have been reinstated, and Magistrates, in their new role, are tasked with patrolling the streets to enforce arrest warrants and ‘terminate’ any civilians who attempt to evade justice — which isn’t always a noble pursuit.
The laws are strict, illiberal, and unsympathetic. If you can’t afford to feed and clothe yourself, you’ll be sent to the workhouse. If you fall behind on your rent, you’ll be sent to debtors’ prison. If you’re gay, you’ll be hanged.
For Carmen Wild, the latter becomes a potentially deadly problem when the discovery of a murdered prostitute brings her back into the life of her first love — the Madam of an East End cathouse — and the illicit passions between them are swiftly reignited.
The Dark Victorian: Risen by Elizabeth Watasin
“Way will open.”
She is Artifice.
A resurrected criminal and agent of HRH Prince Albert’s Secret Commission.
An artificial ghost.
He is Jim Dastard.
The oldest surviving agent of the Secret Commission.
An animated skull.
A mentor to newly resurrected agents.
It is 1880 in a mechanical and supernatural London. Agents of Prince Albert’s Secret Commission, their criminal pasts wiped from their memories, are resurrected to fight the eldritch evils that threaten England. Jim Dastard and his new partner Artifice must stop a re-animationist raising murderous dead children. But while Art and Jim pursue him, Art discovers clues about her past, and through meeting various intriguing women—a journalist, a medium, a prostitute, and a woman in black—where her heart lies. A new beginning and new dangers await Art as she fights for the Secret Commission and for her second life.
Subton Switch by Jessica Lucci
Subaquatic city, 1886. Verdandi, a fiery teen tinkerer, is held captive by an evil totalitarian government. She is blasted into a chaos of beauty and fear, depression and addiction.
Verdandi discovers that her only chance of liberty lies not only in trusting her friends, but in challenging her mind and body to fulfill her time travel quest. What begins in compulsion becomes necessity, and Verdandi finds herself torn between two very different worlds, with the only reconciliation being time.
The “Watch City” trilogy continues in “Subton Switch,” creating a testament of the power within us to change ourselves, and the world.
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”
Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello.
Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, beggin sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.
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