(please note: each story will be reviewed on its own and then the anthology as a whole)
"Beauty and the Clockwork Beast" by Lily Lang
Rose Verney wants to fulfill her father’s dying request: to complete construction of the teleportation device he designed. Knowing just who can help her succeed, she seeks out Sebastian Cavendish, her father’s brilliant former student.Sebastian hasn’t left his home since he returned from the Civil War. He's a broken man, his prosthetics a reminder of the terrible destruction his inventions brought to the battlefield. He wants nothing to do with Rose and her father's masterpiece, but when she barges into his abandoned lab and begins construction, it’s everything he can do to resist getting involved. Especially when she charms her way into his monstrous heart.This was a very well laid out constructed novella. Lang avoids a lot of the pitfalls of the short form--there's very little 'telling' the reader what is happening. Some of the situation is a bit incredulous--I can't think that Rose would act so far outside of society as to really not care or have a back up plan at the very least. Though some of the best moments are when Sebastian is being a numbskull, Rose is being pigheaded and the two just stumble on the solution.
The plot is all well tread situations in romance, but I liked that Rose pushed Sebastian to earn the life he was given instead of wallowing in the shadows for the lives taken during war. She doesn't push him to let it go because it was war and people die in war, but because it was destroying what had once been a vital and brilliant man.
"Demon Express" by Candace Havens
Professor Maisy Clark, professional demon hunter, is on the trail of an evil scientist responsible for the deaths of hundreds. Julian is worse than the monsters he creates, but he's also obsessed with Maisy and willing to kill anyone who gets too close to her. Just when she thinks she has Julian cornered, the sexy marshall Jake Calloway insists the investigation is his, and everything goes to hell. Maisy came to Texas to corner the scientist whose macabre experiments have taken so many lives, and Calloway is just another distraction she doesn’t need. Julian is her responsibility, one she’s not about to share. Even if Calloway can help, Julian will know Maisy is falling for the marshall, and she's not willing to risk his life.I do admit anything with 'evil scientist' will grab my attention pretty quick. Havens told me via twitter this is the beginning of a series that is making its debut at some point (possibly December, though she isn't certain) and for that I'm grateful. While this works as a stand alone story for the most part, a wide open new chapter is brought out at the end, with a few loose threads dangling around.
To be fair Maisy isn't easy to like at first. She's prickly, a bit snobbish and her bite is as bad as her bark. She hasn't led a particularly safe or easy life and Julian did nothing to make other possible since she met him. Jake by contrast is pretty much what you'd expect of a practical, thorough and good man--he doesn't jump to conclusions in regards to Maisy, hears her out and then listens to her experience (though doesn't always heed it).
The romance is a bit pushy feeling--unless I missed something Jake feels something more for Maisy pretty quickly while Maisy is busy hiding her raging lust for the man. I am intrigued by the larger world, as well as Maisy's "butler", deceased governess and new seamstress friend. I'd happily read their adventures if all they did was run around kicking butt, however reading them running around kicking Julian's particular butt will be even better!
"The Clockwork Bride" by Patricia Eimer
When engineer Aida Mulvaney attends a masquerade ball at the home of a staunch Luddite earl with a personal vendetta against her father’s company, she doesn’t expect to end the night married to the earl’s son Julian Capshaw, a brilliant engineer in his own right. The marriage will allow both of them to pursue their love of science, without interfering parents and ridiculous social stigmas. Though they escape to the Continent to start new lives, Julian’s father will have none of his heir’s disobedience. Before long, a marriage begun for the sake of convenience becomes a union of passion, but will it survive the machinations of an earl determined to destroy everything they love?This is the story I bought the anthology for actually. I love Eimer's writing and I love steampunk, so I thought this was well worth the money spent. I really only had one problem with this story and that was the this weird moment in the middle. After the marriage time seems to skip for an undefined amount of time leaving our pair in dire straits (financially as well as scientifically) after what was a promising beginning to their marriage. Not only is it an abrupt time jump, but it cuts out a lot of the emotional build up the story had been making.
In most other respects this story is exciting however. I liked Julian and the fact he wouldn't compromise what he wanted in life and in his partner, even though it meant being (possibly) disowned and having to make his own way. He was very practical about it all, had no delusions about his father's stance or likely reaction and was upfront with Aida about what marrying him could lead to (good and by). Though I do think he underestimated the lengths his father would go to.
Aida was interesting as well. Because of her gender she learned to take compromises where she had to professionally and was willing to do so personally if it meant being able to continue her work (and help a friend, but that seemed secondary honestly). Once the idea of having a partner who understood her mad brilliance presented itself however...well she got over that self-sacrifice pretty quick.
Esther and Putnam were also a delight to read. I liked that Esther wouldn't let Aida hide herself away and that Putnam was determined to move into the new age. Julian's father was a bit less defined, but he was really a means to an end and his actions were pretty dastardly.
Its rather interesting to me that two of the stories feature a character named Julian, but they are far from similar. Overall this collection was a definite win for me. I'd caution to say that while these do have much of the steampunk trappings, they're steampunk romance and as such shouldn't be compared to more technical books. With Havens story being part of a larger forthcoming series, while Eimer and Lang's are both very well self-contained stories, this should please most fans looking for something quick to gobble up!