Under Her Brass Corset by Brenda Williamson looked like steampunk when I picked it up from NetGalley. I mean, really, “brass corset”? What would you think?
Instead, think of it as the counterweight to Leslie Dicken’s The Iron Heart, which is steampunk but doesn’t explicitly say it’s steampunk. Under Her Brass Corset has a title that practically screams steampunk, but is more of a historic romance with fantasy and steampunk elements. Any time immortality and Avalon get mentioned, I call fantasy.
The hero has installed steam power on his ship, it does fly, and this is Victorian England, but he hides the steam power from anyone who is not in on his big secret, his immortality. (I’m not calling this a spoiler because it’s revealed to the reader very, very early in the story)
Abigail Thatch begins the story pretty much at the end of her rope. Her father was murdered only two months previously foiling a break-in of their home, and since then, her finances have been going steadily downhill. Her museum job isn’t enough to pay the bills, and the bank is threatening foreclosure.
In walks Jasper Blackthorne. Abigail doesn’t remember Captain Blackthorne, but he remembers her all too well. In between sea voyages, Blackthorne has watched over her all her life, just as he guarded her parents before her. Blackthorne is immortal, having drunk from the waters of Avalon over 400 years previously. He feels responsible for Abigail’s family, because he gave her grandfather a sip from the waters himself. Unfortunately not a big enough sip…her grandfather is immortal but rather absent-minded. He forgets all the children he has created over his very long life.
History records Abigail’s grandfather as Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard the notorious pirate.
Jasper hid something in Abigail’s house before his last voyage: a clockworks compass that points to sources of the healing waters of Avalon, the waters that are sometimes called the “fountain of youth”. Jasper needs to get the compass back. He fears that Abigail’s father was murdered in an attempt to find it. Murdered by Abigail’s cousin, Eric Teach.
But Jasper has another reason for coming to see Abigail. He’s been watching over her from a distance all these years, and he’s seen her grow from child to girl to woman. As a child she was a delightful little sprite, but as a woman, she’s captured his heart and soul. And it tears him apart. Jasper loved a mortal woman once, 150 years before. She refused the gift of immortality, and he has never loved again.
But Abigail challenges him, body and spirit. She wants him, and the adventure he represents. She also knows that there is a treasure to be found with that clockworks compass; she simply doesn’t believe in his tales of immortality. Abigail needs a rich prize to rescue her home from the bank.
Abigail finds herself falling for Jasper, even though she thinks that everything he says might be a con. She doesn’t remember him from her childhood, but she instinctively trusts him, though her mind says she shouldn’t.
The journey they embark upon is filled with wonders. But also with great perils and dangerous sea monsters. But none more dangerous than Abigail’s long-lost family.
Escape Rating C+: I was expecting much more steampunk than this turned out to be. I like fantasy romance, but I wasn’t expecting one. There are definitely steampunk elements, but they arise because Jasper’s been inventing stuff for himself to keep people away. I tend to think of steampunk being more pervasive to the society-at-large.
The romance itself worked pretty well. I liked Jasper and Abigail, and could understand why they fell for each other. I also definitely got why she didn’t believe his story. From a rational standpoint, it was pretty far-fetched. On the other hand, since she didn’t believe him, she should have needed a LOT more convincing in order to go with him on that trans-Atlantic voyage.
For my willing suspension of disbelief, or the throwing out the window of it, there were one or more too many borrowed elements from other stories. Morgan le Fay and the Lady of the Lake and Avalon and Blackbeard the Pirate and Ponce de León! For this reader, it was a little over the top. Your mileage may vary.