Review: Ether & Elephants by Cindy Spencer Pape

ether and elephants by cindy spencer papeFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: steampunk romance
Series: Gaslight Chronicles #8
Length: 180 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: July 20, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Sir Thomas Devere and Eleanor Hadrian have loved each other most of their lives—but sometimes love doesn’t conquer all.

Their chance at happiness was ruined by Tom’s hasty marriage to someone else. Heartbroken, Nell left home, finding a new life as a teacher at a school for the blind. But when one of her supernaturally gifted students, Charlie, is kidnapped, Tom reappears and her worlds collide.

Tom claims he hasn’t seen his wife since the day of their marriage…yet he fears the missing student could be his son.

The deeper they dig, the more Tom and Nell discover: a deadly alchemist, more missing gifted children and long-suppressed feelings neither of them is ready for. A race on airship across England and India may lead them to answers—including a second chance at love—but only if all of British Society isn’t destroyed first.

My Review:

Ether & Elephants is the last book in Cindy Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles. I’ve enjoyed the series very much, from my first night binge-reading Steam & Sorcery (reviewed here) and Photographs & Phantoms in one lovely gulp.

moonlight and mechanicalsMy favorite in the series is still Moonlight & Mechanicals (see review). It even made my Best Ebook Romances of 2012 list for Library Journal.

But Ether & Elephants brings the series to a very lovely conclusion – all the more so because it brings things full circle. The series both starts and ends with the adoption of a bunch of slightly misfit, seriously talented and definitely precocious children into a family that is expressly made to nurture all their varied talents.

A family headed by two adults who finally figure out that they love each other to pieces, and that nothing can, or should, stand in their way.

The journey for Sir Thomas Devere and Eleanor Hadrian is even rockier than the one in the first book – because Tom and Nell are two of the children who were adopted back then. They are all grown up now, and have loved each other forever.

And they’ve both given up hope.

Tom made a horrible mistake while he was at university. It’s not really that he gave in to temptation and fell into someone’s bed. While he may have known that he loved Eleanor, and may have guessed that she loved him, he was five or so years older and Eleanor was not yet an adult. There were no promises, no commitments – they hadn’t even talked about a possible future.

The problem was that the adventuress who seduced him claimed to be pregnant with his child, so he married her. She disappeared the morning after their wedding with the contents of his wallet and anything else in his room that seemed salable. He never saw her again, but he still feels bound to the marriage.

He also doesn’t seem to have done anything like a thorough job in investigating his runaway wife or her circumstances after the fact. A young nobleman with all the power of the Order of the Knights of the Round Table behind him should have done a much better job of tracking down the thief – or at least discovered that there was something fishy about that wedding, as there so obviously was.

Tom seems to have been too ashamed to take care of his own business, and now it may be too late. Not just because Eleanor has made a life for herself away from the family, or even that she may be engaged to another man. The problem at the root of everything is that she feels she can’t trust him.

But she needs his help. Well, she needs the Order’s help, and Tom is what she gets.

Nell has become a teacher, specifically a teacher of blind students. And one of her students has been kidnapped. This isn’t a simple rescue, because young Christopher appears to be “talented” in the way that the Knights are. He’s also not the only child, or more especially the only “talented” child, to be kidnapped in recent months. There’s also the ghost of a chance that Christopher might be Tom’s son. It’s certain that Christopher’s mother is, or was, Tom’s erstwhile wife.

In the investigation and chase to determine Christopher’s whereabouts, a number of long-buried truths come to light. They discover that Tom’s missing “wife” has been practicing the pregnant and disappearing bride scam at Oxford and Cambridge for at least ten years, meaning at least 5 years before she pulled the stunt on Tom. The inevitable conclusion is that Tom can’t possibly be married to her because she “married” so many other men first.

She’s also aimed her sights very high. All of the students she conned were rich and noble, including one well-heeled rake from Buckingham Palace. The Queen is worried there’s a little bastard princeling somewhere in the country.

And the Order’s old enemy, the Alchemist, seems to be taking these talented children to fuel a dastardly plot of his own.

Meanwhile, the chase moves to India, where Eleanor, with the Order’s help, is able to find the formerly young sailor who fathered her on a trip to England long ago. Only to find out that Nell is much better connected, at least in the Raj, than any of the Hadrians are back home.

But with all of their lives on the line, and with the certainty that Tom is now free, Nell can’t resist indulging in the passion that she has always felt for him. The question is whether passion is enough to overcome years of mistrust.

And whether they all come out of this mess alive.

Escape Rating B+: Ether & Elephants is a very nice wrap-up to the series as a whole. We first met Tom and Nell in Steam & Sorcery, when Sir Merrick Hadrian discovers Tom in the stews of London and realizes that Tom must be the son of one of his fellow Knights. That Tom will not leave behind the family that he has made and protected for years is just one more sign of his nobility, considering that Tom is all of 14 at the time.

But children grow up. Nell has always loved the young man who saved the lives of herself and her half-brother Piers, and hoped that Tom felt the same. Discovering that he did, but that he had pissed away their chance at happiness nearly broke her.

Eleanor Hadrian, like all of the family she has built, is made of stern stuff. She doesn’t just soldier on, but she finds a career that fulfills her, and makes a new life. When her new life intersects with the old one, she is the first person to volunteer to find her lost student, even knowing that she will have to deal with Tom and the ashes of their old relationship.

One of the ongoing themes of the story is that Nell doesn’t need anyone’s protection, not from the bad guys, and not from her own past. So many people have tried to be delicate about her feelings for Tom, and while she isn’t 100% sure those feelings are completely dead, she is utterly certain that she is tired of being treated like a delicate flower, because she so isn’t.

Bringing the story to India was a very nice touch. It allows Eleanor to discover and embrace the other half of her nature, and also answers the question that she has always wondered about – where do her supernatural talents come from? While I loved Eleanor’s ability to embrace her Indian family and heritage, it felt just a bit over-the-top that her father was effectively a prince. Eleanor has all the nobility she needs without inheriting it from her father along with her talent for seeing ghosts.

I liked her Indian family, and their participation in the final chase and capture is crucial, but her “Baba” didn’t have to be the social or political equal of Sir Merrick Hadrian to be effective, or to accept her as his daughter.

It gave the story an aftertaste of Eleanor’s needing to be a princess to be accepted as Lady Devere, when Tom, the Hadrians and especially Eleanor herself had all the nobility required.

I will miss the Hadrians and their magically steampunk world, but Ether & Elephants makes a fitting end to this lovely series.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Dragons & Dirigibles by Cindy Spencer Pape

dragons and dirigibles by cindy spencer papeFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: steampunk romance
Series: Gaslight Chronicles #7
Length: 125 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: May 19, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

When airship engineer Melody McKay’s dirigible explodes and plunges her into the yard of a gothic manor, she suspects foul play. With her ankle injured–an indignity far too feminine for her taste–she resolves to crack the mystery while in the care of Victor Arrington, the stuffy-yet-disarming Earl of Blackwell.

Ex-Royal Navy Captain Victor runs a tight house and is on a mission to protect his niece and foil a ring of smugglers using fire-breathing metal dragons. He has no time for romantic attachments. Particularly not with women who fall from the sky wearing trousers and pilot’s goggles.

As he and Melody navigate a treachery so deep it threatens the lives of everyone in Black Heath, the earl becomes unexpectedly attached to his fiery houseguest, and Melody discovers a softness in her heart for him. But when the smugglers strike, there’s more at risk than just their future together.

My Review:

Moonlight and mechanicals by Cindy Spencer PapeI’ve enjoyed the entire Gaslight Chronicles series, but it feels like the pinnacle of the series was Moonlight & Mechanicals (reviewed here). The plot was dastardly and far-reaching, and the hero and heroine were both up to the challenge. And the love story really sang.

Dragons & Dirigibles is fun, but doesn’t work quite as well, and I’m still trying to figure out why.

The plot definitely puts it into the middle of the long-running story of how the Knights of the Round Table continued through the centuries to reach this alternate Victorian era where Ada Lovelace really did manage to program Babbage’s engine. But by this point in the tale, we’ve not just met, but watched the adult children of the Hadrians, the Lakes and the Mackays find their intended match.

There’s one story left untold, but we’re teased about it at the end of Dragons & Dirigibles. Instead this is the story of engineer/pilot Melody Mackay, and her nearly-disastrous trip to Black Heath in a new stealth airship.

Melody and her ship accidentally run afoul of smugglers on the north coast, and she’s shot down–straight into the arms of the Earl of Blackwell. That’s where the story gets interesting. He’s hunting the smugglers, and thinks she might be one of them. He’s also incredibly conventional, and believes that women should be wives and mothers and nothing else. Certainly not pilots or engineers.

Melody thinks he has a stick up his arse the size of a ship’s mainmast, a totally appropriate simile because until just a few months previously, Victor Arrington was a naval captain. He inherited the title, the estate and his niece on the sudden death of his brother and sister-in-law. Melody is a complication that Victor doesn’t need, because his little niece is refusing to settle down and learn ladylike skills, and Melody’s presence is catnip to the child.

Also because he’s been trying to find where the smugglers are hiding, and not having much luck. Melody is either a conspirator or another target in the house. It takes him a while to figure out which. And even then, he still thinks she’s a bad influence on his niece.

Meanwhile, the village rumor mill is grinding on. The locals think that the new Earl is the smuggler, and that his niece is a feral child who caused the death of her parents. And that Melody is no better than she ought to be for staying in the house of a bachelor without a chaperone.

When she requests help from her family, and from the Order of the Knights of the Round Table, the situation goes even crazier.The smugglers have more secrets than just the location of their base. And their plans are much more dastardly than either the Earl, the Order, or the revenue agents off the coast could ever have imagined.

Escape Rating B: Melody is not a conventional woman, and she knows she isn’t going to be. What kept her from striking Victor with a blunt instrument in the first part of the book I’ll never know. It’s not just that he’s a prig and holds the views of his time, but that he’s frequently insulting about it into the bargain.

It’s not just that he doesn’t have a clue about what his niece wants and needs, but that he doesn’t have a clue that there is a clue to be had. It takes a lot of evidence for him to finally see the light, that women may not desire, or need the strictures that society places on them. And that the world changed quite a bit during the 10 years he was at sea.

Melody seems to fall in love with his niece long before she does him. Which makes sense, the little girl is a LOT nicer to her.

He does change, and figure things out, but the love story seemed a bit too pat, too formulaic, to really sing.

But the smuggling plot turned out to be quite ingenious, with quite the scary twist at the end. That part of the story had more layers to it than it seemed at the beginning. I figured out who one of the baddies was, but the other was a complete surprise.

I like the world that the author has created, and I’m looking forward to more stories. There’s been a simmering relationship for years, and I want to see that couple finally have their chance.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Author Cindy Spencer Pape on Escapist Fiction + Giveaway

ashes and alchemy by cindy spencer papeMy special guest today is Cindy Spencer Pape, the author of one of the most fun steampunk series ever, the Gaslight Chronicles. This is the one that got me hooked on steampunk. It has all the cool steampunk gadgets and toys, there is always a marvelous romance, and for that added bit of the fantastic, she included the Knights of the Round Table. I always snap up each new book as soon as it appears, and as today’s review of Ashes & Alchemy demonstrates, Cindy always delivers a marvelous story.

Speaking of stories, here’s Cindy’s take on escapist fiction, and why she loves it.

Why I Adore Escapist Fiction
by Cindy Spencer Pape

Confession time: I absolutely adore escapist fiction. I’m not even too particular about the variety. I like mystery, fantasy, SF, and of course, romance. I read quickly, and I read a lot. I’ve been known to buy or check out the same book twice, because I’ve forgotten the title or cover. Reading is, and has always been, my escape. When I’m reading for fun, I don’t want anything too serious. If I want to be depressed, I’ll read the newspaper or an environmental report. When I read for fun, I want to get away from reality.

I find it funny (and not, at the same time) that romance is blasted as the ultimate example of unrealistic fiction. Come on, in fantasy and SF, they’re openly speculative and mysteries? Do we really believe those same amateur detectives solve so many crimes without ending up dead? It’s all fantasy, really. So pick your flavor and don’t bash the others, that’s my take.

In my Gaslight Chronicles, I’ve kind of taken all the flavors of genre fiction and tossed them into a salad. Each book contains fantasy, science fiction, suspense, horror, adventure, and romantic elements. That’s truly my favorite thing about the steampunk subgenre, is that you get to do that. I may even sneak in a little social commentary, but it’s there in the fiction, not as a smack in the face. (Yes, there’s a gay character in the series and yes, there’s a non-white woman adopted into a noble British family.) But the books aren’t about that. They’re about a bunch of interesting characters doing something in an interesting world. They’re meant to make the reader laugh, maybe cry a little, and mostly to forget about their job or their other problems, and just have a little bit of fun.

The books are all available digitally, which brings up another fun fact. Romance readers buy them for their Nook or Kindle without hesitation. A few SF or other fans will buy the version to listen to at the gym or in their car. But for the most part? Fantasy and SF fans—maybe especially steampunk fans—often reject digital books. It’s kind of ironic, really. You’d think science fiction readers would be early adopters of technology. But that’s not my experience. At romance conventions, I’m just another author, albeit with only medium-sized presses. But at SF or steampunk cons, I get this look. And then someone asks, “Do you have any real books?”

I smile. Sadly. “Yes. I have a number of print books. They’re mostly erotic romance, which I wrote for years with another publisher.”

“Oh. Romance.” They nod their heads and walk away.

Yep. Digital steampunk is a tough row to hoe. My steampunk books are all Amazon top 100 sellers in their genre. My romances aren’t. My steampunk books have sold literally thousands more copies than my romances. Library journal has named them as “the ultimate in steampunk romance.” I consider them very real books. I’ve spent years working on them, and the research for writing alternate history is not negligible. My publisher edits them thoroughly, and pays me royalties, just like they do for “real” books. I even have some great covers.

If you’re a person who reads e-books, then thank you! If you’re not, that’s okay too. To each their own—I really believe that. But we live in a changing world. We may not have jet packs yet, but I think we’ve at least reached the point where e-books and audiobooks count as real.

Thanks to Reading Reality for having me here today—this is an awesome site! Thanks to each of you for stopping by, and don’t forget to enter the contest.

Cindy spencer pape 2014About Cindy:

Cindy Spencer Pape firmly believes in happily-ever-after and brings that to her writing. Award-winning author of 18 novels and more than 30 shorter works, Cindy lives in southeast Michigan with her husband, two sons and a houseful of pets. When not hard at work writing she can be found dressing up for steampunk parties and Renaissance fairs, or with her nose buried in a book.

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Review: Ashes & Alchemy by Cindy Spencer Pape

ashes and alchemy by cindy spencer papeFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: steampunk romance
Series: Gaslight Chronicles #6
Length: 82 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: January 6, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

Police inspector Sebastian Brown served Queen and country in India before returning to England to investigate supernatural crimes alongside the Order of the Round Table. If his wifeless, childless life feels a little empty sometimes, that’s not too great a price to pay in the name of duty.

Minerva Shaw is desperately seeking a doctor when she mistakenly lands on Sebastian’s doorstep. Her daughter Ivy has fallen gravely ill with a mysterious illness–the same illness, it seems, that’s responsible for taking the lives of many of Ivy’s classmates.

Seb sniffs a case, and taking in Minnie and Ivy seems the only way to protect them while he solves it. But as mother and daughter work their way into his heart and Seb uses every magickal and technological resource he can muster to uncover the source of the deadly plague, it’s he who will need protecting–from emotions he’d thought buried long ago.

My Review:

Steam and Sorcery by Cindy Spencer PapeCindy Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles are a delicious alchemical mixture of steampunk and sorcery, and I’m not just saying that because it echoes the title of the first book in the series (Steam & Sorcery).

If you love steampunk, read this series from the very beginning. The worldbuilding just gets better and more detailed as the series goes on, and the stories are always just plain fun! What makes the series shine is the author’s invention of an alternate Victorian age where Charles Babbage’s analytical engine was actually invented, as opposed to merely theoretical, in the 1830s, and Ada Lovelace was the first coder. Computers in the 1830s and 1840s changed history, bringing the analytical sciences to bear on the age of steam.

And, since Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, women attend university in this alternate era.

But alongside these scientific developments, vampires and werewolves walk, or stalk among the populace. Werewolves are mostly the good guys, but vampires are rotting corpses that feed on anyone they catch. To fight them, and other supernatural creatures, the Order of the Knights of the Round Table has continued into the “modern” era. They fight the supernatural with magic.

Magic and science coexist to make fantastic stories.

In Ashes & Alchemy we see something that hasn’t previously been dealt with much in the Gaslight Chronicles world–what about the people who are part of the families but don’t have the gift?

Sebastian Brown knows all about the Order because his father is a Knight. He has a smidgen of the talent, but not enough to qualify for the Order himself. He still serves Queen and Country–Seb is a Police Inspector, and his talent is a handy one–he can sense when someone is telling the truth.

Minerva Shaw spends nearly her last strength dropping against his door late one night, mistaking his house for the doctor next door. It’s fortuitous for them both. Her daughter is burning up with fever in the tenement they share, and his neighbor is a doctor known for his willingness to make house calls in chancy neighborhoods.

Moonlight and mechanicals by Cindy Spencer PapeBut the doctor is overwhelmed by patients from an accident, and Seb volunteers to bring the child to his own house. This is where the case deepens from a simple act of charity into another fiendishly clever plot like the one in Moonlight & Mechanicals, although this time the motives are closer to hearth and home.

When Seb takes in Minerva and her daughter Ivy, he finds that the presence of this little family in his formerly empty house awakens feelings that he thought he buried in India along with his own wife and child.

But he knows that Minerva has secrets chasing after her that she is afraid to reveal. And the doctor discovers that Ivy’s illness has a far from natural origin; an origin so unnatural that it requires investigation by the Order.

Escape Rating B+: Steampunk, magic and the Knights of the Round Table are still an irresistible combination. But it is terrific to see this story explore what happens with someone who is not a Knight. Just because your family has magic powers does not mean that your parents are any better at the job. Seb’s father is a piece of work. Still.

Seb using the case as an excuse to keep Minerva and Ivy around is such a classic excuse for him to disturb his empty household for a reason. It works excellently! He can keep pretending that he’s only taking care of them during the investigation, and Minerva can pretend that she doesn’t actually want to stay.

Minerva’s past, particularly her relationship with her daughter Ivy, is extremely touching. She puts Ivy first, always, even at her own expense. She’s aware that she’s doing it but has decided that it is worth the cost to herself.

It was great to see the rest of the gang. Wink and Liam in particular, the couple from Moonlight & Mechanicals, are very necessary side characters in this one.

Ashes & Alchemy is a marvelous love story that continues a theme throughout this series, about the importance of the family-you-make. And it has a terrifically convoluted scientific steampunk plot and a sparking hot romance, too!

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.