I don’t normally do book reviews, it’s time taken away from my own writing, but I’m making an exception for Shelley Adina’s Lady of Devices (link opens Amazon.com page for the book).
This is my first steampunk novel and I must say I was entranced from the first word. The writing is well paced without too much passive voice (which I find tends to slow down the action). The imagry is rich and evocative, the characters well-drawn, and the dialogue is very much ‘period’.
Lady of Devices takes place in a vibrant 1889 London. Ms. Adina describes this setting well, using appropriate imagery and capturing the ‘feel’ of a London at the heart of a steam-driven empire. What particularly impressed me was the attention to detail that would be appreciated by those amateur history buffs such as myself. An example of this is the references to, and action within, the Crystal
Ms. Adina effortlessly fits steampunk touches within London in such as way as to make them feel natural and expected.
The major characters are ‘three dimensional’, are exquisitely described, and pursue their own agendas. Those agendas clash in believable and sometimes unexpected ways, serving to naturally drive the story’s conflicts. In other words the conflicts do not seem contrived in order to merely move the plot forward. They are a natural outgrowth of the characters, the setting and the society created by Ms. Adina.
Claire Trevelyan is the book’s 17 year old protagonist and naturally the story revolves around her. She is smart, spunky, and a bit of a rebel — a trait that comes in handy during her adventures. However, except for one instance noted below, she does not act out of character for her time and society. Claire is not some action-adventure heroine from Hollywood dropped into steampunk London. Her dialogue, attitudes, and actions are consistent with her environment, upbringing, and culture.
The supporting cast of characters are also well-rounded, believable people with their own concerns and agendas. I particularly liked Claire’s mother. Although a significant source of angst for Claire, the Lady St. Ives is authentic and one can sympathize with her motives while hoping she is stymied in reaching her objectives.
Even the lesser characters have sufficient attention paid to them such that they are not just ‘stock’ charicatures.
The imagery found in ‘Lady of Devices’ is lush. Ms. Adina has done her homework and paints rich pictures with the words she uses to describe setting, character, clothing. The impressive thing is the phrases and words chosen feel ‘period’ themselves and one quickly loses oneself in the world Ms. Adina has created. Particularly impressive is the attention paid to period dress and I confess on one or two occasions I found myself looking up words used to describe fashion in the late 1800s. Attention to detail is equally lavished on setting and characters, bringing to life Claire’s world in a way that is authentic and evocative.
The story itself is engaging and believable for the most part. Actions and events have consequences for characters that manifest themselves in logical ways later in the book, serving to drive the plot forward. There is a rich array of conflict underpinning character actions and all are tied together in a satisfying bundle. The story has all of the traditional elements of plotting — inciting and key events, conflicts, beginning, middle, and ending. Each is attended to deftly.
Minor spoilers ahead:
This is not to say the book is without flaws. In particular there are three instances that did not ring quite ‘true’ to me.
In the first, the key event occurs quite abruptly. While there is some foreshadowing of what may occur, the key event arrives with brutal suddeness. In my opinion, it would have been better to have the character involved in this event described a little more fully and be given a bit more ‘stage time’. I can’t be more specific than that without revealing a major plot driver.
In the second, Claire does something, quite by accident, that leaves a man dead. Her reaction is rather more matter-of-fact than I would credit for a girl her age and upbringing. I would have expected a bit more soul-searching and anguish on her part, no matter how strong-willed and practical she can be.
In the third, the book appears to be ‘cut off’ with still much more to tell. Although packaged as a separate book, ‘Her Own Devices’ (the sequel) is really a continuation of the story. ‘Lady of Devices’ can stand on its own but a strong case can be made that it and the sequel should have been combined into a single book.
All in all though, this is a great read and very entertaining; as a reader I was more than willing to forgive what I considered to be the flaws noted above. As a writer I kept thinking: ‘Damn. Why can’t I write like this?’
Upon finishing the book I immediately purchased the sequel, which I believe is the strongest endorsement one can give.
I first published this review last year on my tumblr blog. I still stand by the review, and Shelley Adina has now published three additional books in this series. Check them out!