Steampunk is a speculative fiction subgenre that extends back to the literary tradition of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Mary Shelley. An aesthetic and socispolitical movement, steampunk is most often associated with England’s Victorian and Edwardian eras—from the great gears and coal-powered machines of industry, to the movement’s iconic images of bustles, goggles and dirigibles.
Not all steampunk works need be set in Victorian England, however. In Beth Bernobich’s The Time Roads, steam-powered technology moves from London to the empire of Éire, ruled by the newly coronated Queen Áine Lasairíona Devereaux. In this alternate historical vision of Éire, different scientists and mathematicians hold the key to opening paths to the future and the past. In four interconnected narratives and stories, Bernobich spins the tale of a grand and prosperous kingdom, where magic, science and love are a tangled web. The Time Roads—a wondrous, strange work of alternate historical fantasy—is hardly an isolated instance of non-England-focused steampunk.
Inspired by The Time Roads, here is a list of other alternative steampunk novels—set in locations from the American Wild West to fictional cities built on cables, and featuring characters of both human and automaton origins.
The Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest. Starting with Boneshaker, Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century novels and stories are imaginative and different. Set against the backdrop of a very different America in a prolonged period of civil war in the late 1800s, the Clockwork Century books feature madcap doom machines, death-defying dirigible chases and a noxious gas that can turn humans into the walking dead. There’s a little something for everyone!
The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma. OK, this is a bit of a cheat—because it is an alternate history and imagining of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. In Palma’s The Map of Time, Wells himself is a main character, questing through time to prevent a horrendous future, to save one’s lost love from death, and preserve great works and acts of the past and future from being obliterated from history. It’s a grandiose work, and one that is a tad excessive—but still worth a read, if you’re into alternate steam-powered history with a dose of romanticism.
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia. Mattie is an intelligent automaton that possesses memories, emotions and independent intellect. In The Alchemy of Stone, Mattie navigates the ever-growing divide between the Mechanics and Alchemists of her city, all the while questioning her creators and those around her. A beautifully written steampunk parable, The Alchemy of Stone is unexpected and wholly original (and easily my favorite of Sedia’s work).
Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil & Kaja Foglio. All of the Agatha Heterodyne comics and novelizations are fantastic, but if you’re looking for a prose book instead of the admittedly confusing numbering system for the webcomics, you can’t go wrong with Agatha H and the Airship City. Starring a bespectacled brilliant scientist, the eponymous Agatha, Airship City chronicles the young student’s misadventures when her University is taken over by a frightful tyrant, and she herself is taken prisoner aboard a floating castle. Mad science ensues.
Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers. A noir-ish steampunk mystery set in the fictional city of Veridon, Heart of Veridon follows burnout criminal and disinherited son Jacob—who happens to be in possession of a strange, intricate cog that a whole lotta people seem to want. For those who want a completely different take on steampunk, with a hard mystery angle.
The Native Star by M.K. Hobson. Another alternate history steampunk novel featuring the undead and magic in the wild west, The Native Star strikes the perfect balance between action and romance as backwater witch Emily Edwards heads out on the road with standoffish warlock Dreadnought Stanton. Love potions, a stone of great power and zombies all come into play. Intrigued yet?
Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti. Last but not least, Clockwork Heart is a small-press published steampunk work of true excellence—one of my favorite novels of the subgenre. Taya is an Icarus, flying on metal wings atop the cabled, casted city of Ondinium. When Taya saves two members of the Exalted class, her life changes forever. Featuring stellar worldbuilding, technology and romance, Clockwork Heart is a criminally underread book. (And its sequel was just recently released this year!)
So there you have it: our list of alternate steampunk novels not set in some iteration of Victorian England (with one exception). Are there any others you’ve got on your list that we’re forgetting?