The Year in Fiction: 2021
Monday, December 27, 2021
Major book publishers have largely cooled to steampunk, but the genre still sees lots of activity from smaller independent presses and self-published authors. Notable releases in 2021 included a new Parasolverse story from Gail Carriger, the first full-length novel from P. Djèlí Clark, and the first-ever English-language translation of Jerzy Żuławski’s classic Trylogia Ksiezycowa (The Lunar Trilogy). Here’s a look at these and other literary highlights from the past year.
Carriger Spins New Delightfully Deadly Tale
Gail Carriger, likely the top-selling author in steampunk these days, released a new Delightfully Deadly novel and inked an option deal to develop her Parasol Protectorate stories as an animated series.
Ambush or Adore, her third Delightfully Deadly book, hit online retail shelves on Oct. 1. The series, combining espionage and romance, follows characters originally introduced in Carriger’s Finishing School novels. This one tells the story of Agatha Woosmoss, aka the Wallflower, a spy whose “greatest skill is in her ability to go forever unnoticed. Except by one man.”
The release date coincided with the 12th anniversary of Carriger’s debut novel Soulless.
In March, Los Angeles-based animation studio Frederator announced that it had acquired the rights to develop an original animated series based on the Parasol Protectorate novels. This prompted glee among Carriger fans, but she cautioned that an option deal doesn’t guarantee that the series will make it to the screen.
A previous option deal with Parallel Films for a live-action adaptation went nowhere, but the author said she was more optimistic this time because it’s an animation project, which should be less costly to produce.
Clark Returns to Alternate-World Cairo
P. Djèlí Clark, whose 2019 novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 was a Hugo and Nebula awards finalist, followed up this year with his first full-length novel, A Master of Djinn. Both stories are set in an alternate-world, early 20th century Cairo, where agents of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities contend with magical forces unleashed 40 years earlier by a Soudanese mystic named al-Jahiz.
In A Master of Djinn, a brotherhood dedicated to al-Jahiz is murdered, and the killer claims to be the mystic himself. The task of solving the mystery falls to agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi, the youngest woman in the Ministry.
The novel won critical praise and was a finalist in the 2021 New England Book Awards.
Clark also scored honors this year for his 2020 novella Ring Shout, which tells the story of demon hunters on the trail of the Ku Klux Klan in an alternate-world 1920s Georgia. The book won the Nebula, Locus, and British Fantasy awards, and was nominated for a Hugo. Late last year, Skydance Television announced that it had acquired the rights to adapt the story as a TV series.
Learn more on Clark’s website.
The Lunar Trilogy Gets an English Translation
Steampunk creators often take inspiration from the likes of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells, but at least in the English-speaking world, it’s doubtful that many are familiar with the works of Polish writer Jerzy Żuławski. Simon & Schuster took a step toward rectifying that by releasing the first-ever English translation of Trylogia Ksiezycowa (The Lunar Trilogy), a critically acclaimed science fiction series penned by Żuławski between 1901 and 1911.
The novels, which span many centuries, tell the story of a lunar colony established by marooned astronauts. Their descendants lose knowledge of the past and create a religion based on a savior who will take them back to Earth.
The saga “will challenge your imagination and make you question your own views on religion, science, art, and the future of mankind,” said Elzbieta Morgan, who did the translation. The books have been translated into Russian, Czech, German, and Hungarian, but not into English, until now.
The trilogy is available as a single-volume trade paperback. See the publisher’s website for more info.
CamCat Publishing released The Brass Queen, the first full-length novel by Elizabeth Chatsworth. It tells the story of rogue inventor Miss Constance Haltwhistle, a “fiery British aristocrat” who joins forces with an inept U.S. spy in search of a stolen invisibility serum.
The novel won praise from authors Cherie Priest, Cat Rambo, Genevieve Cogman, and Leanna Renee Hieber. It’s available in e-book, hardcover, paperback, and audiobook formats. Learn more on the author’s website.
Tiny Fox Press released another debut novel, Noah Lemelson’s The Sightless City. Combining elements of steampunk, dieselpunk, and fantasy, it tells the story of a private investigator who uncovers a plot to conduct sinister experiments that could lead to genocide. It’s the first volume in a planned trilogy.
The book is available in digital, hardcover, and paperback formats. Learn more on the publisher’s website.
Outland Entertainment released Hopeless, Maine: New England Gothic, a prose novel by Tom and Nimue Brown. They’re the creators of the popular Hopeless, Maine graphic novel series about a mysterious island off the coast of Maine. New England Gothic tells the story of an orphan who becomes a witch on the island. The book also includes “The Oddatsea,” a collection of four short stories by Keith Errington. It’s available from online booksellers or directly from the publisher.
Jeannie Lin concluded her four-book Gunpowder Chronicles series with The Rebellion Engines, a tale combining political intrigue and “slow-burn romance.” The books are set in an alt-world Qing-Dynasty China in 1853 amid the Opium War against the British empire. Protagonist Jin Soling is a physician in a secret factory that builds automatons as part of the war effort.
The author also released a standalone digital edition of Big Trouble in Old Shanghai, a novella originally published as part of Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles, a 2019 collection. Learn more on her website.
Shelley Adina released another volume in her Mysterious Devices steampunk mystery series. The Judge Wore Lamp Black takes places in Port Townsend, Washington in an alt-history 1895, where Daisy and Freddie Linden are arrested as spies and brought before “Hanging” Judge Wilson Bonnell. Later, their long-lost father is accused of murdering the judge and they find themselves in search of the real killer. You can read an excerpt and get links to booksellers on the author’s website.
Walker Books Australia released The Rise of the Remarkables: The Thaumagician’s Revenge, the sequel to Gareth Ward’s Brasswitch and Bot. The series is set in a steampunk Victorian version of York, “where mutated humans known as aberrations are hunted down by a government agency known as the Regulators,” the author explains. The heroine is a 15-year-old apprentice engineer who can control machines with her mind. She joins forces with a mechanoid creature to stop an uprising of aberrations while dealing with a vengeful colleague.
Learn more on the author’s website.
Caffeine Nights Publishing released The Magister Curiosity, a novella by Colin Edmonds that serves as an origin story for the author’s Steam, Smoke and Mirrors series.
Professor Artemus More and Dr. Manswick ‘Wicko’ Smawl find themselves transported across time and alternate worlds from Her Majesty’s Royal States of America in 1919 to New York City in 1889. They’re joined by Michael Magister, a street magician from 2001. As Nikola Tesla tries to help them get back to their own times, they’re opposed by other famous historical figures including Thomas Edison and P.T. Barnum.
Anne Renwick released two new steampunk romance titles set in her Elemental Steampunk universe. Venomous Secrets tells the story of venom expert Cait McCullough, who investigates a vicious fanged creature stalking the streets of London. She’s accompanied by handsome agent Jonathan “Jack” Tagert, who is beset by impending blindness.
A Ghost in Amber has Lady Diana Starr “poised to uncover a lost zoological treasure when an unfortunate steam accident threatens to destroy the chance of a lifetime.” Meanwhile, Lord Leo Wraxall is “trapped in the past and doomed to re-live the night of his murder.”
The books are available in digital and paperback formats from Amazon and other booksellers. Learn more on the author’s website.
Bonsart Bokel, best known to steampunk fans for his Radio Retrofuture podcast, released his debut novel, The Wrench in the Machine. Set in 1875, the story involves a murder investigation that leads to an encounter with an assassin who has otherworldly origins. The protagonist, Inspector Ol’Barrow, soon finds himself collaborating with the Association of Ishtar, a clandestine organization charged with containing threats from other parts of the Multiverse.
The novel is part of the author’s Association of Ishtar series, which also includes short fiction and web videos. It followed the release of Bokel’s S-36: The Call Girl, a graphic novel that he describes as a re-imagining of the first story in the series.
See the Association of Ishtar website for more info.
Zmok Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint, released Rise of the Alchemist, a “steampunk alternative history” by Craig Gallant. It’s set 100 years after a failed American Revolution in which Benedict Arnold established his own Kingdom of Albion. The publisher describes it as “the first novel in a shared author universe where crystals open a door to magic.” See the publisher’s website for links.
Jessica Lucci had a busy year with a new novel and a pair of story collections. The novel, Salem Switch, tells the story of Tess Alset, a 19th century professor who is transported back in time to 1690 Salem, Massachusetts and finds herself accused of witchcraft.
On May 1, she released Tequila Sheila and Other Tall Tales, a collection of stories combining “steampunk, sci-fi, and fantasy with a modern flair.” The title story is about outlaw Cleo Westwind and her girlfriend Sheila in an alternate Wild West. Then in June she published Steampunk Pride, a collection of LGBTQ-themed tales.
See the author’s website for more info.
Catherine Stein, another prolific self-published author, released two steampunk romance novels this year. Dead Dukes Tell No Tales, Book 3 in her Sass and Steam series, follows the adventures of Clifford Kinsley, a scrap metal mogul and single dad who inherits an unwanted dukedom. Saddled with debt and seeking to escape his new title, he teams with airship pirate Sabine Diebin on a worldwide treasure hunt.
Romance author Maya Rodale, writing for NPR, described it as a “fast paced, flippant and fun romance adventure.”
Love at Second Sight, Book 4 in Stein’s Potions and Passions series, tells the story of a Victorian-era couple who lose their memories—including those of one another—due to a nefarious liquid concoction.
See the author’s website for links to sellers and more info.
Jon Hartless concluded his Poppy Orpington Chronicles series with The Death of Poppy Orpington, in which the protagonist meets her demise as an early 20th century war hero. It’s presented in the form of a modern-day historical account, looking back a hundred years to Poppy’s final days. The “ultimate reward for her bravery was death and betrayal, for after sacrificing her young life on a reckless mission, the British government then vilified her posthumous reputation to serve as a distraction from their own incompetence and corruption,” the historian writes.
Learn more on the author’s Facebook page.
More Book Coverage
These were just some of the many book releases in 2021. See the roundups below for a more comprehensive look.
New Books: September/October 2021 (Nov. 16)
New Books: July/August 2021 (Sept. 9)
New Books: June 2021 (July 14)
New Books: Spring 2021 (June 15)