Review: Lady of Devices

Lady of Devices - Shelley Adina

I can’t in good conscience say that the plot of this tale is “believable.” But the pieces fall together so nicely that suspending my disbelief was surprisingly easy. I suppose this is because the setting and the characters do all the heavy lifting, with actual plot taking a backseat to the development of the world.

 

Claire Trevelyan, the titular Lady of Devices, goes from well-to-do finishing school graduate with hopes of attending university to the den mother of a gang of pickpockets within a matter of days. On the surface, this summary sounds silly, but Claire is a bright and resourceful heroine and makes you believe in her. I’m a little afraid some readers will accuse her of being a Mary Sue, but Adina does a good job of establishing Claire as someone who works for her successes, and isn’t just magically gifted because she is the heroine.

 

Lady occasionally reminded me of another female-centric steampunk series, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, though the similarities are probably due to sharing ground in a very small literary subgenre. Both works feature a practical, no-nonsense heroine who is somehow held back from joining the ranks of bored Victorian society wives, either due to physical or social limitations, but who proves to be incredibly resourceful and finds her own idiosyncratic way of doing things. In Carriger’s series, Alexia is relegated to the shelf of spinsterhood on account of her unconventional looks and her unwillingness to suffer fools. Adina’s Claire is also not a great beauty and is more interested in intellectual pursuits than is “proper” for a well-bred young lady. Like Alexia, Claire has a mother who is more concerned with appearances and the status quo than her daughter’s actual welfare. Both act out against the strictures of society as embodied by their mothers, and lead adventurous lives against the grain of feminine expectations. Were this actual Victorian fiction, Claire would be anachronistic, but for the purposes of steampunk adventure, she presses all the right buttons (just like Alexia before her).

 

Adina does a superb job blending alternate history—steam powered devices, electrical weapons—with a Victorian setting that feels very authentic. This is where the Magnificent Devices series deviates from the style of Carriger’s series, since Parasol Protectorate used steampunk only on a superficial level and was much more about the paranormal (which doesn’t feature at all in Devices). The nuances of social strata and the contrast between the classes feel very real; Adina obviously did her research, even if Claire’s ability to walk between the different spheres may stretch credulity a bit. Especially worth noting is the effective use of dialect; it’s a tricky thing in the best circumstances, but the cockney street slang of Claire’s gang rings true and never feels forced. The author may describe fashion in a little more detail than is necessary, but in a society so focused on decorum, it doesn’t detract from the overall effect.

 

Before this starts to sound like a complete gush-fest, I have to admit this first volume has some weaknesses, though none of them are deal breakers. The story has important plot moments, but much of the time it feels like set-up for the later entries in the series instead of a story all its own. There is also a quality to some of the events that make the stakes feel both real and unreal, with certain moments of tension being very effective, and others being too obviously a set-up for later events and thus having very little payoff. Also, the cover is misleading. It’s pretty in a generic kind of way, but doesn’t fit Claire’s get-down-to-business character at all.

 

Minor quibbles aside, this was a great popcorn read and helped me out of a fiction reading slump. I enjoyed it so much that I bought the next THREE volumes in the series.

 

(If any of this struck your fancy, this first volume is available for FREE at Amazon)