Esprit de Corpse (NeoParadoxa)
by Ef Deal
This is a fun romp of a steampunk tale. Jacqueline Duval is an inveterate tinkerer, an innovator, and holds many mechanical patents in 1840s France. Her twin sister, Angélique, used to be a musical prodigy until disaster struck and she was somehow turned into…not exactly a werewolf, more of a wolf shape shifter. Ever since her transformation Angélique has pushed the envelope and been reckless with her lifestyle, companions, and sexual favors. Jacky despairs of her sister’s almost suicidal streak and the novel starts with her yet again rescuing her twin from some horrid situation of her own making, in Paris. They are taking the train home when a mechanical man is found on the tracks, stopping the train and providing a mechanical mystery for Jacky that proves very strange indeed: the automaton is very hot to the touch, and when its helmet is pried open not only does steam escape, so does a scream.
And there is just a skull and piping inside, with no visible means of propulsion.
And oh, how many players want that skull with its odd writing and odder history! While Jacqueline has the mechanical man set in luggage, bound for her forge and workshop, she keeps the skull separate to take it to Paris and have a translator look at the inscription. A British agent and a French spy get involved, because the skull is pivotal to a plot to wage war. And Jacky becomes separated from Angélique as they both discover clues: one as a wounded wolf, and the other as an engineer following a trail of mechanical bread crumbs. Wound through it all is an occult threat that threatens both of their worlds.
I’m usually not a big fan of steampunk, since I often cannot make the leap to accept many of the miniaturizations that such stories ask of their mechanical marvels. I’m glad I looked past that, though. With the exception of how Jacky re-wires and causes the automaton to become “Monsieur Claque,” everything is well-thought-out scientifically and believable. The story is also true to the time period. I especially love how she gives a “French translated into English” cadence to the book; it enhanced my enjoyment. And it has marvelous romantic subplots as well as an inevitable surprise at the denouement. Give it a try when it comes out on April 1, 2023!