I rarely review anthologies because not all the stories work for me in most. I was pleasantly surprised to find something to like in all these stories, even the more horrific I usually shy away from.
A lot of what makes this a successful anthology is the use of not one overall concept but three blended together. The stories are all some sort of mix between fairy tale and myth, and steam/clockwork punk. They also share a common omniscient narrative style, though with different approaches at times. The stories feel like they fit together despite strong differences, a factor in why I wasn’t jerked from one world to another.
The downside of using fairy tale retellings comes in how several of the stories were so well known to me I thought I’d read these particular takes at first. That rarely lasted to the end, however, as these tales offer a creative approach to traditional ones, often changing the lesson to be taught along with the specifics. I will speak in generalities to avoid spoilers in my thoughts on each story.
The Clockwork Nightingale by Bess Raechel Goden
This is a story I’ve read in several iterations, even at least one steampunk version. It lends itself to the world of automatons as a way out of the original story where a thing of nature when trapped loses what made it special. However, in this version, the outcome is a new take on both those elements, and I enjoyed how things turned out.
Sleeping Steaming Beauty by Victoria L. Szulc
Again, an interesting steampunk take on the traditional tale of Sleeping Beauty that has its similarities to the previous story themes.
Odyssey? by Aaron Isett
There were many ways the author could have gone with a ship crewed by clockwork sailors. This one stays a bit closer to the original Homeric poem while offering an interesting twist on the consequences of hearing siren song.
The Marionette by Phoebe Darqueling
This is the darkest tale in the anthology and so the furthest from my preference. However, I appreciated the narrative voice. It went one step further than the others to bring back memories of prison accounts, fictional or true, written by noble prisoners as they awaited a gruesome death in the Tower of London or revolutionary France. The story is told through the lens of future knowledge in a dispassionate account of the truly horrific, almost as though the narrator remains emotionally shut down after what he has experienced. And the last line is beautiful, appropriate, prose.
The Little Wind-up Mermaid by K. Gray
Gray’s story dances on the edge of horror without going over as an overly curious mermaid goes to the surface after great sacrifice. There are some unfinished pieces at the end, but the major conflicts are resolved in a surprising way.
Treasure by Crysta K. Coburn
Several elements are changed to make this Snow White retelling into a steampunk story, but it stays true to a jealousy so strong as to drive the queen mad, and the homage to its origins are clear. I enjoyed the queen’s innovation, if not her intent, and the tinkerer who takes the place of the seven dwarves is fun to read about.
The Queen of Clocks by Thomas Gregory
This is my favorite of all the stories, and a good end to the anthology even though I had some issues with the story’s ending. It felt rushed, leaving me to guess at some of the links in between, but still carried the elements of the traditional fairy tale style. What elevated this story in my regard, though, had everything to do with the clockwork descriptions. How Hans accomplishes his tasks and is of help to those in need is lovely, as are the creations that pepper the story. The puzzles necessary to repair what he is tasked to help are also well thought out.
There are some editing issues in my version I hope have been fixed in a later one, but nothing that could stop me from enjoying the whole. I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since Phoebe Darqueling’s story was the one to draw me to the anthology and I’m not much of a horror fan.
The first two stories swept away any lingering concerns, and each one had some aspects that shone. I have not found all the stories in an anthology enjoyable for some time, but The Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales made me reconsider that risk.