Hello! Beth Cato here, author of The Clockwork Dagger, just released from Harper Voyager. A lot of people ask me, why steampunk? Well, I fell in love with historical fiction at about age 8. I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books over a gazillion times. At age 12, I switched to fantasy series like Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms.
Steampunk mixes together these genres that I love. I can combine history, mystery, romance, magic, and make something fresh and new. My original concept for my novel The Clockwork Dagger was “Murder on the Orient Express, on an airship, with a healer as the lead character.”
I decided to go to the dieselpunk edge of the genre and base my world on post-World War I Europe. I researched a lot in the era to get details right, but since the geography and history were my own, I had a lot of flexibility.
I also wanted a more epic fantasy vibe even with a different tech level–kind of like if the Games of Thrones hit the Industrial Revolution. My heroine, Octavia Leander, is a medician, a physician with healing magic. She calls on a world tree known as the Lady so that she can heal those in need. However, magic isn’t considered grandiose in her world–science and technology are the way of the future.
There’s also romance. Octavia isn’t too keen on Alonzo Garret when they first meet, despite her strong physical attraction to him. He’s an airship steward–a somewhat shabby one at that–but most of all, his father was the man who accidentally killed Octavia’s parents. However, as Octavia’s airship journey is beset by murder and mayhem, she relies on Alonzo to help her stay alive.
I think the main reason I wrote steampunk, though, is the sheer fun of it. It’s wild ride–pulp fiction with mad scientists, obsessed terrorists, and corrupt governments. It’s the kind of book that I love to read, and it’s an absolute blast to write!
Back cover summary:
Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.
Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.
Excerpt from chapter 1:
“Pardon me, m’lady, but you seem lost.” A musical, deep baritone caused her to turn. A man stood inches away in steward’s garb. His crimson jacket was right at her eye level, with double-rows of gold buttons fit across a rather broad chest. It looked reminiscent of an old military uniform, complete with glimmering epaulets. However, the attire had been in use for some years. White threadbare streaks radiated from the buttons and the epaulets had only haphazard gold fringe. All that she absorbed in an instant.
Then she looked up at his face.
His skin was the color of nutmeg, unblemished and tight. The skin color denoted him as Tamaran, from that nation of science and logic far to the south. But most of all, his hair drew her eye. Drawn into a leather queue, his thick mane had the texture of a black silk kerchief balled in a fist and set to dry. It lay against his shoulder like a cat’s poufy tail. She could imagine the texture of the rippling kinky strands beneath her fingers.
“Oh.” With a start, she realized she was gawking as if she hadn’t seen a man before. She had seen plenty, and naked at that. Albeit, the copious amounts of blood and gore were a sufficient turn off. “Oh, um, I’m looking for the Argus. If you can help, I do have a copper.”
Oh, you ninny. She would have withheld her coin from a beggar child yet volunteered it to the first man who smiled her way.
Such a pleasant smile it was, too—brilliant white against his darker skin. He even had all his front teeth. “Do not trouble yourself. I am going that way as well.” He jutted out an elbow.
Now this was a proper gentleman, complete with a lilting Mercian accent. Octavia hooked her arm around his.
“Shall I take your bags?” he asked.
Her smile froze on her face. “Oh, no. I’m quite fine, thank you.” Too many lives depend on that satchel. Touch it, and you’ll get a face full of capsicum.
He bowed his head in acknowledgment as they began to walk. She had the urge to close her eyes and listen to the soft music of the man beside her. He was healthy, his body fairly quiet. And yet… something was missing.
All medicians—even Miss Percival—required a circle to hear the music of a body in need. At the academy, it hadn’t taken Octavia long to realize how profoundly different she was, and how others responded to those difference.
This man was different from most of the others around, too. Half of his right leg was gone.
His knee was intact, but below that, his body was silent. There were physical signs as well—the mechanical extension was heavier than flesh, and he compensated with the slightest tilt of his torso and drag of his leg. The fact that he didn’t limp was noteworthy. Whoever designed the leg had the light hand of a master.
“Have you been in the city long?” asked her cicerone.
“No. Only a half hour or so, and I’m quite ready to leave. I much prefer the country.”
He glanced both ways and led her into the avenue. “This is nothing compared to Mercia. Have you been there, m’lady?”
“No, sir. I’ll visit there by airship this week.” A night in Mercia will be enough. I can say I’ve been there and never return.
He grunted. “’Tis a beautiful place in many ways, especially along the bay and the palace quarter, but the quagmire of exhaust and humanity corrodes the spirit with utter swiftness.”
She cast curious eyes on him. “That’s quite poetic.” And exactly how I feel.
“Is that such a surprise, for a man in my position to manage a few pretty words?” A gap in his coat revealed itself along a shoulder seam, showing a flash of a lighter red satin lining. He regarded her solemnly, head tilted to one side. “Forgive my forwardness, but ’tis dangerous for a lady to travel alone, especially to Mercia. You truly intend to travel by airship, by yourself?”
Oh, no. He did not go there.
Octavia stopped in her tracks, finger pointed towards his chest. “Please, don’t tell me you are one of those men who believes women should be treated like porcelain roses, brought down for an occasional dusting and public display.” She’d had enough of that pompous attitude from men at the front. If she could patch a ruptured bowel, she could walk across a street by herself, thank you very much. “I may need help navigating this strange city, but I am quite capable of making this journey on my own.”
He raised both hands in supplication. “If you are a rose, m’lady, ’tis to your advantage to have thorns.” She had expected more bluster, or chagrin. Instead, his words were sober and his gaze even. “Some lives attract more danger than others. This North Country around Vorana—I confess, I have visited here only for port calls, but it strikes me as a pleasant place, one worth staying in.”
Oh, Lady, if only I could. “If you’re not willing to help me, sir, then I’ll continue on my own.”
“No. Forgive me for speaking out of turn. I will escort you, and gladly. I am simply—I am simply weary of people being hurt by Mercia and its ways.”
She inclined her head to indicate agreement, but didn’t hold his arm quite so close.
They approached a mooring tower, its sides bearing a painted ad for Royal-Tea with its mimicry of the crown logo as depicted on coins. Swirling calligraphy boasted, “For vitality! For health! For crown!“ along with the smiling face of a tow-headed girl, a can of the tea held at her cheek.
“This is the Argus.” He motioned towards the airship attached to the tower of tea advertisements.
Octavia had seen a good many dirigibles at camp, but never from so close. The balloon extended for some 75 feet, the cloth dulled silver. Only the pilot’s nest peeped from the front; the rest of the cabin was within the hull. The lower part of the balloon was lined with windows and fluttering crimson swags cut in long triangles. The scent of dust was pushed aside by the increasingly heavy odor of aether-enchanted helium. By the intensity, she surmised some aether magi were at work nearby.
“The ship is rather…” She searched for a polite word.
“Dingy?” There was that grin again. Pale, icy blue eyes seemed to twinkle. That eye color was most definitely not a stock hereditary feature of Tamarania. Nor was the twinkling.
“I hoped for a more courteous adjective,” Octavia said.
“Most anything docked here could be described in a less courteous way. All of these airships are over forty years old. I believe the Argus was acquired by the military for use as a transport in the last war.”
“It’s a wonder the vessel was returned, considering…” How the military treated the expendable. Not a thought to finish out loud.
Miss Percival’s face flashed in her mind, so recently aged and wrinkled, her head bowed over financial figures at lamplight. Caskentia hadn’t paid the academy for its services at the front. Miss Percival would do most anything to keep the school open and the girls in good care.
She looked past her guide to the base of the tower. “I see the ticket agent is still boarding. My gratitude to you, sir…? I don’t believe I ever heard your name.”
“I had not given it, m’lady. The name is Alonzo Garret.” He bowed again, that magnificent hair draping forward.
Icy horror clenched her in place. A Tamaran, and so few of them lived this far north. The last name of Garret.
“Of relation to the General Solomon Garret?” she said, doing her utmost to keep her tone mild.
He stood tall again. Something had stiffened in his face, his eyes now unwilling to meet hers. “Very few people make note of that name these days, m’lady, after the heroism of the recent war. Solomon Garret was my father.”
“Thank you again,” she murmured. She yanked her suitcase along the cobbles of the port, walking towards the ticket line with all the world blurred around her.
His father. Of course. No wonder he had been knowledgeable of airships.
She had just spoken with the son of the man who killed her parents.
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
Beth’s short fiction can be found in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and many other magazines. The Clockwork Dagger is her first novel. The sequel, The Clockwork Crown, will be released in June 2015.