Book Review: Cogs, Crowns and Carriages, a Steampunk Anthology

Cogs, Crowns and Carriages is a sparkling Steampunk anthology collection of a dozen stirring tales. As a newcomer to the Steampunk genre, I was excited to dip in to a great selection. The thing about Steampunk is that it is gloriously undefined and wonderfully varied, so I really looked forward to getting stuck into this.

The collection starts with an intricate and intriguing story of pirates steering airships through uncharted seas. Then there is the wonderful vampiric inventor written with a lovely light touch, the ghost powered machines and an amazing, delicate story with a Japanese background that resonates so much with the interweaving and contending cultures of today.

There is a wonderful clash with a sea-monster that is only pushed back by the ingenuity of the characters, a tale of silken bowers framed by mechanical wonders and a tense, layered story set in an alternate timeline. Then a rollicking western-style story of monsters and wrong doing followed by an exquisitely crafted gothic story of colour and loss which is followed by a dark, psychological horror.

Finally there is a beautiful story of transcending the horror of war and a last, piratical yarn of derring do in airships wheeling above the Spanish Main.

It is a wonderful, glorious, vivid collection of stories and I sincerely recommend it.


red and black traffic light
Image from Unsplash taken by Oleksii S

“I’m not convinced I need to be here.” Darren hunched into his leather jacket and tried to ignore the trickle of rain down his neck.

Lord Marius lounged casually against the traffic light. “Of course it’s a ghost,” he said. “Bad people were buried at crossroads. What else could it be?”

Darren looked at him for a moment. “Let’s look at the facts. There’s a higher than average death count at this junction. It’s mainly motorbikes, but a few cars have crashed with fatalities. It could be a bad road layout, difficult local conditions, mis-timed light changes, local kids messing with the signals, poor road condition, demographic of drivers, location of nearest pub – all sorts of stuff.”

“There have been strange stories from survivors,” Lord Marius said. “And talk of a grey figure appearing without warning.”

“There are always strange stories from survivors.” Darren said. “At least, strange stories that are supposed to come from survivors but have nothing to do with it. And some of the stories may be strange, and may be actually told by a survivor but are more to do with trying to hide that they were driving under the influence. And a strange figure jumping out could just be a local nutter.”

“This is a very old road,” Lord Marius said. “I remember it being built.”

Darren knew he was being baited, but it passed the time. “What do you mean, it’s an old road. If it’s that old, it wasn’t built.”

“I mean, I remember the legions building it.” Lord Marius said. “The bend over there is because there was once swamp and mire.”

Darren walked slowly up to the very edge of the pavement and looked both ways. The road was remarkably straight for this part of the country. “This was a Roman road?”

“The legions built it first,” Lord Marius said. “I watched them for hours as they worked so hard. The road crossing is later.” He waved an expansive hand. “But I know of several suicides that were buried here.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Darren said. “Besides, ghosts usually attached to their place of death. It’s probably something that’s more your territory.” He stretched. “And we’ve probably frightened off anything that’s hanging around.”

“Do you really think I’d allow us to be noticed,” Lord Marius said smoothly. “That would defeat the purpose of bringing you here.”

Darren glared at him. “You have cast an enchantment on me?”

Lord Marius paused. “I should have asked first?”

“Damn right you should have asked.” Darren snapped. “Who the hell do you think you are? I am not one of your subjects, I’m doing you a favour by turning out on a night like this and you throw enchantments at me?” He advanced slowly towards Lord Marius. “Get the enchantment off me now!

Lord Marius flinched. “Please accept my many apologies, Reverend Darren King, I merely thought that I was making suitable preparations. I also have food and drink with me.”

“Do you honestly think I’d accept food or drink from an elfen?” Darren paced around in fury.

“There is a candidate coming.” Lord Marius lost interest in Darren’s fury as he heard the deep roar of an engine approaching.

A motorbike was racing down the road, taking the bend far too fast. Darren knew the signs. It was a kid, barely legal to drive, without a helmet or decent gear. There was nothing to protect him in an accident. The rider wobbled, frantically trying to hold it together as the bike, far too big for him, swayed and bucked at the curve.

“No you don’t!” Lord Marius called.

Darren spun around as a grey-cloaked figure loomed out of the shadows and shambled towards the road. Lord Marius grabbed it, then ducked as the figure swung a knife at him. Darren tried to assess what was happening as the bike’s brakes squealed behind him as the kid finally got some control. What was this creature? It sliced forward with the knife and Lord Marius leapt back quickly, stumbling on the uneven path. The creature followed its advantage and punched at Lord Marius, missing his head but catching him on the shoulder, spinning him around and sending him staggering. Lord Marius punched it hard, frantically trying to buy some time, and it slammed back into the pole. As whatever it was pushed back towards Lord Marius, Darren saw a visible dent in the pole, but no singe marks or frost. It was probably safe to hit. He kicked hard at the hand holding the knife, watching the multicoloured traffic lights gleam on it as it jerked, but it wasn’t dropped. Darren’s heart sank, not an easy opponent. He feinted another kick and then hit it hard on the back of its head. Lord Marius followed up and punched the creature hard in the stomach and it dropped, retching.

“My apologies.” Lord Marius bent forward, backhanded the creature and then pulled back the hood. “You were correct, Minister Darren King. It is an elfen. A very unimportant elfen who is very, very sorry.”

“They stopped tying flowers.” The elfen wore a glamour like an older woman with disarranged silver curls and smudged, old-fashioned makeup. She looked furtively between the two standing over her. “When someone dies, people tie bunches of flowers to the poles. I like the flowers.” She rubbed wrinkled and arthritic hands together. “So I made sure there was always a reason to tie the flowers.”

Darren checked the road. The kid and his motorbike had long gone and the road was empty. “Remove the enchantment, Lord Marius.”

“Of course.” Lord Marius waved a hand. “And once again my apologies. Thank you for your aid.”

“We probably won’t be able to prove anything in a court of law.” Darren said, working his hand. The elfen kneeling in front of him had a skull like iron.

“Do not worry.” Lord Marius smiled maliciously. “I will educate this creature to the error of her ways. It may take some time.” The kneeling elfen flinched.

“Thanks.” Darren straightened his jacket.

“I am extremely grateful for the aid,” Lord Marius said. “I was taken by surprise at the attack. I feel I owe you a minor debt of honour.”

“Don’t worry about the attack,” Darren said. “If you take this off the streets then we’re even. But I won’t forget about the enchantment.” He turned and strode down the hill towards his car.

Lord Marius looked after him thoughtfully. “I wonder if I shall regret that enchantment.” He paused for a moment, then kicked the kneeling elfen hard in the head. “No matter, I shall concentrate on the matter in hand.”