Book Review: Eros Element by Cecilia Dominic

Eros Element Cover Art

The time and place

London, Paris, and Rome. An alternate summer of 1870 in which the American Civil War is still going.

The suspension of disbelief

Scientists have discovered aether, the substance between matter, and can isolate it. It’s the “stuff” (medium) light passes through. There are airships with floating gondolas. Also, some people have psychic powers.

The quick summary

Iris McTavish, an archaeological expert, stands in for her father on a scientific expedition to find ways to use aether as a power source. She needs the money the project backer promises to retain her independence from an unwanted and unscrupulous suitor. While on the expedition, she finds herself drawn to Edward Bailey, the aether scientist. But nobody on the expedition is what they seem to be. With enemies determined to disrupt the trip at every turn, can Edward and Iris unlock the potential of the Eros Element?

My squees

Not everyone would like the hero, Professor Bailey, but he makes me go squee. He’s querulous and neurotic and sweet and intelligent and tenderhearted. The high-maintenance professor type. His admiration for Iris is a complex thing: they share a passion of discovery while constantly challenging each other.
Our heroine, meanwhile, is plenty paranoid. If she touches significant objects with her bare hands, she has uncontrollable visions of the people and places the object has been associated with, and this has made her see ugly things. She chafes at the restrictions her gender and economic consequences have placed upon her. At one point, someone calls her on her detachment, thinking it’s unnatural for a woman to be so composed when she’s witnessed something so horrible. That’s her way to cope, though, she’s smart and means well. The secrets she keeps are understandable and she has good reason to not confide in people.
The baddies are convincing. There’s a visceral immediate threat, and also a more mysterious far-ranging one.

My grumbles

Despite the title, this book is PG. I don’t mind that when I expect it, but I did wonder if there would be more of the sensual in dealings with the Eros Element.
I felt that the cast’s traveling around was a whirlwind, and I didn’t get the feel of all the cities as differentiated from each other (except the culinary details).
There was also lots of setup done in this book that fleshed out the secondary characters, not because of their importance now, but because they might be the foci of later books in the series. The book raises a lot of questions it doesn’t answer probably until later in the series.

Read if you

  • Require keen intellect in your reads
  • Enjoy ensemble casts
  • Are interested in ancient conspiracies

Skip if you

  • Want a he-man hero
  • Are looking for a high heat level
  • Hate airships

Final thoughts

I chose to review this book because its hero is a little different. There’s a mix of science and the paranormal in this steampunk read.

Resources: Author site / Goodreads / Amazon / Kobo / iBooks / Google Play

Honeymoon reading

This morning I set out to New Mexico with John! There will be plenty of downtime and hanging out at cafes, just letting our brains unknot for a week. I’ll do plenty of reading, I’m sure. Here are some books that I’m thinking of getting to:

  • Aliens in the Barn by Kyndra Hatch. I’m partway through this, and I haven’t met such unique aliens in a long time.
  • Deep Indigo by Cathryn Cade. I’ve read the others in this series and enjoyed them, so why leave that incomplete?
  • Mission: Improper by Bec McMaster. The spinoff to London Steampunk.
  • Hell Squad: Cruz and Gabe by Anna Hackett, because I’ve read the later books and want to be able to fill in a few references.
  • Trapped with the Cyborg by Cara Bristol because I will read most any books with female cyborgs in them.
  • Seth by Eve Langlais because see above.
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I’ve tried to read this a decade ago but had some trouble with it. I think it’s important for me to read more about hypercapitalism and classics of cyberpunk.
  • You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty by Dave Barry. Dave Barry was the first humor writer I read as a teenager and I appreciate his talent for the absurd.
  • Devil’s Kiss by Zoe Archer. I love her adventure stories. This is a historical with some supernatural elements I borrowed from the library.

I said recently that I’m not great at “just being” and reading is a good balance between doing and being. Do you have any summer vacation reading plans?

Book Review: The Tea Machine by Gill McKnight

The time and place

We start on the research spaceship Amoebas in 1954, alternate history. Then we’re yanked to Victorian England. Several other times and places make an appearance in the story.

The suspension of disbelief

Somebody invents a time machine in 1862. Once that happens, things start getting pretty bonkers.

The quick summary

Millicent Aberly accidentally activates her genius brother Hubert’s new time machine, which throws her into a future where the Roman Empire did not fall, but expanded, even colonizing space. The Romans now fight the space squid for control of…space. Millicent is saved from death-by-space-squid by the dashing lady centurion Sangfroid, who she develops a crush on. As they make their way through the ship, Sangfroid dies, and Millicent returns to her original time and place. Intrigued by Sangfroid and wracked with guilt, Millicent uses the time machine again to try to prevent Sangfroid’s death. Many tries later, Sangfroid accidentally comes back to London and Millicent’s time. Then other strange phenomena begin, starting with giant squid and another Roman soldier from Sangfroid’s time showing up in the Aberly house. Matters get further muddled when there’s another time machine accident; and Millicent has to decide whether to save the version of London she knows, or keep her beloved Sangfroid in existence.

My squees

I have long found the work of HP Lovecraft interesting and hysterical: I went to the university that is Miskatonic’s closest analog (we have a library with books bound in human skin!), and while there I connected with many science fiction fans who loved the Victorian era and all things steampunk. Some of them impressed upon me that linear time is inherently straight and that subversion of it would be queer. This was before same-sex marriage was legalized anywhere in the US, and my friends bitterly joked that their so-called gay marriage agenda was to destroy linear time. So this book tied together some of my fondest memories of my college friends together: a bunch more of them were Classics geeks who could name the five worst Roman emperors. I’ll be recommending this book or loaning it out to as many of them as I can.

The story blends steampunk, science fiction, alternate history, romance, and a tea cult. I love McKnight’s imagination: strange creatures and technology are everywhere, causing mayhem. I wasn’t sure where the plot would go and got surprised several times. Nothing seemed out of place, though. Most of the “hey what about…” questions I had got resolved, although I think some mysteries are still there to explore in further books.

The characters and dialogue are strong, somehow remaining grounded as their reality gets wackier. Watching proper Victorians deal with the fantastical made me smile: they rationalize and hold on to their realities in believable fashion. Millicent worries about her ruined dress when there are far more dire concerns because it’s what she’s used to caring about. Hubert and his fiancée Sophia are gloriously neurotic. If you enjoy witty British banter, this is your cup of tea. Oh, that was awful, but I stand by my words. The romance between Millicent and Sangfroid is very sweet, and there is a hilarious secondary love story and yet another serious crush. There’s a happy-for-now at the end of The Tea Machine that asks more questions than it answers, so their story shall continue.

My grumbles

I’m not surprised that the Victorian ladies misgender Sangfroid, but I did raise a brow at the Romans who do so, when they recognize that centurion Gallo is female. Perhaps there’s a reason for that I missed. Sangfroid says she’s obviously female, but her idea of obvious may not be in line with the others she meets.

The narrative is very twisty: there are several timelines to keep track of, and we’re dumped in the middle of the action. I liked how we start with Sangfroid’s getting the background information after the fact, but the flashbacks and explanations later in the story felt less potent in how they were conveyed.

In the copy I got, there were enough typos that I felt it needed another proofreading pass from the editor(s) at Ylva.

Read if you

  • Enjoy Dr. Who-style time travel and British banter
  • Thought the Roman coliseums seriously needed mechanized beasts
  • Enjoy a sweet slow burn during frantic adventure

Skip if you

  • Can’t handle lots of gore, especially of squid and large animals
  • Don’t want to keep track of different timelines and causalities
  • Are looking for erotic tentacle romance- you’ll be disappointed

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received a free copy for review, but bought one to use as a loaner once I finished it. If you’re not sure if it’s for you, use Amazon’s sample chapters to see if you like the humor and vivid setting. It’s an original screwball premise with unpredictable twists, and I look forward to the sequel.

Author site: Gill McKnight

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon US / Ylva Publishing / Kobo