Magnificent Devices 4-book Bundle by Shelley Adina
I initially obtained the first book Lady of Devices free and thoroughly enjoyed the story and the characters to the point of not being able to pass up the great bargain of the 4 book bundle. I thought if they were even only half as well done as the first I couldn't go wrong. I set them aside for a bit before getting to them, but when I started I couldn't put the whole group down until I finished.
Lady Claire or Claire Trevelyan daughter of Viscount St. Ives is one of the most remarkable female protagonists to come along. At the age of 17 she has been brought up proper to become a lady who will soon be offering her hand to the most eligible gentleman she can snare. The problem for Lady Claire is that despite all the efforts to cow and mold her into a pleasant perfect petticoat-ed proper lady she has other plans that can't include that gentlemen under her societies present circumstances. She wants to go to college to obtain a degree in engineering so that she can continue to pursue the passion she already has for designing and improving upon the steam driven technology that are emerging into the present era. Of course her goals are simply absurd in her day and age and she has an uphill battle, although the hill looks more like a cliff.
A dreadful event changes her life and perhaps is what catapults her into having to use her wits to survive. Her father fails in a desperate gamble with combustion engines and ruins not only himself but a large number of investors. His subsequent suicide leaves his family trying to scramble up from the ashes to avoid poverty. Despite her mothers protests and preaching Lady Claire manages to free herself from tradition long enough to attempt to find a temporary job that will help her put herself through college. Because everything that Claire proposes to do is against the grain of societies rules she has a hard battle before her.
Early on we discover one of Lady Claire's most prized possessions is her father's steam landau, which she uses to get around the city. It is through the theft of the landau, while she's wandered into an unsavory part of the city, that she begins to really show her mettle. Not knowing what she is facing she attempts to recover her landau from the thieves. This leads to the discovery that the thieves are mostly children. Perhaps it's a bit of that ingrained mother instinct that ultimately leads to Lady Claire taking over the 'gang'. The gang has since passed her landau off to another more dangerous gang and in exchange for Lady Claire teaching them how to make gaseous explosive devices they promise to help her gain back the landau. In the end Lady Claire ends up killing a man (Lightning Jackson) and beginning her life of crime.
Lady Claire continues to search for a job while she rides herd over the gang of youths and spends her free time teaching them mathematics, chemistry, reading, writing, mechanical engineering, various poker hands and all the essentials including bomb building. Her search for a job intersects with an old family friend James Selwyn who has a business colleague Andrew Malvern who is designing a new way to make coal more efficient. James Selwyn immediately comes off as a bit of a stuffy self-involved character who has only one vision of what a woman's place in society is. This is so narrow that it precludes the probability that his efforts will damage his chances of completing the project of creating Hyper-efficient coal. Despite James effort Claire and Andrew must work around James to succeed.
Eventually Lady Claire will find herself torn between the professed affections of these two men.
The second book has a spot that I found to be a point of epiphany for Claire. Claire knows that if she wanted to make many things in her life easier she could Marry James as he keeps insisting he wants her to do. James has gone as far as to manipulate things in his favor despite his seeming distaste for most of what Claire represents. Because of James's cruel and insensitive nature she know that his final goal is to separate her from her life goals and from her new found family of the children she has been sheltering. She has made the children a promise and James intends on forcing her to break that promise and at this point of the book Lady Claire has a moment of clarity where she realizes that her first commitment is to the children, her new family, and that anyone who comes into her life has to be able to accept them. Clearly the children are as important to her as her goal to go to a university and become an engineer. Lady Claire seems to be more than willing and capable of handling the requirements of the average woman while still striving to obtain something that far surpasses every woman.
Lady Claire is the Lady of Devices but more appropriately she is later described as the Lady of Resources which defines her much better. Lady Claire does have a mind and a inclination for devices but she seems less the inventor and more the innovator of other inventions. She surrounds herself with others with valuable skills and has set herself up as a leader of a small army that includes several other ladies of resources. James can't tolerate this and Andrew can only marvel at it all (and they only know the half of it). That does not mean that these two men are weak or less than men. James typifies everything that Lady Claire had to fight and overcome while Andrew is more tolerant and finds himself puzzling over the old paradigm of social order and this new vision that he sees working not only with Lady Claire but in the children she has in her charge. Even Lady Claire struggles with the whole new paradigm when she finds herself stifling the twins more often than not. It is hard to let go and realize that these young girls and all of her children are no longer ordinary.
A majority of the successes of Lady Claire and her charges stems from not weak and inept male characters, but more so from a real existing mental attitude ingrained in the minds of those men. I've met many that exist today that have this same blind spot when trying to judge the capability of some women. It's such a powerful influence that they teach their own wives to live within the same blind spot; helping to affirm and fulfill their own skewed expectation of woman's abilities. James is a strong male character on one side of the blind spot and Andrew is a strong male character on the other side. Andrew's strength only becomes less evident to anyone looking at him from that blind spot, which is going to include a majority of those typical strong male types.
Make no mistake; I loved this series of books and will be looking into the 5th book soon. I love Ms. Adina's writing style and suspect I will be tempted into reaching out of my genre preferences once again to peruse a few more of her works.
Anyone who loves SteamPunk or even SFF (and is not ultra picky about the science or strict adherence to history) should love these books.
For those who are picky I'd like to point out the disclaimer at the beginning which includes.
[Quote] This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real.[/Quote]
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