Illustration of a steampunk-inspired library with flying airships outside the window, cogwheel designs on the walls, and a reading nook with leather-bound steampunk novels.

11 Steampunk Novels Every Enthusiast Should Read

Steampunk, a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy, marries the aesthetics of the Victorian era with advanced technology. It’s a world of cogs, steam engines, airships, and goggles.

If you’re a fan of this genre or a newbie intrigued by its unique blend, here’s a list of top steampunk novels that you absolutely should dive into.

Let’s steam ahead!

1. “Mortal Engines” by Philip Reeve

A Post-Apocalyptic World on Wheels

In Philip Reeve’s imaginative steampunk universe, the very fabric of civilization has been redefined. Gone are the days of static cities; in their place, mammoth metropolises on wheels trawl the wastelands, driven by a relentless hunger for resources.

These “Traction Cities” operate on a Darwinian principle: the big cities hunt down and consume the smaller ones, assimilating their people and resources. At the heart of this nomadic world is the Traction City of London, a once grand city now retrofit with layers of metal and steam-powered machinery.

When young historian Tom Natsworthy unexpectedly crosses paths with a mysterious girl named Hester Shaw, the two are thrust into a whirlwind adventure that challenges their understanding of loyalty, revenge, and survival.

As they navigate the treacherous terrains and political intrigues of this dystopian world, readers are treated to an epic tale that beautifully melds the grim realities of a post-apocalyptic Earth with the wonders of steampunk engineering.

2. “Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest

The Dead Rise in an Alternate Seattle

Cherie Priest masterfully weaves a tale set in an alternate history where the Klondike Gold Rush’s dire consequences are felt deeply in the heart of Seattle.

Dr. Leviticus Blue’s incredible invention, the Boneshaker, was meant to revolutionize drilling technology, but instead, it released the Blight, a toxic gas that seeps from the ground and turns those who inhale it into the living dead.

The heart of Seattle is now a quarantined wasteland, walled off to contain the Blight and the ravenous zombies it creates. But the story isn’t just about the undead; it’s about a mother’s love and determination.

Briar Wilkes, widow of the infamous Dr. Blue and mother to a curious teenager, faces her worst fears when her son ventures into the walled-off city, searching for answers about his father’s legacy.

As she embarks on a perilous journey to rescue him, readers are plunged into a world of air pirates, rogue machines, and resilient communities trying to survive in the shadow of a past mistake.

Through her vivid storytelling, Priest offers a fresh and gripping take on the steampunk genre, where the lines between man, machine, and monster are blurred.

3. “The Difference Engine” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

A Computerized 19th Century

“The Difference Engine” is not just a novel; it’s a cerebral journey into a world that could have been.

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, two juggernauts of the speculative fiction realm, ask a tantalizing question: What if the computer age had come a century earlier?

The story is set against the backdrop of an 1855 London that’s both familiar and startlingly different. In this reality, Charles Babbage, the mathematical genius, didn’t just conceptualize his Analytical Engine; he built it.

The result? A society transformed by steam-driven computational machines, data crunchers, and mechanical card readers. But this isn’t just a tale of technology; it’s a tapestry of human ambition, power struggles, and societal upheaval.

As readers navigate this reimagined world, they’ll encounter historical figures in new roles, from Lord Byron’s daughter (and pioneering programmer) Ada Lovelace to a subversive Samuel Clemens.

Politics, espionage, and a relentless quest for knowledge drive this narrative, inviting readers to ponder the ramifications of technological advancements on the very fabric of society.

4. “Perdido Street Station” by China Miéville

A City of Aliens and Steam

China Miéville’s New Crobuzon is not your typical steampunk city. It’s a melting pot of magic, machinery, and the grotesquely fascinating.

Situated beneath the ribcage of a long-dead, gargantuan beast, New Crobuzon is a city-state where steam-driven trains traverse the skies, thaumaturgy is an academic discipline, and races from cactus people to insect-headed women coexist in chaotic harmony.

The tale centers around Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a scientist engrossed in the study of crisis energy, and his lover Lin, a khepri artist who communicates through her insectile secretions.

However, their intellectual pursuits take a dark turn when they inadvertently release a brood of terrifying, dream-eating moths upon the city.

As the threat looms larger, the narrative delves into the city’s underbelly, uncovering political conspiracies, ancient pacts, and morally ambiguous characters.

Miéville’s genius lies in his ability to craft a world that’s both richly detailed and unsettlingly alien, making “Perdido Street Station” a masterpiece that challenges the boundaries of the steampunk genre.

5. “The Aeronaut’s Windlass” by Jim Butcher

Airships and Warriors

At the heart of Jim Butcher’s “The Aeronaut’s Windlass” is the captivating world of the Spires, towering constructs that reach high above the cloud layer, shielding humanity from the perilous surface world below.

These Spires, with their vast, multi-leveled habitats, are a testament to human ingenuity in the face of adversity.

Airships, powered by ethereal crystals and guided by intrepid aeronauts, connect these habitats, ensuring commerce, communication, and, when needed, warfare.

Captain Grimm, a former Fleet officer and now the commander of the privateer ship “Predator,” finds himself entangled in a web of political machinations, ancient mysteries, and battles that defy gravity. Alongside him is a diverse cast, from talented etherealists to fierce warriors, each with their own secrets and stories.

Butcher, renowned for his storytelling prowess, crafts a narrative that seamlessly blends high-octane aerial combat with the intricate dance of Spire politics, making it an exhilarating read for both steampunk enthusiasts and fantasy lovers.

6. “Soulless” by Gail Carriger

Supernatural Etiquette in Victorian London

Gail Carriger’s “Soulless” is a delightful concoction of manners, moxie, and the macabre.

Set in a Victorian London where the supernatural is not just real but an integral part of society, the story introduces us to Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a spinster with an unusual condition – she’s soulless.

But this isn’t a tale of woe. Alexia’s soulless state grants her a unique ability: negating supernatural powers with a mere touch.

This becomes particularly handy (and occasionally problematic) in a world where a vampire could be your next-door neighbor and werewolves hold esteemed positions in the British government.

When a series of mysterious events start to unfold, from unexpected vampire attacks to sudden disappearances, Alexia finds herself in the thick of it, armed with her trusty parasol and a penchant for trouble. Carriger’s narrative is a masterful blend of humor, romance, and gothic elements.

With its clever dialogues, intricate societal rules, and a fearless heroine, “Soulless” offers readers a refreshing take on the steampunk genre.

7. “Clockwork Angel” by Cassandra Clare

Mysteries in the London Shadows

Cassandra Clare’s “Clockwork Angel” invites readers to a shadowy version of Victorian London, where the boundaries between the mundane and the magical blur.

When Tessa Gray crosses the Atlantic in search of her missing brother, she finds herself plunged into a world she never knew existed.

The Shadowhunters, a secretive group of Nephilim warriors, patrol the city’s gas-lit streets, keeping humanity safe from demonic threats.

But as Tessa gets embroiled in their battles and politics, she discovers her own latent power, one that can transform her into anyone, a skill that’s both a gift and a curse.

As dark forces converge and family secrets come to light, Tessa finds solace in her newfound allies, including the enigmatic Will and the kind-hearted Jem.

Clare masterfully blends steampunk elements, from clockwork creatures to intricate automata, with her signature blend of supernatural lore, creating a world that’s as rich in detail as it is in emotion.

8. “Infernal Devices” by K.W. Jeter

The Pioneer of Steampunk

Before steampunk was a widely recognized genre, K.W. Jeter was crafting tales that captured its very essence. “Infernal Devices” is a testament to his visionary prowess.

The story unfolds in a Victorian London that’s both familiar and otherworldly. George Dower, living in the shadow of his late father’s genius, finds himself inheriting not just a watchmaking shop but the enigmatic devices it houses.

As George delves deeper into the mechanical wonders left behind, he realizes that they are not just mere contraptions. These devices have purposes, desires, and, in some cases, vendettas. From self-propelled automata to watches with a life of their own, Jeter paints a world where machinery takes on a life of its own.

But it’s not just the devices that are shrouded in mystery. As George navigates this twisted landscape, he encounters peculiar characters, from fanatical religious groups to individuals obsessed with the boundaries of man and machine.

Jeter’s narrative, filled with intrigue and philosophical musings, is a seminal work that laid the groundwork for the steampunk genre we know and love today.

9. “The Alchemy of Stone” by Ekaterina Sedia

A Heart of Clockwork

In the heart of a sprawling city poised on the edge of political upheaval, we encounter Mattie, a sentient automaton crafted by a Mechanic but later emancipated.

Unlike the other machines in the city, Mattie possesses emotions, desires, and a yearning to understand her place in the world. The city itself is a character, marked by stark divisions.

On one side are the Alchemists, who delve into ancient mysteries and arcane arts, while on the other are the Mechanics, who champion progress and innovation through machinery. As tensions rise, Mattie finds herself drawn into the conflict, her dual nature making her both a valuable asset and a target.

But beyond the politics and power struggles, Mattie’s story is one of identity and autonomy. How does one define selfhood in a world that sees you as mere machinery?

Ekaterina Sedia weaves a poignant tale, her poetic narrative style bringing depth and nuance to Mattie’s journey, challenging readers to question notions of consciousness and agency.

10. “Leviathan” by Scott Westerfeld

A World at War: Machines vs. Beasts

Scott Westerfeld reimagines the tumultuous era of World War I with a steampunk and bioengineering twist.

The Central Powers, dubbed the “Clankers,” place their faith in advanced machinery, towering walkers, and armored vehicles, representing the pinnacle of human engineering.

In contrast, the Allied Powers, known as the “Darwinists,” harness the power of DNA, crafting living airships and beasts of war through genetic manipulation.

At the center of this grand conflict are two unlikely heroes: Aleksandar, the prince of a fallen empire, and Deryn, a brave British airwoman with secrets of her own.

As their paths converge, they must navigate a world of intrigue, betrayal, and technological wonders.

From the majestic Leviathan, a living airship, to the fierce battle machines of the Clankers, Westerfeld crafts a riveting tale of war, identity, and unlikely alliances.

The novel not only captivates with its thrilling battles in the sky and on land but also delves into the moral complexities of using technology and biology as tools of war.

11. “The Court of the Air” by Stephen Hunt

A Tale of Orphans and Ancient Powers

Amidst the smog-covered streets and towering spires of a steampunk city-state, “The Court of the Air” presents a narrative as intricate as the gears and cogs that power its world.

Molly Templar, an orphan with a humble background, unexpectedly becomes a key witness to a dark conspiracy when she survives a murder attempt meant to silence her forever.

On the other side of the city, Oliver Brooks leads a life of relative privilege until a false accusation turns his world upside down, marking him as a fugitive.

As Molly and Oliver’s paths intertwine, they are thrust into a maelstrom of treachery and danger.

The city they thought they knew reveals its hidden layers, teeming with secret societies, forgotten magics, and enigmatic figures who pull the strings from the shadows.

Hunt’s world-building is exceptional, crafting a universe where steam technology coexists with ancient elemental powers, and where airships ply the skies, often piloted by swashbuckling pirates with their own codes and agendas.

But beyond the thrilling chases and aerial battles, “The Court of the Air” delves deep into themes of identity, destiny, and the cost of power.

Molly and Oliver, both orphans, grapple with questions of their own heritage and the larger roles they play in the city’s fate.

As they unravel the webs of deceit, readers are invited to ponder the blurred lines between heroism and villainy, and the gray areas that define morality in a complex world.

Stephen Hunt masterfully combines the allure of steampunk aesthetics with the depth of epic fantasy, creating a tale that’s both a heart-pounding adventure and a thought-provoking saga.

A Journey Through the Gears and Glamour of Steampunk Fiction

Illustration of a steampunk-inspired library with flying airships outside the window, cogwheel designs on the walls, and a reading nook with leather-bound steampunk novels.

Steampunk is more than just a literary genre; it’s a celebration of creativity, a fusion of past elegance with future possibilities.

These novels, each a masterpiece in its own right, transport readers to worlds where the hum of machinery harmonizes with the rustle of Victorian gowns, and where innovation meets age-old traditions.

From high-flying airship duels against the backdrop of a setting sun to shadowy conspiracies in gas-lit alleys, the allure of steampunk is undeniable. It invites readers to reimagine history, to dream of what could have been if steam and gear, not silicon and circuit, had shaped our world.

For those seeking an escape from the mundane, these tales promise more than just entertainment; they offer a window into worlds both wondrous and wildly imaginative.

So, don your goggles, adjust your pocket watch, and let yourself be whisked away on a whirlwind journey through the heart of steampunk fiction. Whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or a curious newcomer, adventure, romance, and mechanical marvels await.

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