Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Shorts: The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale by Christine Bell

Step right up and getting your single-serving helping of Steam Punk right here! My Saturday Short this week is a fun little read that should please all the Dr. Who and steam punk fans as well those just mildly curious about this new genre.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steam Punk is hot, hot, hot right now, and I’m just starting to venture into this growing sub-genre. Stormy Gale is the perfect introduction to Steam Punk—at under 100 pages, it’s a short investment to test-drive both a talented new author and an emerging sub-genre. Stormy Gale was whisked from her Victorian existence as a street urchin into the 21st century by a benevolent time-traveler who raised her as a daughter and entrusted her with securing the secrets of time travel. She’s back in Victorian time, albeit in America this time, rescuing a time travel device from a Mad Duke. To accomplish this, she disguises herself as a fortune telling gypsy at a village fair. Much hilarity ensues –Bell uses physical comedy to tremendous affect here.

The book is first-person so we only get Stormy’s narration and POV, and despite her Victorian birth, Stormy is very much a 21st century woman with her speech and thoughts. I had to remind myself that the whole point of steam punk is the ability to insert anachronistic elements at whim and to craft believable alternate universes, which Bell does admirably, especially considering the short format. If you love Dr. Who and especially Torchwood, I think you will adore Stormy and her side-kick brother. About halfway through the story, Bell inserts a twist that I absolutely didn’t see coming AT ALL. And at first, I didn’t like the twist. But, upon further reflection, I think it was a very smart choice on Bell’s part as it really ramps up the emotional intensity and leads to a very nice, high stakes black moment and satisfying climax.

The door is certainly open to further adventures—perhaps the brother will get a story of his own? Are there others like Stormy and her brother? Do they communicate with each other? I’d love to revisit this universe, particularly in a full-length book. There was easily enough material here to support a full-length book, which is really my only quibble. Everything feels rushed, but it’s only a novella—that’s pretty much unavoidable. The whole novella is very light and fun and is a great substitute for a night of TV. I particularly loved Bell’s irreverent first person voice, a very unusual choice, but it really works to her advantage. If you enjoy Katie MacAlister, I think you will love Bell, and I can see her having particular appeal to older teens & early 20s readers (note: there is a love scene, and while it’s steamy, it’s not exceptionally graphic, and unlike some novellas, the love scene is a very small percentage of the total word count—the focus is on Stormy’s dilemma). I’m curious to see what Bell does with other POVs and genres, and I’m planning to look at her backlist (she also writes as Chloe Cole).