10 Gothic Steampunk Books to Read by Lamplight
Welcome to the delightful and often bizarre world of steampunk, where every possibility of this most inconvenient power is explored. Jules Verne, author of Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is considered one of the pioneers of the sub-genre. Today, Verne’s giant squid continues to influence gothic steampunk works. Steampunk and horror go hand in hand, under the low light of the gas lamps and around the shadowy corners.
Steampunk is almost always set in an alternative version of history, during the Industrial revolution, or far in the future. Stories set in Great Britain see elements of Victorian values, fashion, and technology. American steampunk explores the wild west, with steam trains, and possibilities of what American could have become. Steampunk set on other worlds, or far into the future, still looks to the past in terms of social values and technology. Hallmarks of the steampunk genre and aesthetic are clockwork, lace and petticoats, and clunky technology that prioritizes appearance over function. Themes of rebellion against authority, resistance, and progress can be seen across multiple steampunk styles.
Gothic steampunk in particular is marked by a feeling of eeriness. Think Jane Eyre wandering the foggy moors, only this time, she has a mechanical eye and the fog is made of steam. Since the beginning, steampunk has featured supernatural elements. Gothic steampunk kicks it up a notch with magic, alchemy, and monsters. Classic gothic themes of morality and beauty fill the pages.
Before your decorate your ereader in unnecessary cogs or buy a top hat, give these gothic steampunk books a read.
This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
Desperate for a cure for his ailing brother Konrad, Victor Frankenstein seeks out experimental medical treatments. When Victor’s quest turns to forbidden alchemy, Konrad, and their cousin Elizabeth become wrapped up in Victor’s schemes. Oppel’s take on Shelley’s classic Gothic horror novel is an exploration of mortality and morality, for the YA reader. For airships and hidden treasure, look to Oppel’s Matt Cruse series.
Steamfunk Edited by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade
Imagine a world where Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass govern a technologically advanced country. Other stories are inspired by folklore, like John Henry fighting against a furious army of the undead with only his hammer. This anthology features African and African American stories, inspired by their culture and heritage, addressing the grim realities often dismissed in mainstream steampunk literature.
The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this YA gothic mystery adventure features vampire hunters, time travel, and steam-powered engines. After two society girls disappear in the night, only Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker are up to the challenge of finding the girls. Left with only their wits and a strange Egyptian scarab beetle, Mina and Evaline must work together before it’s too late.
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djélí Clark
Dreaming of travel, New Orleans street orphan Creeper is determined to join an airship. To pay her way, Creeper trades a dark secret that could destroy the city. Creeper’s own secrets, the voices of African orishas of the wind and storms, guide her way. This novella is a fast-paced adventure.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
After discovering an unusual gold watch in his home, Thaniel seeks out its maker and meets Mori, a clairvoyant Japanese immigrant with a secret. Inexplicable supernatural events seem to follow Mori, pulling Thaniel along for the ride. This atmospheric mystery is a enchanting blend of alternate history and fantastical elements.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
Everfair is an imaginative resolution to the tyrannical King Leopold II’s reign of the Congo. After British socialists and American missionaries banded together to purchase back land, Everfair is formed in the Congo. The utopian society thrives under native government, providing a safe haven, and space for steam technology to advance. Everfair leans into the what-if possibilities and rebellious spirit of steampunk.
Isolate by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Isolates, or people born with an immunity to the abilities of empaths, are sought for training. Steffan, hired as an isolate security specialist, is paired with empath Avraal for a political security detail. After a social even turns deadly, Steffan and Avraal are targeted next. This steam-powered political thriller is intricately detailed, with corruption and secrets around every corner.
Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu, Illustrated by Saga Takeda
This multi-volume graphic novel is set in an alternate Industrial era Asia, where monsters roam the war-torn cities and supernatural powers control everything. The story follows Maika, an enslaved girl with unknown powers, as she travels to find answers about her past. Maika is accompanied by a half-fox and a talking cat. This grim survival story is beautifully illustrated, bringing Maika’s dangerous world to life.
Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus
Join Desmond Coke, a former spy, on his mission to protect a strange boy named Lij Tarfani. As Desmond and Lij race to find sanctuary, Lij’s enemies remain on their trail. Buffalo Soldier reimagines the past, creating a unique setting of political and religious conflicts of what we know as the USA and Jamaica.
The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk
The only son of clockmaker, Zachary, is sent to live with a distant relative, after an accident that almost blinds him. After the accident, Zachary is able to see into the hearts of others. Determined to make use of his gift, Zachary vows to travel across 18th century Europe to find his father in Constantinople. Tragic and sweeping, this novel is splashed with magic and adventure.
Time to wind the clocks and power up the steam engine! For more steampunk, check out 8 more unique steampunk titles.