Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Brass Queen by Elizabeth Chatsworth (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

CamCat Publishing, December 2021

This is just a really fun romp, steampunk style.

Not everyone agrees; on Goodreads, I see a whole lot of five-star reviews, interspersed with occasional one-star reviews. Or rants, as one of the one-star reviewers freely admits.

So, a bit of a marmite book. You'll enjoy it, or hate it.

In an alternate late Victorian England, Miss Constance Hartwhistle, daughter of a baron who is missing. Her mother died; her father went off on somewhat more adventurous explorations than he had while she was alive, and found a portal to an alternate world where his wife is still alive, but the alternate baron is dead. He decided not to go home.

Constance has been running the baron's secret arms trading business for months now, mostly successfully, but there are some challenges. First and foremost, she's 21 years old, and has been, until this, rather sheltered. Secondly, her uncle is, not unreasonably, convinced that her father died on one of his risky adventures into the Congo, or the Amazon, or whatever. He's now suing to force her to produce proof the baron is alive, or to marry a suitable man of noble birth within a couple of weeks, or, failing both, he will become the new baron. This will be disastrous not just for Constance, but for all the people living and working on the Hartwhistle land, because her uncle has very different plans for that land.

So Constance has to find a husband. Unfortunately, her coming-out party, at which she fully expects to secure a proposal of marriage, is interrupted by the exo-suits serving drinks instead being hijacked by someone who has also arranged for a dirigible to break through the glass ceiling of the venue, and kidnap the lead scientists from Steamwerks, the premier weapons maker, including weapons for a very activist, conquering Britain ruled by the near-absolute ruler than Queen Victoria is here. Constance is very nearly killed, but at this point no one, least of all Constance, recognizes the significance of this. She's saved by the intervention of a man she met mere moment prior to the excitement, and found very annoying--a man who introduces himself as JF Trusdale. He's an American, and they find each other very annoying, although also very attractive.

He's supposed to be the new American engineer hired by Steamwerks. In fact he's an American spy, investigating the death of the real JF Trusdale. The blurb says, and some of the reviews repeat, that he's an "inept" spy. He's not inept. He's a non-engineer impersonating his brilliant, deceased, engineer brother. And he had the news of his brother's death, and of his mission, dropped on him with no normal briefing time. His previous missions seem to have been in parts of the world that the missing baron would have recognized very well.

The action is fast-paced, and sometimes slapstick. The characters are eccentric, arrogant, and impulsive, and it takes a while to know for sure that both Constance and Trusdale, not to mention Constance's cousin Welly, and other unexpected characters, have very sound and decent values--even if Trusdale was in no way prepared for a mission to England, Constance is far more inexperienced and naïve than she realizes, and Victoria really is a tyrant.

There are dirigibles everywhere, steam-powered mechanical animals including Welly's horse, and the unicorn, lion, and dodo that Constance, the charming and evil Prince Lucien, and Trusdale ride in the deadly game of Prussian polo. Also an invisibility serum which has some really unfortunate side effects, and of course, interdimensional keys to alternate worlds. What powers the interdimensional keys? That would be telling!

It's crazy, it's madcap, and if you're prepared to go with it, it's a lot of fun.

Michelle Babb does a great job as the narrator.


I received a free copy of this audiobook from the narrator, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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