I love steampunk, but I've had kind of a hard time finding steampunk books I really, really love.
I love Gail Carriger's Soulless series, but there's an awful lot of paranormal distracting the steampunk. And, of course, it's not suitable for junior high school readers, so I can't put it in school.
I read Kenneth Oppel's Airborn and really liked it, but it's really more action/adventure than steampunk. Still, it's good, and I've got it on my reading lists. And the man writes very well.
And then there's his This Dark Endeavor and Such Wicked Intent, supposedly steampunk. But, although I enjoyed both books very much, I found them more about alchemy than steam. Besides, they're prequels to Frankenstein, which was written in 1816 in Switzerland, not really Victorian London-y at all.
And I was so excited for Tiffany Trent's The Unnaturalists, but it was almost ALL about magic and romance, and I felt the book had been mislabeled by those who held it up as steampunk. It was really more of a fantasy book set in a museum in Victorian London.
I was underwhelmed by Kady Cross's The Girl in the Steel Corset, which had some fun steampunk elements in it but never once made me care about the characters.
Of course, there is the masterful writer Philip Reeve and his Fever Crumb series. Definitely steampunk. So very well done. But everything I've ever read by this guy is so dark and depressing.
So, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series is great. I love it. It's good for guys and girls. It promotes feminism, it has action and adventure, it's set at the right time period, and it's all steampunk/alternate history and no magic. Phew. That's one really safe option for the junior high.
I also fell in love with Lev AC Rosen's All Men Of Genius. It's totally steampunk. It's a Shakespeare parody. It's feminist. It's action/adventure + romance. AND it has Oscar the swearing rabbit. But it's definitely high school material. Sex is referred to waaaay too often for this to be in a junior high.
And then there was The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron. It was sort of steampunk. It had, you know, clocks and things. But to me it felt like a story for young children, like a Santa Claus-in-his-village story.
But then we come to this:
The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress.
This was awesome.
It has feminism in which the women are not only independent, but in which they realize that being independent doesn't necessarily mean sleeping with every possible guy. It also has women working together to solve problems instead of working against each other to get a guy or else undermine each other. The only downside is that they're all pretty, which is depressing. I felt that instead of having them all be Charlie's Angels, at least one of them should have been ordinary-looking.
It is steampunk. No magic, no paranormal. Just Victorian London, inventions, explosions, and really cool weapons.
It's funny. Okay, sometimes it's a bit cartoony. And the secondary villain was really obvious from the start. But it was still funny.
It's action/adventure. Murder, explosions, Jack the Ripper spin-offs, Jeckyll and Hyde philosophy, underground tunnels, Burke and Hare references, and a parrot that's almost as much fun as Rosen's Oscar the rabbit. (But not quite.)
And it's clean. I can put it on my school lists.
Yeah, I think I'm in love.