And now, for something completely different


I’ve neglected this blog over the summer. This is partly because of my day job (the one that actually pays the bills, not the one I wish paid the bills), and partly because the UK had its best summer for seven years. Day after day of glorious sunshine and high temperatures, something our vitamin D-starved bodies couldn’t get enough of. Normal weather service has now resumed, so perhaps I’ll finally get more chapters written.

I’d not planned this blog post, but yesterday – in the serendipitous way that so often happens with writing – Twitter handed it to me on a plate. As part of the above-mentioned job I’m planning a series of short story writing activities, and for various reasons, needed a list of contemporary YA must-read gothic and steampunk novels.

Being a big fan of Victorian gothic novels (have I ever mentioned that I read Wuthering Heights at least once a year?)  I wouldn’t have found it hard to make a list of classics, but when it came to modern fiction I wasn’t even sure if Twilight counted as gothic. Moreover, I confess (and this may lose me some followers): I have never knowingly chosen to read a steampunk novel. This is for no better reason than taste – I’m not a big fan of sci-fi, and (I’m generalising here) many novels that would be classified as steampunk also fall into that category, so I don’t tend to pick them up. The obvious exception is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, but I didn’t even know steampunk was a ‘thing’ when I read that.

I like to think I’ve got a good background knowledge of YA novels, but there’s nothing like a subculture to banish smug assumptions. I couldn’t name one steampunk novel (although a quick Google search did throw up a few that I’d actually heard of), and I only had a vague afterthought that Jules Verne and HG Wells might come into the category as forefathers. I didn’t want to randomly pick titles from a search engine – I wanted personal recommendations. So I asked the expert: Twitter. That is, I cheekily asked a few authors if they would retweet my request to their followers, which they kindly did.*

Within minutes, a whole airship-full of suggestions came steaming into my Twitter feed from librarians, writers and YA writing fans. I’ve never seen such passion and enthusiasm in 140 characters. I Googled every one, and made a selection from the most mentioned, the most appropriate-looking and the ones I most liked the look of. Then I blithely tweeted that I now had the definitive, hand-picked list of gothic and steampunk novels for young adults.

At this, Melvin Burgess (she types, breezily, as if his Junk isn’t one of my most admired YA novels of all time) asked if I could share. So here’s the list. Of course, fans of steampunk will argue that it isn’t definitive, and I’ve only read a small number so can’t vouch personally for most of them, but it’s been a lot of fun putting the list together. Best of all I have had my mind well and truly opened to the smoking chimneys and clanking cogs of steampunk, and can’t wait to get reading.

Modern gothic

  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  • Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  • Dreaming of Amelia (The Ghosts of Ashbury High in the US)  by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Black Spring by Alison Croggon
  • The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Sheppard
  • Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsey
  • Unspoken (The Lynburn Trilogy) by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick
  • Heap House by Edward Carey (which was only published last week! Talk about an exclusive…)
  • The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding (looks like a good example of gothic/steampunk crossover)

Contemporary steampunk

  • His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
  • Artemis Fowl (and others) by Eoin Colfer
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
  • Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
  • Steampunk! ed Kelly Link and Gavin J Grant (short stories)
  • Clockwork Angel (Infernal Devices series) by Cassie Clare
  • Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
  • Haywired by Alex Keller
  • The Peculiar by Steffan Bachmann

*I’m indebted to Patrick Ness, Fletcher Moss, Melvin Burgess and Tony Bradman for their (and their followers’) help.