I was doing a little research on my next book analysis subject, THE HAUNTING OF ALAIZABEL CRAY (which I am going to abbreviate HAC) by Chris Wooding.  Imagine my surprise when I found out it was categorized as “steampunk”.  I’ve heard the term but I didn’t know what it meant and I haven’t ever read anything in this genre until now.

What is Steampunk? Steampunk is a broad description for books set during the 1800’s where technology is more advanced than it would have been at that time.  It’s an alternate past scenario. It gives Victorian culture zeppelins or time machines.  Steampunk is a genre that still in the process of defining itself.  Here’s a couple of links if you would like to read more about steampunk:

  • A blog that has a nice definition and some interesting pictures.
  • The wiki definition (And do have a look at the discussion section.  I love a good genre debate!)
  • Steampunk has a convention and I understand there are tea parties!

In addition to falling under the steampunk umbrella, HAC by Chris Wooding actually has a bit of the fantasy/horror element as well along with a touch of romance.  When writers query their books to agents, one of the most common complaints I’ve heard is that the author doesn’t know how to label the genre of the book.  Here’s a prime example that cross-genre books do get published.

HAC was published in 2001 to great reviews and won a Nestle Smarties Book Prize among other awards.  There’s some wonderful information about the book on Mr. Wooding’s site.  In his description about writing this book, he says that he was living in London, hating it, and reading a bunch of H.P. Lovecraft. It really, really shows.

HAC is set in Victorian Era London.  The Prussians bombed the city thirty years earlier and out of the wreckage came the wych-kin.  They are these gross, supernatural nightmare creatures that haunt the city after dark.  Wych-kin have sprung up in all the heavily populated areas all over the world.  Only wych-hunters can find and battle the dangerous wych-kin.  Thaniel, a seventeen year old wych-hunter, and his mentor Cathaline discover a young woman during one of their patrols around the city.  The young woman is Alaizabel Cray.  She can remember nothing about her life and is possessed by the spirit of an evil being named Thatch.  As Thaniel and Cathaline unravel the secrets of Alaizabel’s past, they discover that she is hunted by a secret organization, called the Fraternity.  If the Fraternity finds Alaizabel, they will use Thatch to bring about the end of the world.

HAC reminded me a lot of H.P. Lovecraft.  It had kind of a plodding pace and was heavy on the description.  But the monsters were terrifying, the plot was intriguing, the characters were memorable, and the ending was larger than life.

So, next time I’m going to tackle the characters and setting.  This is another story where the setting is so essential to the plot that it’s almost a character, too.  In addition, the characters straddle the line between the modern and the Victorian.  When it works well, the juxtaposition can be almost dizzying.  I’m looking forward to trying to figure out how steampunk ticks!

The super-creepy artwork is by Shain Erin (Seriously, this artist constructs really messed-up dolls that are icky and awesome.  If this sounds like something you would like, you should check it out!) and I found it on flickr.