Title: The Brass Giant
Author: Brooke Johnson
Publisher: Harper Voyage Impulse
Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world
Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.
When Emmerich Goss–handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild–needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.
Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.
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They currently reside in Northwest Arkansas, but once they earn enough loot and experience, they’ll build a proper castle somewhere and defend against all manner of dragons and goblins, and whatever else dares take them on.
For More Information Visit Brooke at her website
My Review: I love science fiction and fantasy stories, but this was the first Steam Punk story I have read. I loved it. The author, Brooke Johnson, created interesting and complex characters and just enough information about engineers, gears and mechanics to keep my attention without creating a divide between me and the main character, Petra. I loved following the plucky Petra and cheered her on along the way. You will want to dive right into this story because not all the characters are what you expect and world that Johnson created will suck you right in.
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A machine is more than its function, more than the parts that shape it.
The gears, pinions, and springs, they make the machine tick, but deeper
than that—beyond the spindles and bearings, beyond the weights and
levers—a machine is truth.
Petra Wade stood at the foot of the University steps, her hands in the pockets of her borrowed trousers.Her heart hammered in her chest as she looked upon the gleaming monument of scientific study, the anticipation of this moment finally a reality. She nervously twisted the stem of her pocket watch, feeling the familiar click of the ratchet against the winding gear.
Until now, her only experience with clockwork mechanics and design was her weekly studies with Mr.
Stricket after her shift at the pawn shop, repairing pocket watches and grandfather clocks, or making clockwork contraptions out of spare parts, but she knew she had talent enough to compete with the
best engineers the school had to offer. Yet the Guild would never allow it. The world of tickers was the world of men.
So, slipping her hands from her pockets, she tucked the loose strands of her hair back into her borrowed cap and gave herself the once-over, making sure that her brother’s clothes covered any femininity that might betray her to anyone inside. Satisfied that she looked the part, she marched up the University steps, determined not to let something as trivial as her sex stop her from pursuing the career she deserved.
Students milled about the door, discussing pitch circles and circumferential velocities. Petra’s skin
quivered as she passed over the threshold. The rich scent of paraffin and gasoline replaced the salty air outside. The floor pulsed with the jarring oscillations of the subcity below, the steady hum of perfectly fitted gears vibrating within her bones. Her fingers twitched toward the screwdriver in her pocket. From the foyer, she could see the cluttered mess of schematics that papered the walls of the main workshop. Columns of unused gears stood at attention in the far corner, waiting for an engineer to affix them to a gear-train. Levers rocked and cranks spun, driving gears and sliders. Steam whistled through pipes.Blowlamps hissed and sputtered over metal joints. The workshop sang an engineer’s lullaby.
Petra grinned. She belonged here.
To the left and right of the entry, lift gates stood closed before clusters of students, the lights above the doors flashing yellow as the lifts sped up and down the shaft, disappearing beyond the high, arched ceiling, brass so polished it gleamed like gold. From the lifts, stairs curved upward along the foyer walls, leading to the upper-level workshops, with the entrance to the main workshop below.
Petra inhaled a deep breath. She could do this.
She marched toward the large, circular desk in the center of the entry hall, walking stiffly and purposefully with her hands clenched at her sides. Behind the desk sat a weedy, thin sort of man, annotating a printed letter. His hair was thin and graying, and he wore a name plate pinned to the breast of his coat—W. Plaskett.
Petra cleared her throat.
“One moment,” he said without looking up, continuing to scribble in the cramped margin at the bottom of the letter, until finally, he capped the pen and put the letter aside. “Yes?”
Petra cleared her throat again and spoke in the deepest voice she could muster. “I’m here to apply for the upcoming term.”
“Are you a returning student?” he asked.
Mr. Plaskett reached across the desk, grabbed a blank application file, and readied his pen. “Your name?”
“Wade,” she said, her heart beating faster. “Solomon Wade.”
He scribbled the false name. “And date of birth?”
“March 22, 1864,” she answered, knowing that she didn't look the least bit nineteen, though only two
years shy of the age herself. She tugged on the brim of her hat, shading her soft features from the overhead lighting.
“Former institution?” prompted Mr. Plaskett.
The scratching of his pen stopped.
Petra stiffened. Solomon said they’d accept anyone from Eton. Mr. Plaskett bent over and dug through a drawer of files, mumbling the names of institutions as he thumbed through the tabs. Petra gripped the stem of her pocket watch and waited, panic creeping up her throat.
“Ah, here it is,” he said. “Eton.” He slapped the folder onto the desk and flipped to the back pages, running his long, narrow finger down a list of names. With a frown, he turned to the next page and
scanned the first few entries. “Hmm.” He shuffled through a few more pages before finally closing the
file. He clasped his fingers over the folder and peered at her with an accusatory glare. “There is no Wade here.”
“Sorry?” Her voice cracked.
“I have a list of every student who requested a transfer to the University from Eton, and there is no Solomon Wade on that list.”
She stared at him a moment, winding the stem of her pocket watch as she tried to think. She and Solomon hadn't planned for this. She could demand he check again, but the name wouldn't be there, no matter how many times he read the list. The winding stem resisted against her fingers as the spring tension in the watch reached its peak. Hastily, she released the stem before the mainspring snapped.
“So, I’m not from Eton,” she blurted out.
He eyed her properly now, taking note of her petite size and the state of her borrowed clothes—oversized and soot-stained. “No. I believe not.”
She raised her chin and stared defiantly back, refusing to be judged, refusing to let him think she didn’t belong just because she didn’t look the part. “You can’t stop me from applying.”
Mr. Plaskett leaned back in his chair. “I have no desire to prevent worthy engineers from submitting applications to the University. However, as a non-transfer student with no credentials or statement of
reference, I will need your registration of birth, a transcript of records from your former institution, a
seal of approval from the Guild of Engineers, and your tuition fees for the first term. If you can manage that before September, you may then apply for the upcoming term.”
Petra’s heart sank. “What about scholarships? I thought—”
“Scholarships are for students of academic merit only, not—” He arched an eyebrow and appraised her
with a sweeping gaze. “—the impoverished. We are not a charity.”
She tightened her hands into fists, the hair on the back of her neck bristling.
Mr. Plaskett smiled thinly—a smug, self-satisfied smirk plastered onto his face. “Now then, if that is all?”
When she did not respond, he took Petra’s application file, balled it up in his fist, and tossed the paper into the bin behind his desk. “As I thought. Good day, Mr. Wade.”
Gritting her teeth with a grunt of frustration, Petra swiveled away from the desk and stalked toward the door. The prat. She shoved through a group of students and stumbled over a discarded knapsack, falling to the ground. Her knees banged against the hard metal tiles, and her pocket watch and screwdriver slipped from her pockets and skated across the polished floor. As she moved to reach for them, her hat fell from her head, revealing her long, braided hair.
“Why, it’s a girl,” said one of the boys behind her.
Haughty laughter echoed through the chamber, attacking Petra from all sides. Blood rushed in her ears, and her cheeks flushed under their judging gazes. Not one of them came to her aid or offered to help. Of course they wouldn’t. She didn’t belong there—a girl dressed in boy’s clothing. Humiliation burned at the corners of her eyes. The vibration beneath the floor nauseated her. The smell of oil suffocated her.
The clacking and shrilling of the machinery rattled her brain. She had to escape.
* * *