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Book Review – The Lady Astronomer by Katy O’Dowd

LadyAstronomerTitle: The Lady Astronomer
Author: Katy O’Dowd
Publisher: Untold Press
First Published: 2012
Science Fiction / Fantasy / Steampunk / Young Adult

Lucretia makes hats. She also assists her brother, a noted astronomer. Her other brother is an inventor. Their lives change when they are summoned to build a large telescope for the king. There are setbacks. There is some rather nasty court intrigue. There is a bit of romance. There are also a couple of far too clever animals, impossible clockwork automatons, seven hardworking short guys and their giant of a boss, and, well, a supporting cast of characters, all with exaggerated quirkiness, which lets you know that this story is not to be taken seriously — at least not on the surface. It is supposed to be fun, and it is.

The characters and the prose style of this charming little book give it the feel of a children’s story from early in the last century, something along the lines of Alice in Wonderland or Winnie the Pooh. Today, I think it would be appropriately categorized as Young Adult Steampunk with a touch of fantasy. The steampunk element is provided by the quasi-Victorian tech, such as clockwork automatons and Lucretia’s eyepiece. The fantasy bit comes from the use of living things as ‘animators’ for clockwork mechanisms and from the unbelievable intelligence of Lucretia’s animal companions. It all works together well in the story, though.

It does commit the one, single most unforgivable transgression that I’ve seen now in a few steampunk novels. At one point, it has one of the mechanisms wind itself. I admit that I may be being inconsistent in my capacity for suspending disbelief. For the sake of a good, humorous story, I’m perfectly willing to accept that a potted plant can animate a mechanical butler, but a clockwork bird CANNOT wind itself by flapping its wings. Sorry, but that just crosses my credulity line. I’m willing to overlook it this time, but please don’t let it happen again.

The scenes, especially at the beginning, were sparsely sketched, making it difficult to visualize or even to be sure what was happening or why much of the time. There were also a few minor technical issues with word usage and punctuation, I think, but I only noticed one obvious typo (‘smiled’ instead of ‘smile’).

On the whole, I found this book well-written, adequately edited, and quite enjoyable. I recommend it for readers of all ages. It is the kind of light and charming story that is perfect to fill a rainy afternoon.

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