I fell in love with Jeannie Lin’s Gunpowder Chronicles Asian Steampunk World with the first story in this series and was eager to take up the next segment of Soling and Chen-wei’s adventures. I go to this author when I want a historical romance that is in touch with the time period, the characters are colorful as well as deep, and the weaving of the story is complex and riveting. The creative inclusion of steampunk in this latest series just added to the delight.
This is book two and as the series title suggests, these are chronicles that should be read in order to gain the whole feel of the story. Even having read the first one, it took me a little bit to re-immerse myself in the story.
It has been a year since the adventures that Soling and Chen-wei shared as they fought off the rebels, hunted for the source of the tainted opium, and began clearing the family name. Now, Jin Soling is a physician in the Forbidden City to the Emperor’s Concubines. Her father’s name has been cleared, but people have long memories. Her mother is shaky, but seems clear of the opium habit and her younger brother is doing well in school. Soling is content because she can help her family and is doing work in her area of study, but there is a restlessness, too. She wants to be doing more. And what of the connection she shared with Chen-wei? He is an engineer for the ministry and has little time for her.
But then a summons comes from the emperor. Soling is needed to cure his headache. This summons puts her in the spotlight before the council and around the court. Soling isn’t pleased and she suspects the emperor is toying with her.
At the same time, she learns that Chen Wei is planning a journey to Japan in hopes of securing a cooperation with that government against the encroaching Europeans who ply the opium and are taking over China’s coast. The council is not behind Chen Wei’s plan, but surprisingly allow him to go. And more surprisingly, Soling is allowed to go with him.
Chen-wei is being enigmatic and not sharing all he knows, but he does explain to Soling that at one time her father had contact with a scientist in Japan and now Chen-wei hopes to encounter him to help smooth the way for an audience with the government. Japan is a very suspicious, insular nation and doesn’t allow foreigners beyond the sectioned walls of the port trade city of Nagasaki. They squash any attempt to bring in foreign ways and thinking. There is grave danger that stalks them now on their quest and Soling can’t be entirely sure of Chen-wei’s motives. But her heart trusts him and is glad to be with him. Is there a chance of a future together in a world at war?
The first book did most of the set up for the series and this one jumped right in, but it was fun that the focus shifted off 19th Century China to Japan and the Shogunate. I was impressed with how the plot was never compromised for historic details, but yet the details were there to appreciate and enjoy. The steampunk aspect fit so naturally into the story. I loved the magic of the clockwork karakuri. By the way, as a side trail, I was glad to be able to read the short steampunk fairytale, The Warlord and the Nightingale, that was set in the same world as this current story. It helped me appreciate the setting and circumstances of this story more.
The plot is still moving along their fight to push out the foreign invaders of China, discover what is behind the tainted opium that is looking more and more like a conspiracy, and now investigate Soling’s father’s mysterious past which may help them with vital inventions and allies in the present conflict. The pacing was even and took it’s time until about half-way when danger strikes and things took off leaving me breathless with excitement. There were twists, surprises, and surprising new players in the story.
Jin Soling has been through so much in her life. She is high-born, but has lived as a commoner on the edge of poverty. She has had to live by her wits and determination, but she has a healer’s heart that keeps her unhardened and jaded. She is skeptical, but also trusting. A paradox. She is also atypical of the females of her class. She doesn’t want to contract a good marriage and be hidden away in a man’s home. She wants to work, learn, see new horizons, and only marry for love with a man who sees her as a partner. She hopes that man is the learned scholar, but surprisingly enterprising and adventurous Chen-wei who seems to accept her just as she is even if he has never spoken of wanting to marry her.
The romances is a subtle one. Soling and Chen-wei are so very different from personality to temperament to ways of accomplishing their goals. They might even be different about their goals though they share some foundational principles. I like that the author does not rush things with these two. The touch of a hand or the meeting of the eyes is as profound as a passionate kiss for them and the reader feels it.
All in all, this second book in the series was as engaging as book one and left me eager for the next installment. I can easily recommend this to those who enjoy mild steampunk romance, but also lovers of historical romance.
My thanks to the author for the invitation to read her book in exchange for an honest review.