Book review: Lady Ruth Constance Chapelstone and the Clockwork Suitor, by L.C. Mawson

Lady Ruth Constance Chapelstone and the Clockwork Suitor is a work of young adult fiction, at just over one hundred pages, set in the Victorian era and written to introduce a long-running character for a greater series. It is firmly part of the antique yet gorgeous steampunk tradition, nuts and bolts, steam and empire, yet it additionally addresses a cultural wrangle of old — the emancipation of women. The protagonist is a capable yet humble aristocratic woman in a man’s world, trying to apply her mind to engineering problems and simultaneously working her delicate fingers through the seam to get around the social straightjacket she was born into. Just imagine someone nowadays saying “You are of an age to get married. You must get married because that’s the only thing you are on Earth to do. Oh, and see to the laundry”. I’ve got a better idea. Bog right off.

The language is stilted and takes some adjusting to, which is correct because the tight Victorians really did converse like that. The only problem I had with the use of language in this book was that the high-up characters sometimes used expressions which would have been considered dead common, blemishes which would have marked them out as appalling social climbers. Examples of this are the very middle class “Pleased to meet you” (How do you do), “Got me beat” (have me beaten) and, unbelievably, “Me neither” from the lips of Queen Victoria herself (Neither can I). That latter is more suited to the blimey gawdhelpus stonethecrows Queen Victoria pub in Eastenders. Three brief examples then, no more, otherwise fine.

Apart from a couple of words to trip over (recluse — reclusive / place the tray down — placed) the story is positive, imaginative, constructed well and flows from one arrangement of characters to another like the indoor scenes of a theatrical performance. It has good stage-craft, so that’s one sign of a good writer. It also shows the application of social pressure, now thankfully punctured in most the world. I stayed engaged and completed this story in two sessions, then wondered how the rest of the series would go. London’s been done, so will she pop along to India or Africa? Although, as a reviewer, I sadly don’t have time to read every book in every writer’s series, I can see that readers of Lady Ruth Chapelstone will stay engaged and probably want to keep reading her adventures, so the series should grow into a success. As the greatest inventor in England, the character deserves no less, surely?

Lady Ruth is a creation that’s breaking the mould of a mouldy old social system, representing the glimmer of hope that when an era changes and enough judgemental steel-haired greylips go to their graves, the formal rules will loosen up and young people will be allowed to breathe. Lady Ruth will then be a pioneer, an inspiration for those to come after her. I’m not sure that the book did enough to also break the mould of storytelling in the same way that the character does for women in industry but I guess that is according to plan because this is supposed to compliment the steampunk genre, not reinvent it. The first instalment, Clockwork Suitor, is a reasonable start which I expect will now be built on for years to come. The second book in the series plunges Lady R into a travelling adventure on behalf of the Crown, so be sure to check that out too as this series can only get better.

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