Petticoats and Rebellion: Steampunk 101


The YA community has its fair share of trends. One that has been making a greater push lately is steampunk.

But what is steampunk?

“I tend to define it as the intersection of Victorian Romanticism and modern technology–the future as imagined by the past. To me, a steampunk book needs several things — the 19th century aesthetic and technology as an integral part of the world, (the steam) and rebellion themes (the punk), ” said Suzanne Lazear, author of the Innocent Darkness series.

For Lazear, steampunk values innovation. Other YA steampunk authors have similar opinions.

“I define steampunk as a modern exploration of the foundation of science-fiction. What I expect to see in a steampunk story is a rich Victorian aesthetic and Victorian sensibilities from the characters. Steampunk is at its best when it can illuminate the contradictions of the Victorian era and use those contradictions to give us insight on our relationship with the modern world,” explained Kristin Bailey, author of Legacy of the Clockwork Key.

To be classified as steampunk, the work does fall under the overarching category of science fiction. Otherwise, it goes under a different label.

“I myself write gaslamp fantasy, which is similar to steampunk in its 19th century feel, but instead of science fiction, it has genre elements of fantasy instead,” said Hieber.

“Many of the young adult stories that I have seen recently have heavy fantasy elements as well as science fiction elements. I am all for broadening genres, so I don’t mind the fantasy element of these more paranormal books. They also provide a bridge into the sub-genre for those who enjoy paranormal stories. It is important to remember that though fantasy elements are a lot of fun, traditionally, they weren’t a part of the early roots of steampunk as a genre, and shouldn’t be expected in every steampunk story,” agreed Bailey.

Like every genre, the authors look for specific things that they think make a good steampunk novel. Lazear favors exciting plots, creative worlds and strong female characters. Bailey looks for authenticity.

“I want the lush steampunk landscapes to feel real and tangible. I want a purpose to the aesthetic that goes beyond women looking pretty in corsets and men looking handsome in waistcoats and goggles. Any machinery should have an integral purpose to the story. I’m also looking for some element of science or engineering, or classic science-fiction story structure,” said Bailey.

Hieber looks for a clever combination of the two.

fragile destiny suzanne lazear legacy of the clockwork key kristin bailey darker still leanna renee hieber

“An interesting gender, character or politic dynamic to coincide with interesting historical and technological counterpoints, if there is no tension and innovation, if the steampunk is purely cosmetic and aesthetic with no deeper plot reasons for the tech and creations of the story, I’m not interested,” said Hieber.

With multi-culturalism and different settings being introduced to the genre, the authors are thrilled to see the genre expanding and growing, within the YA world and beyond.

“I love how creative everyone is getting. Steampunk has been around longer than I have and has its roots in science fiction and fantasy. But in the past few years we’re seeing authors mix it with romance, paranormal, other cultures, and even faeries. There seem to be a lot of mashups lately, especially YA and I love it. Steampunk is about tinkering, makerism, and invention so I think it’s wonderful that authors are taking steampunk and making it their own,” said Lazear excitedly.

“Steampunk is much more than books. There are conventions, comics, web shows, and clothes–have I mentioned the clothes? There’s something for everyone in steampunk. There are as many steampunk worlds out there as there are authors who write them. If you don’t like one steampunk series, try another because they’re all so different. One of steampunk’s greatest strengths is the diversity of the people it brings together,” said Lazear.

The last bit of advice these authors can provide for those ready to wade into the steampunk genre?

“Steampunk is a lot of fun, and a breeding ground for wild creativity and exploration. Go ahead and dip your toe in, just be sure not to expose one’s ankles,” advised Bailey.

For those who want to start reading steampunk, Lazear recommends Caitlin Kittredge’s The Iron Thorn, who mixes steampunk with faeries, as well as The Hunchback Assignments series by Arthur Slade. Bailey hopes that her own Legacy of the Clockwork Key can act as a good starting point. Both she and Hieber recommend steampunk anthologies to get a taste of a mix of authors and styles.

You can find Suzanne Lazear on her website, Twitter, Facebook, the Aether Chronicles website, STEAMED! and Tumblr. For more about Kristin Bailey, you can check out her website, Twitter, Facebook, and her blog. You can find more about Leanna Renee Hieber at her website, Twitter, Facebook, and on her blog (where she’s currently serializing a novel).

Join our YA newsletter:

No spam guarantee.


About Author

Julie Daly

Julie Daly is sometimes known as Julianne. A recent college grad, when not job hunting, Julie is watching Netflix, talking about YA on twitter, or trying to make her cats play. In 2009, Julie joined a group blog called Bloggers[Heart]Books and her obsession with all things YA has grown exponentially. Though she no longer blogs, she did create #quietYA and is a cofounder of Blogbound Con. Julie has also interned at several publishers and sometimes plays bookseller. Follow her on Twitter at @DailyJulianne.

Comments are closed.