Last year indie author Cassandra Leuthold won the first giveaway I've done on this blog. When I sent her the giveaway copy of Jade Dragon Mountain, a historical mystery by Elsa Hart which I reviewed here , she wondered if I wanted a copy of one of her books for review. Since I like steampunk, carnivals and mysteries, I decided to read Steampunk Carnival which is a mystery that takes place in an alternate steampunk timeline. I did receive my copy from the author in return for this honest review.
Cassandra Leuthold's late 19th century steam-powered carnival is actually called Steampunk Carnival in the novel. This is an admittedly odd choice. The term "steampunk" didn't exist in the 19th century in our timeline. It was invented by science fiction writer K. W. Jeter in 1978 to describe the alternate history sub-genre in which steam powered technology is further developed and becomes dominant. In the 21st century, steampunk sensibility has become a sub-culture that has influenced art, fashion and popular culture. If you were to initiate a search for "steampunk carnival", you would discover that there has been a Steampunk Carnivale in Knoxville, Tennessee since 2013. Judging from the video and the accompanying article in Knoxzine at the link I've provided, it isn't actually a carnival with rides. It's more of a steampunk inspired exhibition. So it's not the same phenomenon that Leuthold describes in her book.
It occurred to me that since Steampunk Carnival does take place in an altered version of history, the term "steampunk" could have been invented in that version of the late 19th century. Leuthold does provide an explanation for the carnival being given such a name which I considered reasonable.
Katya Romanova, the protagonist, assists and guides the carnival's guests. With that surname, I wondered if Katya was pretending to be related to Russian royalty, but Leuthold never really delves that much into her background. It isn't a factor in the mystery. In an atmosphere of fear and suspicion due to the carnival's owner having received death threats, Katya finds the dead body of the carnival's head of security. She had also found a perplexing notebook which caused her to wonder about the origins of the carnival.
I ended up liking Katya. At first I agreed with a review that called her shallow. She did seem very concerned with her costumes and her appearance. Yet I don't believe that every woman who enjoys dressing up should be condemned as superficial. Katya was loyal to her friends and cared about justice. She also displayed bravery and became more independent over the course of the narrative. One of her motivations was to prevent her fellow carnival employees from being abused or exploited. So I concluded that Katya was really a decent human being. There were other likable characters in the novel which balanced the despicable ones such as the carnival's owner and the murdered man.
The resolution of the mystery was not entirely unexpected. I couldn't have known the identity of the killer, but I did suspect that something had happened along the lines of what turned out to be the actual chain of events. I still found it an entertaining read, and I would be willing to read another book by Cassandra Leuthold.