The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent
Series: The Unnaturalists #1
Genre: YA, alternate reality, fantasy, steampunk
Published on August 14, 2012
Published by Simon & Schuster
Read From: 11.8.13 - 11.9.13
Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend her life cataloging Unnaturals in her father's Museum of Unnatural History. There is nothing she enjoys more than studying a stuffed Sphinx, or mounting a delicate sylphid. But as she nears seventeen, the dreaded need to become respectable, find a husband, and settle down looms heavily. Just as she is resigning herself to a mundane life, a series of mysterious accidents reveals a terrifying truth: Vespa may be New London's only surviving witch. And in New London, witchcraft is the greatest imaginable heresy, punishable by death.
Syrus Reed's Tinker clan has always revered and respected the Unnatural creatures that inhabit New London's wild places. When Syrus's family is rounded up and taken away to be refinery slaves, Syrus finds himself on the run. His only chance to save his life - and his people - lies in the hands of a witch.
As the danger grows, Syrus and Vespa find themselves in a tightening web of deception and intrigue. At stake is nothing less than the fate of New London - and the world.
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? While it has a character impersonator on the front (sadly), I do like the steampunk feel, the green color, and the title font. Steampunk book covers are so awesome!
Characters: Vespa isn't my favorite female protagonist in all of literature. But I didn't dislike her, either. She was at times far too quick to take things personally or to try and prove herself when she really didn't have to. I was irritated with her when she got mad at Hal for helping her. Hal was just being a gentleman! Give the poor guy a break! But Vespa doesn't do that sort of thing too often for it to become a major character flaw. I did love her curiosity and bravery, and her willingness to see the truth. Syrus was an immediate favorite: a Gypsy boy thrust into circumstances beyond his control. He could have done a better job of winning Vespa's trust, but oh well. And of course, Hal was another favorite. He was gentlemanly and patient with Vespa and was like an older brother to Syrus. The villain, while not necessarily obvious at first, did have some major villain flaws - namely, he monologued. And if he had acted as cruelly as his words indicated, he could have achieved his goals with no trouble. But monologuing got in the way.
The Romance: While Vespa initially dislikes Hal, it is, thankfully, short lived. I liked Hal a lot, and I didn't mind Vespa, so I wasn't adverse to the romance. It wasn't hugely prominent, either, so that made it doubly okay.
Plot: At some point in our history, Tesla ripped a hole in the fabric of the universe and parts of our world fell into another world. The portal was sealed forever, and thus was created an alternate reality. New London doesn't look all that much like London, despite its similarities, for other parts of our world fell through as well: Russian cathedrals, to name just one. And while there is a Victorian flair, the predominant style is from the Rococco period. The Church has been replaced by Reason and Science, and people ask for the blessings of Saint Newton or Saint Darwin rather than Saint Matthew or Saint Catherine. The world of New London was populated before people arrived, though - by strange and mystical creatures called Elementals; creatures that lived only in myth in our world, such as the phoenix or faeries. But now Elementals are hunted, stuffed, and put into museums. Witches and warlocks are scorned by society, and the Gypsies are forbidden to practice magic; sometimes forced to work in the factories that produce myth - their alternative to steam power. Everything in New London runs on myth. Vespa is the daughter of the curator of the Museum of Unnatural History. She's always been fascinated by Elementals, and she is determined to prove to her father that she can carve a living out of an otherwise male-dominated area of study. But her father is determined to see her married. However, Vespa's life takes an interesting turn when she discovers that she is no ordinary girl, but a witch - the only surviving one in New London. And as a witch, it is her duty to restore magic to the land, thereby halting the Creeping Waste that is destroying everything. But there are many nefarious characters who would use Vespa's powers to reopen Tesla's portal and wreak absolute havoc on New London. The world of The Unnaturalists is weird, and I'm still not entirely certain whether I liked it. With Victorian technology mixed in with Rococco fashions, I was at first really confused. The plot itself was also bizarre. Tesla ripping a portal in space and time? Magical steam power created by burning Elementals to produce myth? Turning Tinkers into mindless mechanical servants? It was just weird. But I also wasn't bored. While I didn't exactly sympathize with the Elementals, there was a feeling of horrified fascination when it's revealed exactly what they do at the refineries where the myth was produced. And I did want to know what exactly the nefarious characters wanted with Vespa's powers. There were times, though, when I got frustrated with the characters, when it took them too long to figure out what the Reader already knew ten pages ago. But they are short-lived moments.
Believability: Not applicable.
Writing Style: Vespa's narration was in first person, present tense, which I didn't mind all that much. Syrus's narration was in third person, past tense, which I liked better (because I just don't like present tense). The writing was fine; nothing special, nor was it bad. The Author did as good a job as she could describing this very bizarre alternate reality.
Conclusion: This was a little too drawn out, in that it had too many perilous situations. It would look like Vespa was about to succeed, and then suddenly something would happen to prevent it. This happened about three times, and I finally just wanted it to be over. The Unnaturalists isn't exactly what I expected. I didn't think it would be so weird. This is one that I would actually have to re-read in order to determine whether or not I truly liked it. But as it is, I'll say this: Hal and Syrus are awesome characters, and while the plot was just bizarre, I definitely wasn't bored.
Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, fourteen-and-up, fans of steampunk fantasy.