I've wanted to read this steampunk YA since I saw the pretty, pretty cover on someone’s book blog. First off, I have to say a big THANK you to the artist who drew Vespa, because WOW you got the description right! It’s like the artist actually read the book. I was reading another steampunk YA a short time ago – it shall remain unnamed – and was spitting mad because the girl was described as “pale with light blonde hair”, and apparently the cover artist just decided to stick Megan Fox in a ball gown on the front (the dress wasn’t even correct for the period either, completely modern).
Now for the actual book…
What I liked about it: Trent blends magic and science together, which I thought was a really new and interesting concept. Scientists like Newton and Tesla are elevated to saints, and science has basically become a strict religion, while anyone who shows a slight interest in magic is called a heretic. While so much YA literature struggles with originality, Tiffany Trent has created a totally unique world. There are also creatures that are rarely used in YA in this book, for example: A Manticore, a Sphinx, raven-headed gaurds, ect. For someone thoroughly sick of vampires and werewolves, this taste of “new” and different mythological creatures is a breath of fresh air.
The writing. I always have to mention the writing in book reviews, since I’m so very critical the entire time I'm reading. Ms. Trent truly has talent. The narration from Vespa’s point of view is done very well. It covers all the bases. She sounds exactly like a proper young English girl in the 19th century, but the author has also managed to make the prose engaging, regardless of the age of the reader.
I also loved Ms. Trent’s “Tinkers”. They're reminiscent of Chinese Gypsies. Forest people who honour the old ways of magic and the creatures around them. Their history and lore actually made me feel like I was reading about a real race of people.
What I didn't like about it: Readers be warned. The chapters switch between Vespa’s first person (present tense) narration, and a tinker named Syrus, whose story is told in third person (past tense). At first this really threw me out of the story and almost derailed the entire thing for me. But eventually I did get used to it. I think I would have preferred, if it had to switch back and forth, for both narrations to be in first person.
I didn’t connect with Vespa’s love interest. I grew to like him later on, but when she first started feeling the pangs of attraction it left me scratching my head, not sighing over him.
Though I would still label it in the steampunk genre, there wasn’t very much that ran on steam, everything is myth powered. Of course, this makes the book unique, so you could look at that as good or bad.
Something that struck me is that (SPOILERS) when Vespa learns she is a witch, she doesn't react strongly enough. She’s been brainwashed to think that magic is evil and science is her religion. Why isn't she freaking out more? After a few dizzy spells she seems to be absolutely fine with it, and there isn't really a lot of denial going on. Also, she abandons everything she’d been taught very very quickly. For someone who dreamed about being a female scientist at the start of the book, she abandons it for magic with lightning speed. Everyone else seems to regard magic with disgust, but she embraces it very easily. I would have expected her to be a little more brainwashed. Or, if she was a rebel, I would have expected some indication of her attraction to the magic earlier on in the book. We see that she’s adventurous, but little else.
In Conclusion: Would I recommend The Unnaturalists? Yes. It was a unique and entertaining look at an alternate London, and I loved the glimpses of all the different mythical creatures. The world dreamed up by Tiffany Trent is absolutely worth a read.
The Unnaturalists gets 6 out of 8 Octopus legs (and a thumbs up by the looks of it)!