Review: The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent

The Unnaturalists
by Tiffany Trent

ISBN-13: 9-781442-422063
Publication: August 2012 from Simon & Schuster
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it!

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 reveal 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 goes on the run. His only chance to save his life – and his people – lies in the hands of a witch.

As the danger grows, Vespa and Syrus find themselves in a tightening web of deception and intrigue. At stake is nothing less than the fate of New London – and the world.

The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent is an action packed steampunk with a strong heroine and some pretty fantastic creatures. I haven’t read a lot of steampunk, but I thouroughly enjoyed my trip to New London and it’s interesting mix of Victorian era and modern inventions. I definitely liked the addition of so many mythical creatures and the way they played into the story.

Ok so Vespa Nyx. Our heroine. She is kind of awesome. Vespa loves nothing more than working at her father’s Museum, even though, as a woman, she should be home thinking of marriage and housekeeping and all that Victorian era type stuff that women of good breeding were supposed to think of. But not Vespa! Even when she’s basically forced to leave the museum, she’s still finding ways to explore what she loves – oh, and not get killed for being a witch. Vespa goes through major shifts in her understanding of how her world works and yet doesn’t refuse to adapt to change. She sees the flaws in her society and the harm they’ve been causing and fights to see it fixed so that her world will not disappear. She’s a pretty tough cookie. Vespa can be a bit stubborn and slow to act sometimes, but for a teenager she’s got a decent head on her shoulders.

The novel’s chapters switch between Vespa and Syrus, and where Vespa is learned and fairly well-to-do, living in polite society, Syrus is a young tinker who sees life completely different – where Vespa lives in a technological city, Syrus’ people live on the outskirts and still remember the creatures who are native to the world New London inhabits, and treats them with respect. The manticore, sphinx, sylphids and all many of magical beings. Syrus knows what he needs to do and he does it. No questions, very little hesitation. He’s loyal and brave and if he’s a little foolhardy, well, he is only about thirteen. It’s understandable.

But it’s not just the characters that make The Unnaturalists such a good story – it’s the details and the worldbuilding. New London is vivid in description and the details that make the book steampunk are so neat. Even with all the mythological aspects, that sense of technology is still present in clock work hearts, automatons and trainyards. It’s all blended so seamlessly together, and Tiffany Trent is wonderful at showing, not telling. The background for New London and it’s history is peppered throughout the story with details only being presented when they directly result from something Vespa or Syrus is dealing with or thinking about.

The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent explores a world where the Victorian era meets technology meets magic and it’s engrossing. The bad guys are sufficiently creepy, the love interest dashing yet mysterious and the action flows well. The end seems to rush up on you a bit, but the pace is well maintained and all the bits and pieces of the story start to come together to show Vespa, Syrus, and the reader what’s really been going on in New London. The Unnaturalists is a well written story, and completely memorable.

ARC received from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!