Welcome to What to Read Wednesday! Today we have a very special treat because we are featuring Zoe Archer’s latest release SKIES OF GOLD, but our guest post is written by her romance author husband Nico Rosso. So, sit back and enjoy a little bit of steampunk kitchen chat…
Take it away Nico
The Steampunk Kitchen
Spend a little time with me and my wife, Zoë Archer, and you’ll quickly discover that food is often central to our discussions, interests, and motivations. During breakfast, we’re planning lunch, and during that meal we’re figuring out what to do for dinner. It’s no wonder that food and cooking came to be featured in our Ether Chronicles series.
Because the stories are steampunk, we had a great opportunity to invent devices that would be in use in this Victorian sci-fi world.
In my second Western of the series, NIGHTS OF STEEL, my bounty hunter heroes, Jack Hawkins and Anna Blue, find themselves in unfamiliar territory at a dim sum restaurant in a Chinese section of old San Francisco. I had to create some automation to the carts used to deliver the delicious small plates of food. Because that kind of technology is common for Jack and Anna, they are mostly caught off guard by the foreign dishes. Their tentative alliance between these two hardened fighters is reinforced as they set off into the unfamiliar territory of chopsticks and steamed dumplings.
For SKIES OF GOLD, Zoë goes further with the idea of an automated kitchen. Her heroine, Kali MacNeil, is an engineer who builds her own traveling hearth. And she needs it, considering how she’s traveling to a broken down cottage on a supposedly deserted island off the coast of Scotland. But that doesn’t mean she can’t have the comforts of home, like a fresh brewed cup of tea from a clockwork-timed automated kettle.
Not only does this contraption help define Kali, but it’s also a great contrast to the nearly primitive eating methods of her surprise island companion, Captain Fletcher Adams. Despite being a Man O’ War, with technology literally integrated into his body, he’s become nearly as wild as the windswept land their isolated on.
Even though there are variations from culture to culture, food and cooking are such common experiences that they create great ways for us to examine our characters and the world in which they live. Common experiences become uncommon as we add steampunk technology, further setting the environments.
We discovered as we did this in the books, we started to examine the tools we’d taken for granted in our own kitchen. A toaster is raw electricity heating a coil, burning bread and drying it out. Very strange when you think about it. But toast is so delicious.
Is there a modern kitchen appliance you’d like to see steampunked?
Two Lonely Hearts…
Kalindi MacNeil survived the devastating enemy airship attack that obliterated Liverpool, but even her engineering skills can’t seem to repair her broken heart. Seeking to put her life back together, Kali retreats to a desolate, deserted island—only to discover she’s not alone. Captain Fletcher Adams, an elite man/machine hybrid, a Man O’ War, crashed his battle-damaged airship into this deserted island after Liverpool, never expecting to survive the wreck. But survive he did.
Believing he is nothing but a living weapon, Fletcher is wary of his new-found companion—a pretty, damaged, but determined young woman. Together they are stranded on the deserted island, and it is only a matter of time until desire gets the best of both of them. Soon Kali and Fletcher find they may be just what the other needed. But a danger from beyond the island puts them to the test. Will it rip them apart or bond their hearts forever?
At least he didn’t press her with questions—what had brought her here, how long she planned on staying. And she wouldn’t ask him the same questions.
Still, she couldn’t help her curiosity. He wore a long navy coat, patched in places and a little threadbare, with tarnished buckles. Standard naval issue. All of his clothing seemed clean but slightly ragged, from his linen shirt, to the buckskin breeches clinging tightly to his dense, burly thighs, to the scuffed tall boots, stained with seawater.
Was he a disgraced sailor? A deserter? Or one who’d left the navy but kept some of the trappings.
Whoever he was, he continued to stare at her as if she’d descended from the sky on iron wings. Well, he hadn’t looked in disgust at her artificial leg, and he wasn’t leering at her, either. Two small elements in his favor.
“You’ve got an odd voice,” he said suddenly.
“And you’re an expert conversationalist,” she retorted.
A slight ruddy color stained his cheeks above his beard. “Been a while since I had company. But”—he narrowed his eyes, thoughtful—“I hear a burr in your accent, and a lilt of Hindi, too.”
She tried to hide her surprise. “My father’s Scottish. Maa’s from Nagpur.”
He nodded contemplatively. “Bit of Scouse in there, too.”
Here was another shock. She’d only lived in Liverpool for five years, but apparently it had been enough to give her accent some color. A perceptive man, this wild former sailor. Unease crept through her belly. She’d come here to be alone, not to think of the past, but those plans were crumbling apart.
“The last place I lived was Liverpool,” she said cautiously. She could turn and flee, ending the conversation, but even under good conditions, her prosthetic didn’t let her run fast. This stranger could easily catch her. The length of his stride was twice her own. Maybe more.
He was silent, however, for a long moment. Then, “The Battle of Liverpool. You were there.”
Her left leg suddenly ached, and the air in her lungs turned brittle. “And I survived. Which is more than I can say for more than half the people with me on the ground.”
Images, sounds, smells—phantom senses assaulted her.
Hapsburg and Russian airships, captained by Man O’ Wars, dropping explosive devices upon the city, setting everything ablaze. Flattening buildings and crushing the men, women, and children within them. Screams. Cries. The useless clanging of the fire brigades’ bells. Seafaring ships at dock turned to charred, sunken wrecks. The British Man O’ Wars and their airships arrived quickly, and they’d fought the enemy in the skies above Liverpool—something mythical and terrible straight from the Mahabharata.
Trapped beneath a collapsed wall, Kali had seen it all. The bursts from ether cannons. Airships plunging out of the sky, crashing into the rubble as the men within shouted in terror. She’d watched the world become a fiery hell. She’d seen, too, the remaining British ships destroy or chase off the enemy vessels. Until loss of blood had claimed her consciousness. And her leg.
“It’s still a smoking ruin,” she said. Just as she was. “There’s no Liverpool left in Liverpool. And the navy lost a lot of airships that day.” She stared at the man, his face ashen.
“The sun’s going down,” he growled. “Better get back to wherever it is you’re staying.”
Without another word, the big man turned and strode away. The mists engulfed him, and in an instant, he’d vanished. She couldn’t even hear his footsteps. It was as though he’d never been there.
Kali was many things, but never fanciful. She hadn’t imagined the meeting and conversation with the stranger. He’d left giant footprints in some of the mud amongst the rocks. So he was real. But her exploration of the island had left her with more questions than answers. Who was he? Why had he run away so abruptly? It had to have been his home casting the light—but why did his house hum?
It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. She was here to be alone. He didn’t concern her.
Whoever the man was, though, he’d spoken truly. Daylight didn’t last long this far north. And the mists still hadn’t cleared. The safest thing to do was retrace her steps.
Carefully, she made her way back, taking extra care not to get her prosthetic leg caught in the uneven terrain.
He clearly wanted to be left alone. Just as she did. They could share this island without actually sharing it—couldn’t they?
Yet if she’d come to Eilean Comhachag in search of peace, she knew now she wasn’t going to find it.
Twitter: @Nico_Rosso https://twitter.com/Nico_Rosso
Twitter: @Zoe_Archer https://twitter.com/Zoe_Archer
Zoë Archer has always loved stories of adventure, but she didn’t love how most of the women depicted in these stories had a nasty habit of screaming, fainting, being kidnapped by the bad guys, pulling the wrong lever, falling overboard, and generally being pains in the butt. So when it came time for Zoë to write her stories of adventure and romance, she wanted to make sure that her heroines were just as kick-ass and capable as the heroes, and that the heroes loved them for it—which is exactly what she writes. From historical paranormal adventure, to steampunk, to sci-fi, to historical romance, Zoë writes confident heroines and sexy heroes in waistcoats and tall boots.
For her novel REBEL, she received a RITA Award nomination for Best Paranormal Romance. Her historical romance LADY X’S COWBOY won the Book Buyers Best Award for Best Historical & Regency Romance. SCOUNDREL also received a starred review and Pick of the Week from Publisher’s Weekly.
Zoë earned her MFA in Fiction from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but she’s lived almost her entire life in California. In fact, she and her husband, fellow romance author Nico Rosso, currently live in Los Angeles. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys baking, spending too much time on the Internet, and attempting to amass the world’s largest boot collection.
Link to Follow the Tour: http://tastybooktours.blogspot.com/2013/06/now-booking-tasty-virtual-book-tour-for_25.html