Title: The Unnaturalists
Author: Tiffany Trent
Series: The Unnaturalists #1
Vespa Nyx wants to become the second female Pedant, cataloging and displaying the Unnatural creatures at the museum where her father is head. But ominous things are happening. Charles, a Pedant who works for her father, is acting suspiciously, and another Pedant, Hal, is clearly not who he seems. Her family wants her to settle down, get married, and take her place in society. Then there’s the suggestion that she might be a witch, which is horrendously illegal . . .
Syrus, a Tinker who lives outside New London, hates the city. He prefers the company of the Elementals who live in the wilds. But when his family is captured and taken to be slaves, he has to find a way to free them, and to stop the atrocities the gentry inflict on both his people and the Elementals. To do that, he needs the help of a witch. . .
The setting is steampunk, with a bit of alternate history/alternate world thrown in. A few hundred years ago, Telsa somehow opened a gate to this place and dumped a chunk of London with it, stranding the survivors on the other side. In this new place, myths and legends walk (called Unnaturals by most of the cityfolks and Elementals by the Tinkers). Now New London, which runs on myth-powered machinery, is a thriving metropolis. But a dangerous black desert known as the Waste lies outside, and the Waste is overtaking the land.
This story is split between Vespa and Syrus. I really liked Syrus’s side. The Tinkers are despised by most of New London, but the city people take advantage of them all the same. When Syrus’s life falls apart around him, he rallies and does what he can—even if it is reckless. Even if he does get hurt. He’s willing to do whatever he can to help those of his people who have been taken, and those Elementals who need people to help them. I liked what happens to Syrus, and how his stubbornness lands him with something that may be as much a gift as it is a curse. I am very curious where his story will go in the future.
Unfortunately, as much as I loved Syrus, I hated Vespa. She’s in many ways his opposite: passive, reactionary instead of proactive, oblivious as well as blinding herself to what she could see, and allowing herself to be manipulated by a lot of people who clearly mean her no good. Completely rage-inducing. And yet the plot worships her, because she’s a witch and therefore really awesome because witches just ARE (no one ever says why male magic users are somehow not capable, and they are actually available and generally not stupid). So she does boneheaded thing after boneheaded thing, and plot twists like the frog that are completely obvious to the reader totally escape her (even if she gave no credence to Syrus’s warning, her own observations ought to have clued her in at least a LITTLE). And she pretty much falls instantly in love with someone and has a mess of a non-relationship with him before letting herself get taken in by a real jerk and manipulated (Vespa, THINK. If you actually have powers you could have tried to manipulate HER instead of doing what she wanted).
So, it’s hard to recommend this because Vespa is such a huge part of everything and she made me want to throw the book at the wall. I wish Syrus could get his own sequel so I could read his story and forget about the rest of them. I might try a bit of The Tinker King but if it looks like too much Vespa then I’m quitting. I rate this book Neutral.