Saturday, January 25, 2014

Review: Steampunk Magic by Gypsey Elaine Teague

While I adored the concept for this book, I did not enjoy it very much. Gypsey ElaineTeague makes a good attempt at a 101 book, and the topic is quite unlike others out there. When I found out that a book on Steampunk Magic was being released, I was so excited. Back in the day I was quite involved in the local steampunk scene, but I dropped out when I got too busy and the venue for events was too far away for me to visit with any regularity. What Teague captures correctly is the scrappy do-it-yourself spirit and the possibility of what if? She asks “why Steampunk magic? Why not!” which is hard to argue with. But this book just did not capture my interest at all, and even annoyed me at times.

The writing style is incredibly simple and that might be user-friendly. It might would be good for 101 Pagans, young Pagans, or even experienced Pagans who want something new. But even with being written so simply it took me months to finish, probably because I ended up being so disinterested in the book once I got it.

What I’m impressed with is Teague’s ability to come up with a completely new system. I’d be curious on whether or not she actually practices Steampunk Magic with any regularity, of if this is just another new agey book out there riding the steampunk wave. She builds up a practice involving the aether, an airship crew, and totally new magical tools, which is no easy task and I’m totally impressed with her ability and creativity to write a whole book based on a whole new magical system. I found this part to be fascinating because it really is a deviation from the boring old Pagan same-old-same. I’d really love to see a Steampunk ritual in action, especially with an experienced “Crew” who had been practicing together for a long time and felt comfortable with the garb, script, structure, and tools.

What annoyed me about the book was the strange colloquialisms that seemed like she was trying too hard, or that don’t reach a wide audience. I’m pretty well read (just to brag) and when the writer uses terms or idioms that even I don’t know, I’m a bit surprised. And using the word “Grok” might be cutsey, but not everyone has read a Stranger in a Strange Land. I saw a few things that I’d blame on bad editing, such as assuming that the audience will understand the writer’s strange word-use or references to knowledge that might not be widely known. But bad editing is a complaint I have of many Pagan or new agey books.

Teague takes leaps throughout fact and history and literature when presenting the Victorian Era, which is enough to make even the most lay of lay-historians to cringe. But this is something Steampunk kids in general are guilty of – they wear the most rosy of rose-colored goggles. Even then, this presentation of Steampunk fell flat to me, with her description of hats “wide or narrow brim” (what, no trilbies or fedoras or coachmen or flat or?) or comparing seeing others in Steampunk garb as being the same as recognizing special sports cars. (what?) At times her presentation of the Steampunk scene just seemed vapid and shallow, especially when she tried to categorize all of Steampunk fashion and expression into “four personality types of Steampunk dress”. Excuse me but no! Maybe that’s appropriate for a Pagan 101 book for people who might be new Paganism and/or Steampunk, but as mentioned before, it just annoyed me.
So, overall, the book was a great idea, but I think the execution fell flat. Clearly I’m not meant to be a Steampunk Witch or Crew Member or Captain or whatever terminology should be used here. I am impressed with the ritual structure and magical tools, and I actually really enjoyed reading the spells and hope to adapt some of them for myself. I think this book was a good attempt, but wasn’t stellar, and could have used some writing that took itself more seriously, as well as a discerning editor who trusted the readers to be a little more sophisticated than curious nerds who started gluing gears onto their hot-topic corset. (Which I’ve totally done, I’m sure.)

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