The Unnaturalists

The Unnaturalists

3.4 11
by Tiffany Trent
     
 

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In an alternate London where magical creatures are called Unnaturals and preserved in a museum, two teens find themselves caught in a web of intrigue, deception, and danger.

Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life cataloging Unnatural creatures in her father’s museum, but as she gets older, the requirement to become a lady and

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Overview

In an alternate London where magical creatures are called Unnaturals and preserved in a museum, two teens find themselves caught in a web of intrigue, deception, and danger.

Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life cataloging Unnatural creatures in her father’s museum, but as she gets older, the requirement to become a lady and find a husband is looming large. Syrus Reed’s Tinker family has always served and revered the Unnaturals from afar, but when his family is captured to be refinery slaves, he finds that his fate may be bound up with Vespa’s—and with the Unnaturals.

As the danger grows, Vespa and Syrus find themselves in a tightening web of deception and intrigue. At stake may be the fate of New London—and the world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this exciting steampunk adventure, Trent (the Hallowmere series) introduces readers to New London, where science reigns supreme. Its inhabitants swear by Saints Darwin and Newton, witchcraft is a dire crime, and mythological creatures like sphinxes and manticores (dubbed Unnaturals) are good only for scientific study. Sixteen-year-old Vespa Nyx wants to be an Unnaturalist in her father’s museum, but he’d rather marry her off. Syrus Reed is a 13-year-old Tinker, whose family has just been stolen to serve as slaves in the city refinery. His only hope to save them—and, by extension, the city itself—lies in finding a witch. One like Vespa, whose powers have just manifested. Trent shifts between Vespa’s first-person narration and third-person chapters about Syrus as they work together, uncovering New London’s darkest secrets, ready to destroy the city in order to preserve it. Science, magic, myth, and alternate history all work together to create an intriguing alternate world with more depth than many books in the genre. This is a world worth visiting. Ages 12�up. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Aug.)
Tamora Pierce
"Fast-paced, heart-wrenching, magical and fascinating."
Ellen Kushner
"Utterly ingenious! Tiffany Trent has more fine invention at her fingertips than a roomful of magical Leonardos!"
Ysabeau Wilce
“By St. Darwin and his Great Apes, The Unnaturalists is unnaturally good! Few authors can mix science and fantasy the way Tiffany can; her science-worshiping New London is perfectly original and perfectly realized, and Vespa Nyx is a heroine to cheer for. So much steampunk is just more of the same; The Unnaturalists is captivatingly different.”
Caitlin Kittredge
"Thrilling, intricate and magical, The Unnaturalists is a formidable entry into the steampunk genre. Vespa Nyx is a spunky heroine we can all root for, and Tiffany Trent's worldbuilding skills are unmatched. This book will delight anyone who loves magic, gadgets and brilliantly drawn settings. I highly recommend it."
VOYA - Lauri J. Vaughan
Vespa Nyx is the unconventional and bold daughter of the Museum of Unnatural History director, living in New London—a society both post-apocalyptic and Victorian. A series of mysterious accidents and an intriguing new museum employee reveal to Vespa that she possesses magical powers—powers that society considers punishable by death. Serendipity forces Vespa's fate to converge with that of Syrus Reed, a member of the lowly Tinker class, whose family has been forced into slavery. Only Vespa, employing her magic, can save them. Trent has created a rich, speculative world that she takes her time unfolding. Society is divided among a slew of new classes and identities that make little sense at the outset, but are slowly revealed as the story progresses. What event marked the end of Old London and the beginning of New London? What is the Waste? Who are Unnaturals? Sylphids? Tinkers? Architects? Pendants? And most importantly, why is magic heresy and how is it that Vespa came to possess such powers? The discovery ramp is steep in Trent's novel, but tenacious readers will find their patience rewarded. The plot is page-turner tight and sustained from soup-to-nuts. Characterization, if a bit stock, is solid. Dialogue, especially that involving intelligent and quick-thinking Vespa, is excellent. Trent is a seasoned writer and this novel could promise a top-flight series for Harry Potter and The Hunger Games fans. Reviewer: Lauri J. Vaughan
Kirkus Reviews
A flavorful variant of Society Girl meets Scruffy Rapscallion in a steampunk-influenced fantasy. Vespa is the daughter of the Head of the Museum of Unnatural History. Though she should be preparing for marriage, she wants only to work with the Unnaturals; she aims to be the first such woman in 500 years. Syrus, meanwhile, is a Tinker, one of a Chinese-speaking, tilted-eyed race who protect the Elementals, those magical creatures the city folk call Unnaturals and would capture and display in the Museum. Though their positions initially place them at odds--they meet when Syrus robs Vespa's carriage on the highway--they are thrown together in a quest to save the world from the requisite dark forces. Here, though, the darkness comes through a tricky and clever bit of worldbuilding: the Victorian-esque humans arrived here when Saint Tesla tore a hole in the universe and brought them willy-nilly from Old London. The conflict between the human colonists and the local population of Sphinx, Grue and Manticore can make or unmake this world. Though the steam-powered technological potential promised by "Saint Darwin's Litany of Evolution" and statues of Saints Bacon and Newton is disappointingly unmet in this thoroughly magical world, the rich ambience makes up for the loss. Leaves readers wanting more, so it's a good thing the sequel potential is well set up. (Fantasy. 13-16)
From the Publisher
"Fast-paced, heart-wrenching, magical and fascinating."

"Utterly ingenious! Tiffany Trent has more fine invention at her fingertips than a roomful of magical Leonardos!"

“By St. Darwin and his Great Apes, The Unnaturalists is unnaturally good! Few authors can mix science and fantasy the way Tiffany can; her science-worshiping New London is perfectly original and perfectly realized, and Vespa Nyx is a heroine to cheer for. So much steampunk is just more of the same; The Unnaturalists is captivatingly different.”

"Thrilling, intricate and magical, The Unnaturalists is a formidable entry into the steampunk genre. Vespa Nyx is a spunky heroine we can all root for, and Tiffany Trent's worldbuilding skills are unmatched. This book will delight anyone who loves magic, gadgets and brilliantly drawn settings. I highly recommend it."

"Thoroughly magical...leaves readers wanting more."

"Science, magic, myth, and alternate history all work together to create an intriguing alternate world with more depth than many books in the genre. This is a world worth visiting."

"An entertaining mix of steampunk and fantasy."

Children's Literature - Sarah Maury Swan
In this steampunk fantasy, seventeen-year-old Vespa Nyx lives with her father in what appears to be an alternate-universe version of Victorian London where mythical creatures abound and Science seems to be their religion. The creatures are divided into the Greater Unnaturals, such as the Sphinx, and Lesser Unnaturals, such as sylphids. Vespa father, the well-respected head of the Museum of Unnatural History, has allowed her to work at the museum until now, when his priority for her switches to finding a suitable husband. But conniving powers intervene and Vespa is shown to be a witch, which hangs the threat of death over her head. Many plot twists later, our heroine must use her magic to save her world. Along the way she is hard pressed to determine who are good guys, who are bad guys and which side her father is on. Sharing the story with Vespa is Syrus Reed, a Gatherer from the Tinker Clan. His mission is to save their world from the "Wasteland." To do this he must find a witch. The author pulls the reader into the tale very quickly, but the poorly defined words for various entities of this world are distracting. What, for instance, are Elementals or Pedants? Still, it is a fast-paced read with interesting characters and might spark philosophical discussion on magic and mythology in the classroom. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—In the world of New London, science has replaced religion, and magic and witchcraft are considered heretical. Machinery is powered by the mysterious substance, Myth. Vespa Nyx, 17, is the daughter of a scholar who works at the Museum of Unnatural History. Although she wishes to spend her life cataloging Unnatural creatures, she is being pressured to marry and abandon her studies. After a near-fatal encounter with a captive Sphinx at the museum and a mysterious Pedant named Hal, Vespa begins to realize that she is in fact the last surviving witch in New London. In a parallel plot, Syrus Reed, member of an indigent Tinker clan, is forced into hiding after a raid in which members of his family are killed or kidnapped and forced to work in the Myth refinery. The Tinkers are the only inhabitants of New London who openly respect and acknowledge the Unnatural creatures, which they refer to as Elementals and see as essential to the balance of the world order. Predictably, Vespa and Syrus find themselves working together to save their world. This is an entertaining mix of steampunk and fantasy. It is very plot-driven, with some intriguing world-building details, such as the origin story of New London involving Saint Tesla, and the stained-glass window depicting Saint Pasteur smiting the Demon Byron. Readers may be confused about the workings of this fantasy world unless they have read the short story "The Emperor's Man" in the anthology Corsets and Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances (Running Press, 2011), which is a prequel to this novel.—Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781442422063
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
08/14/2012
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
919,181
Product dimensions:
5.86(w) x 8.36(h) x 1.11(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Unnaturalists


  • CHAPTER 1

    The Sphinx stares at me from her plinth. I edge closer, daring her to open her mouth and enspell me with her riddles. She crouches, eyes a-glitter, teeth gleaming through parted lips.

    But she never moves.

    She can’t, trapped as she is by the paralytic field that holds her suspended. Once, the Museum of Unnatural History stuffed specimens of the Greater Unnaturals instead of presenting them like this. There are a few of them still in odd corners of the Museum, but they never fare well. Most have crumbled into dust. Decades ago, the paralytic field was developed by a Pedant working for the Raven Guard, and we use it to hold the larger specimens we otherwise couldn’t. Only the Lesser Unnaturals—sylphids and the like—are stuffed and mounted now, and I do most of that work.

    Which means, basically, that the Sphinx crouching just beyond the pulsing blue light is alive, even if she can’t move. I’m certain she would eat me if she could.

    I like leaning in toward the field, tempting her, tempting Fate. (Though the saints know a devotee of the Church of Science and Technology should not even think of temptations or Fate). I like the way the etheric energy buzzes and tingles just at the edge of my skin.

    A patron—some dowdy woman with a whimpering babe in a perambulator—makes disapproving noises. I lean closer to the field, so close the energy leaks into my nose and the corners of my eyes. I look over at the woman and grin while my hair crackles.

    We used to do this with the little kobold on display at Miss Marmalade’s Seminary for Young Ladies of Quality. None of the other girls thought anything of it, until I told Effie Lindler how to trip the field.

    I didn’t think she’d do it, of course! But when she did, it was quite possibly the best day of all my sixteen years.

    The kobold wreaked havoc, cursing Miss Marmalade with the Malodorous Slime and turning Effie into a cow. For some reason, he left me unharmed, even giving me a slight nod as he leaped from the dance hall window. I don’t know if the kobold was ever caught, but the upshot was that Father and some junior Pedants were called in to clean up the mess, I was expelled, and I’ve been here in the Museum working for Father ever since.

    That was almost a year ago. I’m very nearly seventeen now, and those days of fun are over. Besides, this field is much stronger than that at Miss Marmalade’s. One would have to be as powerful as a witch or warlock to trip it, much less survive trying. Since all magic (except that sanctioned by the Empress) is heresy, there’s nothing to worry about there.

    But I can’t resist teasing this woman just a bit more. I spread my arms as if hugging the wall of energy to me. She gasps. The needling oddness hovers at my fingertips.

    Then, the unthinkable happens.

    Someone pushes me hard in the back and I pitch forward.

    The woman’s scream follows me through the pulsing curtain. The etheric energy zips across my eyelids, my wrists, slithering down my stockings into my boots. I am suspended in the crackling field for several seconds before my palms and knees hit the floor.

    I breathe slowly, afraid I’m nothing more than a cinder. But cinders don’t breathe. Nor do they think. It’s impossible, though, that I’m still alive. I should be burned to a crisp.

    The field is down. Somehow, I’ve tripped it, though that, too, should be impossible.

    The Sphinx’s claws splay before me, five perfectly curved scimitars. One lifts and ticks against the marble plinth as the beast stretches her toes.

    I may not be alive for long. Lucky for the screaming woman that she’s managed to faint dead away.

    I probably should recite Saint Darwin’s Litany of Evolution now, but the words of my patron saint escape me. Something about all of us being tiny twigs on one small branch on the Tree of Life, et cetera, et cetera. I can’t remember. Terror dissolves whatever words lurk on my tongue.

    I hear a sound, as of a thousand buzzing bees. The sound might almost make words, except that I know Unnaturals cannot truly talk. Oh, there are stories, of course—the Riddle of the Sphinx, for example—but it’s been definitively proven by our Scientists and Pedants that Unnaturals are dumb, irrational creatures. Like dogs or horses, only perhaps a bit more cunning and certainly more deadly. Because they have magic.

    “Be still!” someone shouts through the sudden silence.

    I’m trying to place the owner of the voice—someone male and educated. And youthful.

    “And do not look into her eyes,” he says, coming closer.

    I search my memory as to why I shouldn’t look into the face of the Sphinx—isn’t it the Basilisk one is supposed to avoid?—but that information is as inaccessible as the Litany. So I don’t look up. I look aside at the owner of the voice instead. He wears the teaching robes of a Pedant, though he isn’t wearing a wig. He’s so young that I check to make sure he isn’t wearing Scholar robes. But no. He has the braid on the collar and the long, colorful tassels, even if his garment looks a bit ragged.

    He isn’t particularly handsome. Something about his face looks wrong, but I can’t tell if that’s because I’ve been nearly blinded by falling through the field or . . . It’s as though he’s blurred at the edges. I blink, trying to place his shifting features as he signals to two Scholars to remove the petrified woman and her babe. I know every Pedant here, but I have no idea who he is.

    He crouches at the burn line that used to be the edge of the field. He holds out a hand, his easy smile betrayed by the concern in his eyes. For one second, I think I see his face clearly, like sun breaking through cloud, but then he speaks.

    “Come to me slowly.”

    I focus on his eyes, blue beyond all Logic. I am terribly annoyed that I’ve even noticed the color of his eyes. I turn from him, trying to stand on my own. The Sphinx’s gaze catches mine. And then I’m frozen, unable to feel my cramped toes in my too-small boots anymore.

    The buzzing grows louder, almost intolerable. The Sphinx is so close I can smell her breath—metallic and dry as an iron desert.

    The Pedant whispers something I can’t hear, pulling me by the wrist and thrusting me behind him. He steps between me and the Sphinx, breaking her hold. The buzzing seems to migrate from my ears into my limbs.

    The Sphinx turns, intent on this Pedant who has placed himself literally in the jaws of Death to save me.

    I take two more trembling steps backward, but I can’t look away from the Sphinx and the new Pedant. A strange glow, like the faintest of fields, dances across the man’s fingertips. All sound drains away. It’s as though we three are indelibly etched on the air of the hall—girl, man, and monster—and everything around us has faded into ghosts and shadows. The Pedant retreats slowly so that the burn line is between his scuffed boots and the Sphinx’s claws.

    “Raise the field!” someone cries. The silence shatters and there’s movement in the alcove where the rusty field box hangs. The switch is thrown and the blue wall rises between the Pedant and the Sphinx, trapping the Unnatural again just before she can leap.

    The young Pedant approaches me, and I try to stop gaping, to breathe through my nose again. The crowd surges closer, except for the woman I teased who pushes her baby out of the Grand Hall as quickly as possible. I’m acutely aware that I’m not wearing gloves, that my laboratory apron is stained, and that my hair is probably a sizzling halo around my head from contact with the paralytic field.

    “My apologies, miss, for my rough treatment,” the Pedant says. There’s a glint of humor in his eyes that I mislike. “Do you require further assistance?”

    I draw myself up and look him fully in the face. “I thank you, sir, for aiding me”—I cannot bear to use the word “rescue”—“but I require nothing further at present.”

    There are gasps from the crowd. I suppose I’ve insulted him, but there’s something about his manner that’s far too familiar for my liking. Much as Aunt Minta and Father might want me to think differently, I prefer the life of a Scientist, working here at the Museum with Father. It is my most cherished, most secret dream to be the first female Pedant—well, the first in several generations—and no man will overshadow that.

    He has the nerve to smile, an infuriatingly charming smile. “Very well, then. Until we meet again, I advise you to be more careful where you step, Miss . . . ?”

    “Nyx,” I say. His eyes widen as he realizes whose daughter I must be. I will not give him leave to be even more familiar, and I do not ask his name in return.

    “Miss Nyx.” He bows just as Father arrives, pushing through the crowd.

    “Vespa!”

    Father takes my hands in his gloved ones. He’s wearing his traveling coat and has replaced his teaching wig with a traveling wig and tricorn. I would ask him where he’s going, but my teeth are suddenly chattering so much that I can’t form words.

    “I am grateful to you, Pedant Lumin.” Father says. His gaze is filled with concern, but his flat tone surprises me. He dislikes this new Pedant even more than I do. Why?

    Etheric energy from the field courses through me, unbalancing my humors, jarring my nerves. I grip Father’s hands tighter to stop my fingers from trembling. I try to assess the new Pedant covertly while he and Father make small talk. The glow I saw has faded from him; I’m not sure it was ever there. Perhaps it was a trick of the dim light that sometimes filters in through the skylights. I shake my head. My wits must be addled by the power of the field and the dangerous magic of the Sphinx.

    “I’m afraid we must be off,” Father says, nodding so sharply that his tricorn almost slides off. He releases my hand to right the hat before it can do so. The pressure of his fingers tells me we will speak of this incident later.

    Pedant Lumin’s gaze lingers on me. I meet it with raised chin, clamping my lips shut to hide my teeth chattering, as he says, “And I, as well; it would be impolitic, I think, to be late for my first lecture.”

    “Indeed,” Father says. His storm cloud brows descend. I am reminded that, doddering as he may sometimes seem to me, Father is still the Head of this Museum. Pedant Lumin is very aware of this as well, for he bows and hurries off, his considering glance flitting across me one more time as he passes.

    I look up and see Father’s odious assistant Charles moving toward us through the crowd. He’s carrying a giant, iron-sealed trunk. I have no idea how he lifts it with his spidery arms and legs. Utter loathing for Charles replaces my irritation at Pedant Lumin’s familiar manner. His dull eyes meet mine—his regard is akin to having a chamber pot poured over one’s head.

    “Are you well?” Father says. His fingers relax somewhat.

    I nod at him.

    “Vee, I thought we came to an understanding after the incident at the Seminary.”

    “Father . . .” I do not wish to discuss this in front of Charles.

    I use every bit of Logic and Rationality I possess. I must remain calm. He will never believe me otherwise, even though this time I’m telling the truth. “Father, I promise I didn’t trip the field intentionally. I was pushed.”

    Father frowns. “By whom?”

    “I don’t know. I didn’t see. But somebody had to have done it. I couldn’t have just fallen on my own.”

    “Mm-hm,” Father says. He releases my hand.

    “What’s this, Miss Nyx?” Charles asks, obviously trying to pretend the strongbox isn’t nearly tearing his arms from his sockets. His last name—Waddingly—suits him very well. He has a waddish soul, like a lump of something one can’t shake off one’s boot. I secretly call him The Wad.

    The trunk emits waves of dark energy. It’s not just nulled to mask the magic of whatever is inside; it’s nevered. A nevered object has such negative power that it has the potential to burn souls, so Aunt Minta says. I don’t know how Charles is holding it without pain, except that I’m fairly certain he has no soul anyway. I can’t bear to get near it. Not that I’d want to be near The Wad anyway.

    “Did you not hear the commotion as you came in, Charles?” Father says. “Vee very nearly set the Sphinx free in the Great Hall. She says that someone pushed her through the field.” Charles looks around, as if both relishing the mayhem that might have ensued and regretting that he missed it.

    “You could have died, Miss Nyx.” I can’t tell whether he’s disappointed or incredulous that I didn’t. To Father, he says, “Everything is in readiness, sir. The carriage awaits.”

    Father nods, but his dark eyes are trained on me. “I’m afraid you’ll have to come with us, Vee. I’m worried about leaving you alone after such an encounter. Thank Saint Newton you survived it!”

    “But, Father . . .” I begin. The trembling starts anew. I’m not sure I can manage the delicate work required to mount the new sylphs in their cases in my present condition, anyway. I allow him to escort me from the Museum by the elbow while Charles leads the way with his infernal trunk.

    My fancies must be getting the better of me, for I’d almost swear the trapped Sphinx’s grin widens as I pass her.

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  • What People are saying about this

    Tamora Pierce
    Fast-paced, heart-wrenching, magical and fascinating. (Tamora Pierce, author of The Song of the Lioness quartet)
    From the Publisher
    "Fast-paced, heart-wrenching, magical and fascinating."—Tamora Pierce, author of The Song of the Lioness quartet

    "Utterly ingenious! Tiffany Trent has more fine invention at her fingertips than a roomful of magical Leonardos!"—Ellen Kushner, World Fantasy Award-winning author

    “By St. Darwin and his Great Apes, The Unnaturalists is unnaturally good! Few authors can mix science and fantasy the way Tiffany can; her science-worshiping New London is perfectly original and perfectly realized, and Vespa Nyx is a heroine to cheer for. So much steampunk is just more of the same; The Unnaturalists is captivatingly different.”—Ysabeau Wilce, Andre Norton Award-winning author of Flora’s Dare

    "Thrilling, intricate and magical, The Unnaturalists is a formidable entry into the steampunk genre. Vespa Nyx is a spunky heroine we can all root for, and Tiffany Trent's worldbuilding skills are unmatched. This book will delight anyone who loves magic, gadgets and brilliantly drawn settings. I highly recommend it."—Caitlin Kittredge, author of The Iron Thorn

    "Thoroughly magical...leaves readers wanting more."—Kirkus Reviews

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