The Unnaturalistsby Tiffany Trent
Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life cataloging Unnatural creatures in her father’s museum, but the requirement to become a lady and find a husband is looming large. Syrus Reed’
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In an alternate London where magical creatures are preserved in a museum, two people 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 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.
"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."
- Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
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- 5.86(w) x 8.36(h) x 1.11(d)
- Age Range:
- 12 - 17 Years
Read an Excerpt
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.
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.
What People are saying about this
"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
Meet the Author
Tiffany Trent is the author of The Tinker King and The Unnaturalists, which won a Green Earth Book Honor. She is also the author of the Hallowmere series and the recipient of a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Work-in-Progress Grant. Her short stories have appeared in Magic in the Mirrorstone, Corsets and Clockwork, Willful Impropriety, and Subterranean magazine. She lives with her family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Visit her at TiffanyTrent.com.
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One of the best steampunk novels I have ever read! I absolutely loved this one and highly recommend it! The characters were beautifully thought out and very lovable. Vespa is fierce and brave, everything you need in a heroine. The world of New London was vividly imagined. Creepy yet beautiful at the same time. The book alternated perspectives between first-person narration by Vespa, and third-person narration with Syrus. It gave two completely different perspectives and made the story twice as good. I wanted to dive into this world and never return! I find that a lot of steampunk out there is just more of the same, but The Unnaturalists was surprisingly different. Soo refreshing. You will love this one!
“The Unnaturalists” by, Tiffany Trent In a world surrounded my magic but where its use is prohibited, Vespa Nyx lives a pretty ordinary life. Vespa works in a museum with her father where they store magical creatures (Elementals) that are kept in stasis. If she had it her way Vespa would never marry and would work at the museum for the rest of her life, but her father has other plans for her. This story takes place in New London, an early London style world that is full of magic and danger. As you read you will learn about the upper-class city people and the lower-class people (Tinkers) who live on the outskirts. The Tinkers are in tune with nature and the mythical creatures that live among them. Because of this, the Tinkers are taken from their homes and enslaved in the refinery where they have no hope of escape. In New London we also meet the Archetects, a group of magic users who are trying to stop the destruction of magical creatures and bring balance to the city. *Some of the characters Vespa- I like how strong she is and that she doesn’t cry or run away from danger. She knows what she wants and who she is. Hal- He is very complicated and is constantly at war with himself. I liked that he is flawed but wants to do the right thing and I loved seeing him grow as the story progressed. Syrus- He is my favorite character and has enough personality to carry his own book series. Syrus is smart, resourceful, and has a beautiful soul. These are just a few of the wonderfully written characters that live in this captivating world. “The Unnatrualists” is a rich and detailed story that I couldn’t put down. The characters are full of life and jump off the pages as you read. New London is a perfect mix of fantasy, romance, and adventure. I really hope that this is just the first book based in this world and I can’t wait for what comes next.
I bought this book because I was looking for a POC leading protagonist in a steampunk themed book. Let me tell you, I am very much glad I choose this as my first steampunk book. Whilst I admire the steampunk inspired sub-genre of science fiction through the small or big screen, I'm ashamed to admit, I've yet to read a steampunk book. Why? Because writers never think to put POC characters in them. Steampunk is a type of fantasy sub-genre within itself. Most argue, that the eras in which they are written are not appropriate for POC to mingle with the white folk XD Bull donkey! It's fiction, and most often alternate reality! It doesn't have to be 100% accurate! It's fiction! And now that I've ranted, on to the review. For the Plot and storyline, I award it .75 of the point. The book exists in a alternative universe where Nicola Tesla dramatically altered put world by tearing a hole in the universe. He and Charles Darwin are what's considered the greatest minds in history, and are even types of gods in this world. The pacing is great, however at times confusing but at best brilliant. I had only found out about this book because I saw the sequel's cover feature an Asian male on the cover. Turns out I already owned the first book just never got around to reading it. It didn't rush information, so that left me always picking it back up. But word of advice, the language used will confuse most,especially those whom don't typically read steampunk inspired books. the writing and storyline proved again and again that everything you see is consistent with everything you WILL see. I don't even think I have to go there on the world building. It was nothing short of amazing. I really felt as if this "New London" was a place I could see, and "The London we do not speak of" was truly a London of the past. As far as predictability, there were some things I easily predicted. The ending not so much, but for the most part, small details I predicted, so I docked it .25 points. As far as character development goes, the main protagonist "Vespa Nyx" was a great leading lady. I was so glad she wasn't a pushover or some girly girl waiting for a prince to save her. She was intelligent, witty, adventurous, and far from a damsel in distress. She was also a person of color(POC). Our terms don't exist to them, but she's essentially a mixed race Asian woman. I can't say that she's relatable to everyone, but as a woman whom would never expect for a man to solve all her problems, she related to me. If you're that kind of girl, you'll love Vespa =D There were plenty of development, and the characters introductions were well balanced. I never got too sick of one character. There was also plenty of conflict. Vespa had to face many obstacles, that were not limited to figuring out how to use magic, to figuring out whether she could be with the man she liked. And she didn't want for him to make a move, she took the initiative! I definitely think this is unique compared to books that i've read, so I award one full point for character development! 1.00 As far as grammar, it had very few mistakes. Possibly due to it being a book backed by a major publishing house? It was well edited, had a good balance between dialogue and beats. The language matches the universe as well. And the POV(point of view's) switched between Vespa and the second main character Syrus Reed. It was clear to distinguish them, as hers were always in first person, and his were always in third person. So full point well earned 1.00! As far as diversity goes Vespa and Syrus(whom I believe was full Asian) were both well written. They were both believable, and I did root for them. Syrus's entire race are based off a Baima Tibetan subgroup in a Sichuan province of China. I only wish I could tell if there were more people of color outside of the two of them and the "Tinkers"(those whom were Asian). Definitely a lot of research was involved, though it could have been more. I didn't feel the effort was forced as well. Vespa was a woman, whom also had unique heritage. Everything about that says she should be submissive, and she wasn't. I found her empowering, especially to anyone whom feels Asian women aren't main protagonists nearly enough. Syrus was also pretty cool for a 14 year old. I look forward to see if that's him on the "The Tinker King" cover, as the guy is incredibly handsome. Overall I'd say it deserved a full point . 1.00 The miscellaneous things about the book, "The Unnaturalists" had a suitable title. Reading the book you learn an "unnaturalist" is a person whom studies "unnaturals", or mythical beasts(had some great ones to whomever is into mythology). The cover definitely matches the beauty of the heroine. I loved the cover. The names are for the most part distinguishable. Nicknames were harder to associate, and those pretending to be people they were not, also confused me. But the character names were unique enough to distinguish, but simple enough to remember. My only complaint with the MISC aspects were the descriptions of the characters. Three characters that were important, the author never described in detail. Or not enough detail to have clearer pictures of them. Her love interest I thought was Asian, until he was described as having blue eyes. To be quite honest, I kind of just said eff the blue eyes, and pictured someone Asian anyway. I didn;t picture him being Caucasian, so by the time he was introduced as such, I was a little upset he wasn't Asian. Another character was a socialite, whom I assumed due to her demanding personality was in her 40's. Turned out she was only 18. The villain? I almost always had a hard time picturing him. So it's getting docked a .25 point because I felt the descriptions could have been a bit more extensive. Overall it's one of the best reads I've had this year.
Trent has created a world with nuance and history and while I didn't have a problem stepping into her creation I often stumbled around. The characters were developed and had depth, but as a reader I wanted a better understanding of them. It seemed as if this book barely scraped the surface of its potential. It's my understanding that this is the first book in a series. Will I read the next book? Probably not. In my opinion, each book in a series should be able to stand alone and The Unnaturalists failed to accomplish that feat. Everything pointed to something outside the pages of this novel, leaving me unsatisfied. Lest you think I'm too harsh, I found it to be enjoyable enough to while away a few hours. The writing is good just not extraordinary. Alas, the characters and setting do not call me to return.
Disappointment Though creative and with clever touches, this book was a confusing mess and impossible to keep track of. I was interested in the world of New London far more than anything happening in it, and for such a plot-driven book, I should care about the characters and what they're doing! Good title, though.
The Unnaturalists was not what I was expecting. The synopsis gave me a look on what is to expect and to come: adventure, a thrilling ride, and a 'web of deception and intrigue' but unfortunately what I got was a big pile of confusion. To say that The Unnaturalists was confusing is an understatement. Throughout most of the book I didn't know what was going on, who is who, what is what and what the hell they were looking for. My facial expressions while reading ranged from confusion, to shock, to realization, then back to confusion. It was an endless cycle and by the end, I just gave up. I kept on reading without really getting what was going on. There was too much going on. I really wished for some sort of guide that explained who's who and what's what because without it I failed miserably at reading. I came out of this book the same as I came, in with an addition of bewilderment and overall hopelessness on ever understanding this book. To begin with, I need to make a list of all the people and creatures in the book. If they were explained clearly along with their role in this steampunk world I would have had no problem. But the characters would suddenly pop up with no prior or post explanation and you are left trying to figure out what the hell that thing was and if it's even human. 1. Wight 2. Sphinx 3. Tinker 4. Pedant 5. Architect 6. Sylphids 7. Manticore ... and it goes on. There is also the creeping waste that I barely understood and the role of each of the characters. I don't consider myself someone who gets easily confused while reading. I tend to like complex stories with deeper less obvious meanings but The Unnaturalists took this to another ball court. On top of not understanding the characters, the plot itself was lacking. To explain it better, the plot has a bit of EVERYTHING. Post Apocalyptic elements, steampunk elements, paranormal elements, magic, dystopian world, and so much more. When I finally grasp my head around an idea, ten other pop up that bring me back to square zero. The plot was so disconnected for me, same with the characters that I honestly kept on reading just to finish the book. The amount of details reserved for some parts of the books were over the top but other parts, such as the introduction of characters were totally ignored. I would have personally enjoyed it more if I just knew what was going on and who all these characters were. I mean, a story without characters isn't much of anything right? I really wanted to like The Unnaturalists and even stuck until the end, but even the end couldn't appease me in the least bit. Everything was rushed and I just was not satisfied. I personally wouldn't recommend it to anyone but feel free to pick it up yourself, you might like it.