Steampunk literature transports readers to a world where Victorian aesthetics meet futuristic technology, creating a genre that blends history, science fiction and adventure in the most intriguing ways.
But, as with any popular genre, it can be difficult for fans or avid readers to be able to ascertain which books are must reads and which can be safely left on the bookshelf.
In this article, we will aim to help with that, by going through 25 of the best steampunk novels of all time, helping readers know where to look for some of the best work within the genre and writers know where they should be looking to draw inspiration from for their next work.
“Perdido Street Station” by China Miéville
Perdido Street Station is a seminal steampunk novel set in the gritty city of New Crobuzon.
At the heart of the book is Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and his allies in a city where science and magic collide. This novel is known for its vivid world building and intricate narrative, offering a compelling and imaginative read.
“The Difference Engine” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
The Difference Engine is a pioneering work in the steampunk genre. Set in an alternate 19th century, it explores a world where the computer age arrived a century early.
This novel merges historical figures and events with speculative technology, focusing on the impact of the ‘Analytical Engine’ on society.
“The Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess
“Anthony Burgess’s ‘The Clockwork Orange’ is a significant work within the realms of dystopian fiction. This novel presents a disturbing vision of a near future society, marked by a disaffected youth culture led by the antihero, Alex.
Burgess employs a distinctive and inventive language known as ‘Nadsat’ to immerse readers in the protagonist’s twisted world.
“The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi
Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl” offers a gripping glimpse into a biopunk future where biotechnology reigns supreme.
This book is set in a world grappling with environmental collapse and energy crises, where genetically engineered humans and creatures are central to power dynamics.
Bacigalupi writes a complex narrative, exploring the ethical dilemmas arising from unchecked corporate greed and the consequences of playing with the very building blocks of life.
“Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest
Cherie Priest’s “Boneshaker” introduces readers to a steampunk infused alternate history where a devastating calamity has turned Seattle into a walled-off, zombie infested city known as the Blight.
The story revolves around the determined Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke as they venture into the treacherous Blight in search of answers and redemption.
Priest’s narrative prowess brings this unique and suspenseful tale to life, making it an engaging addition to the steampunk genre.
“Mainspring” by Jay Lake
“Mainspring” is a captivating steampunk novel that envisions a world where Earth is a meticulously crafted, clockwork mechanism driven by celestial gears.
The protagonist, young clockmaker Hethor, embarks on a perilous journey to rewind the Earth’s mainspring after it malfunctions.
Lake combines intricate mechanical details with a sense of wonder, taking readers on an epic quest through alternate history and fantastical landscapes.
“The Iron Duke” by Meljean Brook
Meljean Brook’s “The Iron Duke” is a prominent steampunk romance novel set in a post-apocalyptic world recovering from a zombie plague.
The Iron Duke tells the tale of the enigmatic Rhys, the Iron Duke, and intrepid detective Mina as they unravel a conspiracy that threatens to plunge their fragile society into chaos.
Brook writes a combination of romance and adventure against a backdrop of airships, mechanical marvels and political intrigue.
“Soulless” by Gail Carriger
Soulless introduces readers to a steampunk infused Victorian London with a delightful twist; supernatural creatures roam the city and the fearless heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, is devoid of a soul, which renders her immune to their powers.
Carriger mixes elements of comedy, romance and paranormal intrigue as Alexia navigates this supernatural society while unraveling a mysterious threat to the supernatural order.
“The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson’s work is a futuristic steampunk novel that imagines a world where nanotechnology has revolutionized society.
The book revolves around the stolen copy of an interactive book designed to educate and empower. Stephenson’s narrative explores themes of education, technology and societal evolution.
“The Alchemy of Stone” by Ekaterina Sedia
The Alchemy of Stone is a steampunk tale set in an industrial city powered by alchemy and ruled by guilds. The novel follows the intelligent automaton, Mattie, who is torn between her loyalty to the Mechanic’s Guild and her desire for personal freedom.
Sedia explores themes of sentience, oppression and the clash between nature and technology in a well crafted and thought provoking story.
“The City of Ember” by Jeanne DuPrau
Jeanne DuPrau’s “The City of Ember” takes readers to a subterranean dystopian world where the city of Ember is slowly running out of resources and hope.
The book focuses on two young protagonists, Lina and Doon, as they uncover a series of mysterious clues that might lead to the city’s salvation.
DuPrau’s storytelling is marked by its simplicity and suspense, making it a compelling read for both young adult and adult audiences.
“Leviathan” by Scott Westerfeld
Westerfeld’s novel is set against the backdrop of an alternate history World War I. In this reimagined world, the Clankers (mechanical powers) and the Darwinists (biological powers) clash in a war of ideologies and innovation.
It tells the tale of two young protagonists, Deryn and Alek, as they navigate this tumultuous landscape, each representing one side of the conflict.
“Whitechapel Gods” by S.M. Peters
“S.M. Peters’ ‘Whitechapel Gods’ takes a deep dive into a dark and atmospheric steampunk world inspired by the grim streets of Victorian London. In the book, two rival deities control Whitechapel; the monstrous Cranks and the mechanical Underworld.
The story is focused on the lives of those caught in the conflict, including the enigmatic Roderick and the determined, rebellious, and tenacious Sally. Peters creates a gritty narrative, exploring themes of oppression and rebellion.
“The Peshawar Lancers” by S.M. Stirling
S.M. Stirling’s “The Peshawar Lancers” is an alternative history steampunk tale where Earth’s climate has drastically shifted, and the British Empire has relocated to India.
The book combines elements of adventure and political intrigue as it follows the journey of Captain Athelstane King and his companions across a reimagined 21st century landscape.
“Airborn” by Kenneth Oppel
Airborn is an exhilarating journey through a steampunk infused alternate history.
Set in a world where airships rule the skies, the story centres on young cabin boy Matt Cruse and the spirited Kate de Vries as they embark on a perilous adventure in search of a legendary flying creature.
“The Anubis Gates” by Tim Powers
Tim Powers’ “The Anubis Gates” is a time traveling steampunk novel that combines history, magic and adventure. The story chronicles Brendan Doyle, a scholar who finds himself transported to 19th century London through a mysterious time gate.
As he navigates this chaotic era, Doyle gets mixed up in a web of conspiracies involving magicians, beggars and an enigmatic figure known as the Anubis Gate. Powers’ narrative is rich in historical detail and supernatural intrigue.
“The Half-Made World” by Felix Gilman
Felix Gilman’s “The Half-Made World” is a unique and captivating steampunk fantasy novel that takes readers to a wild and untamed frontier, where two opposing forces, the Line and the Gun, battle for dominance. In this alternate world, the Line represents industrial progress and order, while the Gun embodies chaos and individualism.
At the centre of the book is Liv Alverhuysen, an ambitious psychiatrist, and John Creedmoor, a deadly gunslinger, as they become entangled in the conflict.
“The Aeronaut’s Windlass” by Jim Butcher
“The Aeronaut’s Windlass” is a vibrant and skybound steampunk world. In this adventure filled novel, massive airships soar through the skies above the majestic Spires, inhabited by a diverse array of characters, including the daring Captain Grimm and the resourceful Gwendolyn Lancaster.
Butcher’s storytelling includes elements of both high flying action and politics.
“The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker
“The Golem and the Jinni” is set against the backdrop of late 19th century New York City.
In this steampunk meets fantasy story, the paths of two mythical beings cross; Chava, a golem created by a rabbi, and Ahmad, a jinni released from a mystical flask. As they navigate the challenges of fitting into human society, their lives become twisted in unexpected ways.
“Retribution Falls” by Chris Wooding
Chris Wooding’s “Retribution Falls” is a thrilling steampunk adventure that takes place in a world of sky piracy. Captain Darian Frey and his crew of misfits navigate a perilous existence as they embark on daring heists and face off against ruthless enemies. Wooding’s work is a fast paced and engaging read.
“The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” by Gordon Dahlquist
Gordon Dahlquist’s book is a fascinating steampunk world filled with mystery and espionage. Focusing on three main characters, Miss Celeste Temple, Cardinal Chang and Dr. Abelard Svenson, as they uncover a sinister conspiracy involving a secret society, mind altering crystals and a deadly plot to control the world.
Dahlquist’s book is filled with Victorian era aesthetics and builds an immersive world for the reader to be transported to.
“The Steampunk Trilogy” by Paul Di Filippo
Paul Di Filippo’s “The Steampunk Trilogy” is a collection of three novellas that embody the essence of the steampunk genre. Each story explores different facets of this imaginative world, from a clockwork city governed by bizarre laws to a post apocalyptic future where steam and punk collide in unexpected ways.
Di Filippo’s writing is marked by its creativity and wit, delivering a blend of humor, adventure and social commentary.
“Phoenix Rising” by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Phoenix Rising is an action packed steampunk book featuring the intrepid agents of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.
The story revolves around Eliza D. Braun, a feisty field agent and Wellington Books, a reserved archivist, as they uncover mysteries and conspiracies in a Victorian era London mixed with advanced technology and supernatural phenomena.
Ballantine and Morris deliver a story filled with witty banter, dynamic characters and imaginative gadgets.
“The Affinity Bridge” by George Mann
George Mann’s “The Affinity Bridge” takes readers to a steampunk Victorian London where advanced technology and supernatural forces coexist. At the heart of the story is Sir Maurice Newbury, a detective with a penchant for solving unusual cases and his assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes.
Together, they investigate a series of bizarre murders, leading them into a world of automata, airships and otherworldly creatures. Mann’s storytelling combines elements of mystery, adventure and the paranormal.
“The Girl in the Steel Corset” by Kady Cross
Kady Cross’s “The Girl in the Steel Corset” is a story centering around Finley Jayne, a young woman with a dark secret and remarkable abilities, as she becomes mixed up with a group of inventors and adventurers.
Together, they confront a nefarious criminal genius threatening London’s safety. Cross’s work mixes aspects of romance, action and the supernatural.