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The Tea Machine (The Teatime Chronicles) (Volume 1) Paperback – July 1, 2016
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We meet very colorful cast, from protagonist Millicent and her brother Hubert - prim and proper victorian scholars to tough and rambunctious space marines Sangfroid and Gallo. What follows seems heavily inspired by Back to the Future movies.
Unlike said movies, alternative timelines here a bit darker, but very unique nonetheless. Author portraits very distinctive timelines and notes cultural and evolutionary differences between them, the whole gender blind joke and all, which is a nice subtle touch. Book seamlessly shifts tones from brutal action scenes to comedy and humorous bickering with emphasis on the latter. Millicent and Sangfroid might be from different times, but they both stubborn and sarcastic and it's quite fun to watch how people from such different times and backgrounds interact.
Sangfroid's timeline reminds me heavily of Warhammer 40k with more equal gender ratio with all the imperial propaganda, space invasions and alien menace, which is not surprising since that's all roman based. Sadly we didn't see much of it, but there is still hope.
There is excerpt from sequel, Parabellum, which supposed to be released this year. So far I haven't heard news on that front, hopefully it's still a plan, because it seems to be set in a really interesting timeline, which sadly not fleshed out here. But do not be discouraged, book not leaves you hanging, while there is questions to be answered in sequel, story arc here is complete, so I highly recommend it.
I have long found the work of HP Lovecraft interesting and hysterical: I went to the university that is Miskatonic’s closest analog (we have a library with books bound in human skin!), and while there I connected with many science fiction fans who loved the Victorian era and all things steampunk. Some of them impressed upon me that linear time is inherently straight and that subversion of it would be queer. This was before same-sex marriage was legalized anywhere in the US, and my friends bitterly joked that their so-called gay marriage agenda was to destroy linear time. So this book tied together some of my fondest memories of my college friends together: a bunch more of them were Classics geeks who could name the five worst Roman emperors. I’ll be recommending this book or loaning it out to as many of them as I can.
The story blends steampunk, science fiction, alternate history, romance, and a tea cult. I love McKnight’s imagination: strange creatures and technology are everywhere, causing mayhem. I wasn’t sure where the plot would go and got surprised several times. Nothing seemed out of place, though. Most of the “hey what about…” questions I had got resolved, although I think some mysteries are still there to explore in further books.
The characters and dialogue are strong, somehow remaining grounded as their reality gets wackier. Watching proper Victorians deal with the fantastical made me smile: they rationalize and hold on to their realities in believable fashion. Millicent worries about her ruined dress when there are far more dire concerns because it’s what she’s used to caring about. Hubert and his fiancée Sophia are gloriously neurotic. If you enjoy witty British banter, this is your cup of tea. Oh, that was awful, but I stand by my words. The romance between Millicent and Sangfroid is very sweet, and there is a hilarious secondary love story and yet another serious crush. There’s a happy-for-now at the end of The Tea Machine that asks more questions than it answers, so their story shall continue.
I’m not surprised that the Victorian ladies misgender Sangfroid, but I did raise a brow at the Romans who do so, when they recognize that centurion Gallo is female. Perhaps there’s a reason for that I missed. Sangfroid says she's obviously female, but her idea of obvious may not be in line with the others she meets.
The narrative is very twisty: there are several timelines to keep track of, and we’re dumped in the middle of the action. I liked how we start with Sangfroid’s getting the background information after the fact, but the flashbacks and explanations later in the story felt less potent in how they were conveyed.
In the copy I got, there were enough typos that I felt it needed another proofreading pass from the editor(s) at Ylva.
I received a free copy for review, but bought one to use as a loaner once I finished it. If you’re not sure if it’s for you, use Amazon’s sample chapters to see if you like the humor and vivid setting. It’s an original screwball premise with unpredictable twists, and I look forward to the sequel.
It is London, 1862 and genial Hubert, Millicent's brother created a time machine. By chance Millicent gets the time machine going and in several tries saves Sangfroid.
And from now on follow adventures of Sangfroid, soldier of Roman Empire, Millicent with her brother, Sophia and Gallo by jumping in time as well as places in alternative universes. And Weena, the gigantic squid of royal blood as well plays a big role.
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