Exclusive Cover Reveal & Excerpt: The Transference Engine by Julia Verne St. John
Today I’m totally thrilled to break out a cover reveal for a book I’ve had my eye on for a while, and with thanks to DAW Books/Penguin, we also have an exclusive excerpt of Chapter 1 to share. It’s no secret that I was excited when I got to get my hands on a copy of The Transference Engine by Julia Verne St. John – but did you know it also has one hell of an amazing cover? My jaw just dropped. Without further ado, here it is in all its glory!
A fantastical steampunk novel of magic and machines set in an alternate 1830s London.
Madame Magdala has settled comfortably into her new life in London, as the proprietress of the Book View Café, a coffee shop and extensive library. Her silent partner is Ada Lovelace, who will one day become the world’s first computer programmer—but who now is simply the young woman for whom Madame Magdala was a nursery maid.
Ten years ago, Ada’s father, Lord Bryon, was known as a great writer. But few knew of his powers as a necromancer. Upon his death, his devoted followers tried to repair the Transference Engine—a device that would allow Byron’s soul to claim the body of its choice. Magadala, along with Mary Godwin—a.k.a. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley—had to stop them.
While the original Transference Engine was destroyed, they were unsure whether they truly stopped Bryon and his followers. Together, they fled to safety in London, and built new futures for themselves.
Now, Magdala and Mary care for the Book View Café’s community, leading fashion, following gossip, and reading the latest periodicals. But when members of the café’s community mysteriously disappear, and rumors of a threat of royal assassinaton grow, Magdala finds herself with new mysteries to solve. The more she learns, the clearer it becomes that this is the same mystery returned—the Transference Engine is back with a vengeance.
From The Transference Engine by Julia Verne St. John, on-sale July 5, 2016. Published by DAW Books.
Above London, early June 1838
The gas flames hissed like a malevolent adder as Jimmy Porto, the hot air balloon’s pilot, pushed more gas into the envelope above us. I looked up and up to the interior of the dull gray silk. Cool dawn air caressed my cheeks. I marveled that no wind blew my blonde braids where they dangled down my back. But we moved at the same speed as the gentle wind, rather than standing still on the ground, defying it.
“Thank you again, Jimmy, for bringing me up today,” I said.
“No problem, Miz Elise.” He tugged the brim of his cap once. “We owe you.”
Yes, indeed, the Rom did. I thought they’d repaid me a hundred times over. But the Rom . . . carried this debt through several lifetimes. One lifetime for each of their lives I had saved back in southern France in 1817.
He met my gaze in gratitude, something Romany men did not do with a gorgí female, or even one of their own females unless she was a wife or a sister.
“I know what it is to have violently angry men on my trail. I could do nothing less.” I’d also seen more than enough needless death. The demise of an entire clan would have fueled a drunken vicomte’s necromancy for a year or more. “I had to warn you. Not one of you would be left alive if I didn’t.”
“That’s a risk you didn’t have to take.”
Yes, I did. For reasons I’d not tell him. “Still I thank you for letting me observe from your balloon this morning.”
Up here, one thousand feet above civilization, the air was fresh and crisp; the golden light of early morning clear and sharp. None of the smells of too many people crowded into too small a space penetrated my sensitized nose. The smoke of tens of thousands of coal fires lay like a pall over the rooftops with only an occasional church spire rising toward heaven, giving a hopeful pathway for all the prayers of people trapped below.
Steam-powered engines lightened the burdens of life, giving us many advances in transportation, communication, and household appliances. But the burning coal needed to convert ordinary water into steam left behind a filthy residue.
Below us, the city sprawled in unruly lines and clumps, blurred by smoke. The dome of St. Paul’s stood out from the jumble of London, one of a few distinctive landmarks. But once I’d anchored my sense of direction in the eternal symbol of solidity, permanence, and hope, my eyes pushed aside the pall and found other familiar places. Tower Bridge, Westminster, Piccadilly Circus. The winds pushed us west and north, following the Thames, the heart vein of transportation and commerce of southern England.
“There be Windsor, Miz Elise,” Jimmy pointed upriver. Farther than I wanted to go.
I winced at his use of my original name. Jimmy had known me too long. But he was useful as a pilot when I needed one, as a friend and go-between with his family of Romany spread across the entire island and half the continent.
Since Miss Ada Byron had married, I’d transformed myself into a new personality (not with Lord Byron’s dreaded transference engine, merely a new name, a new attitude, and a new wardrobe). No more the drab, respectful governess.
Jimmy’s people had helped me protect Miss Ada many times over the last decade—more of their perceived debt to me, which they had extended to my pupil. They also kept me apprised of necromancers taking up residence in ruined castles, and scientists moving their experiments away from the ethical and moral strictures of Oxford and Cambridge.
“Deploy the ailerons, Jimmy. I need to circle the city,” I said.
“Be prettier out here,” he replied, not moving his hand to the brass lever near the ring joining the firebox to the envelope. He drew in a long breath of the clear country air smelling of freshly tilled fields, trees leafing out, and meadow flowers. I mimicked his inhalation and appreciated why he wanted to linger, drifting aimlessly with the breeze.
“This is important, Jimmy. I love the green land as much as you do. I love the freedom of the roving life that you have transferred to roaming the skies. But I need to see the patterns of movement through the city. I have heard rumors. Possibly of violence at the queen’s coronation. My visions have confirmed them. I need to know which malevolent force drives those rumors. Or if my visions are failing me.”
We spoke in Romany. Most of Jimmy’s country accent disappeared in his native language. He even spoke correctly . . . mostly.
“Aye, Miss Elise. I feels it, too. Something wicked stirs the air and the people. I’ll get you as low as I dare.” He flashed me a cheeky grin as he engaged the lever that sent semi-rigid folds of silk outward and tacked back to the city, much as a sailboat would move against the wind. “Used fog gray for the envelope just so we’d stay invisible a bit longer.” A true Romany at heart, flamboyant and audacious when needed, equally quiet and hidden when skirting the law and distrustful gorgí.
He really was attractive in his slender, olive-skinned, and dark-eyed way. Alas, he was much too young for me, and though his tribe respected me for my visions and thanked me for my help, I was gorgí: an outsider, forbidden to touch.
“Romany know how to hide.” I returned his grin, grateful for the lessons they’d taught me.
We drifted back over the city, taking in more of the dark, poverty-stricken jungle of Southwark, south of the river. Evil could hide in the open streets and opulent houses on the north side just as easily as in the tenements. Armed military men were reluctant to enter Southwark. Criminals lived openly there, protected by neighbors who closed in on themselves like any impoverished ghetto. The military might of the country was put to better use protecting our new queen, young and beautiful Victoria. I had my own ways of making sure her upcoming coronation occurred on time, without the blemish of an assassination attempt.
It would be an attempt only. My enemies would use it as a diversion for other nefarious activities.
“There, Jimmy!” I pointed to a dark object hovering in the lee of St. Paul’s.
Another balloon. Black envelope, black basket, seemingly empty.
“Hovers, it does,” Jimmy said quietly on a long exhale. “Balloons need to move, flow with the air which is never still.”
I dropped a single magnifier over my flying goggles. The black basket jumped into sharper detail. Not a lot of room between the rim and the firebox.
Then a long telescope snaked out over the edge and pointed down. Whoever was in there looked at individuals, not large patterns.
“Pointing that thing toward Trafalgar Square, they be,” Jimmy muttered.
His young eyes were better than mine. I hated admitting that I needed spectacles.
“What is there? Besides a monument to a beloved but fallen admiral and his mighty victory over the French.”
A memorial to the dead. Necromancers needed death to fuel their magic.
And then the light patterns shifted, and I spotted the glint of sunlight on a brass circular opening in the bottom corner of the basket. A musket barrel? Or a small cannon? Aimed directly at Westminster Abbey where the coronation would take place in a matter of three weeks.
We descended rapidly, away from that black monster.
* * *
By the time I got to the Abbey and the Parliament buildings, all was normal and the black balloon had disappeared. I could neither see nor smell anything out of the ordinary. If Jimmy hadn’t corroborated my view of the situation, I might think I’d dreamed it.
So I returned to my home amid the morning bustle along Charing Cross Road.
“That’s Madame Magdala,” a stout woman dressed in black from bonnet to boots to lace parasol whispered, (a widow of minor means, I guessed from the classic cut of her gown that would take time to go out of style), jabbing her younger companion in the ribs with that wicked parasol. I wondered if she could extend the tip into a knife. I knew I wasn’t the only woman in London who’d purchased such an instrument from Georges’ Emporium of Fine Imported Lace. “She may be a widow and allowed some leeway in propriety, but she takes it too far.” The woman in black sniffed in disdain.
“The natural daughter of the Gypsy king?” asked the slight woman in awe. She wore a traveling gown in dark green, a fashion at least two years out of date. Must be the daughter, goddaughter, or niece of the widow, down from the country for the coronation—and the opportunity to meet an eligible man.
The girl continued in a whisper, “I heard that she’d only been married a few weeks when her husband was killed at Waterloo. She never remarried. How romantic.” The girl sighed and held her hand to her heart.
At least the myth I’d created to give me license to run my own business and control my own affairs held true.
“I don’t know any way to birth a child but the natural way,” I muttered. If they wanted to parrot my new name and way of life they should use the appropriate term. Bastard. Yet I was sure they considered themselves upright and faithful daughters of the Church of England, too proper to use such language.
Hastily, I shoved my goggles atop my leather flying helmet and peered at the crowds of people on the walkways and spilling over into the carriage-jammed road. A number of genteel couples adjusted their path around me. My leather jacket atop jodhpurs and high boots couldn’t disguise my feminine figure, even if I did stand taller than most of the men. Many of them let their gaze linger while their female companions sniffed in disdain.
“Too damn many people in London these days,” I said. The crowd gave me more room to move out of their way as I found the key to my café and reading room in a convenient pocket. The dustmen were late, and the back door was more than a bit noisome in the June heat. Otherwise I’d have used it and avoided the contemptuous crowd.
I sniffed and peered around to see if any of the passersby bore the taint of magic manipulation. Nothing. Whoever spied upon the crowds today had not used magic. One more piece of a giant puzzle of odd bits of information I stored for Ada Byron King, Countess Lovelace. Yes, the dark-haired and frightened little girl I had nurtured through adolescence and taught to appreciate the joys of life as much as the beauty and magic of numbers had grown up and married a wealthy man who adored her. She had helped me purchase the café and left her name off the deed so that our inquiries could not be traced back to her ever-so-proper husband and his titles: the gift of Victoria.
I’d heard rumors that Victoria would return a semblance of propriety to English society after the . . . delicious . . . scandals of her royal uncles. At least her mother hoped so.
I hoped not. Life would be ever so dull without new scandals every other day.
A “lady” jabbed my knees with her parasol as she passed. “Thank you for reminding me that if I linger gawking I’ll be late to my own salon,” I whispered just loud enough to make sure she heard me.
The bells inside my door tinkled invitingly as I strode inside with long, mannish strides. I know I should affect a more feminine walk. But why waste the freedom of trousers and boots?
That freedom was short-lived. I needed to bake sweet and savory delicacies for my guests as Violet, my assistant, would not return from her free morning with her mother until the afternoon. Then I would repair to my quarters upstairs to prepare myself so that I could greet my guests properly corseted, beribboned, and draped in fine silk. I wondered if anyone new would grace us with scintillating conversation or controversial issues to debate. Hmm . . . I needed to collect the latest newspapers from Hong Kong, New Delhi, Peking, and Tokyo, delivered weekly by dirigible express, so we’d have new information to dissect. Amazing what insights and patterns of unrest or transfer of raw goods to indicate a petty tyrant was building an army of automata I could uncover when I listened while others read aloud interesting tidbits from afar.
Those automata might also serve the purpose of housing the soul of a necromancer after the body had succumbed. I didn’t know how or why, but Lord Byron’s quest for the perfect body might involve an artificial one. The metal men were still crude devices. Scientists worked hard at making them more human looking.
I kept a neat kitchen, but no order survives the first onslaught of sifted flour and sugar. Butter and cream, cheeses and herbs, fruits and glazes, all my ingredients came readily to hand. I fell into a soothing rhythm combining them in proper ratios, losing myself in recipes based upon my mother’s confections that I’d perfected for British tastes. Modern scientists extolled the virtues of coal-fired steam ovens that added moisture and an even baking temperature. While I embraced much of the new technology, properly banked coals from a wood fire still suited my baking best.
When I looked up from removing a fifth batch from the oven, the clock chimed six.
“Six?” I asked aloud, somewhat alarmed.
“Violet?” I called. My assistant should have returned five hours ago. I would have noticed her return no matter how deeply immersed I was in the rituals of baking. Between batches, I had set the wine to breathing and arranged a nice store of hard liquor safely locked into its cupboard in my parlor.
Silence inside, subdued traffic noise outside.
I hope you enjoyed the cover reveal and excerpt! I love the beautiful soft colors and the style seems perfectly fitting for the story, and I can’t wait to read the book. Steampunk and fantasy? Magic and necromancy? Seems right up my alley. What do you think of the cover and description? Tell me your thoughts!